Sword Dance at the Botanical Gardens

Not a bad sword dance, eh? A privilege to witness these kids having a lesson. What you can’t see is that the temperature was 34C and humidity a spectacular 88%.

Just down from the vast West Lake in Hanoi, round the corner from Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum, near all the government and diplomatic buildings is a park that I like to think of as a small brother to Bangkok’s Lumphini. It’s named the Hanoi Botanical Gardens but the assumption you’d have with the word “Botanical” doesn’t quite play out as it’s not a stroll through labelled exotic trees, shrubs and plants. It’s a park…plain and simple. A park that I’ll best describe as…communist.

My view of Communism has always been seen through the Cold War lens of Western fears. From History Channel shows on the Cuban Missile Crisis to films like Red Dawn to novels by the likes of John Le Carre…the modern history school syllabuses of the UK taught a generation to peek at this world through an Iron Curtain. The park pandered a little to that view given everything was square blocks of concrete architecture: slightly dour, very uniform….orderly. But that, in itself, was fascinating. Especially when you thrown into the mix some very friendly Vietnamese. The playground would give a H&S officer in Canada a fit of apoplexy. Everything is 95% concrete, the rest is metal chain. Yes, indeed, Isla got to have a go on a concrete slide…I thought it would be like a grater but it was pretty smooth. The swings…concrete. The steps…concrete.

Take a look…the people were stretching in silence. No music.

The park also presents the casual stroller with a set of sculptures – Vietnam is proud to boast some of the greatest artwork (state sponsored) in the past fifty years. Honestly, take a look online. London might have the honour of Banksy and Hirst, this strong corner of Asia can point at the comparable skills of To Ngoc Van and Nguyen Thanh Binh. This collective of statues was fascinating

For all that, there is, to one side of the small lake, a raised hill that has a shrine embedded in it. At the very top a group of school children dressed in gold and black were stepping carefully through a choreographed sequence. I’ve led this blog with the video I took because it was impressive for those so young..

…The Botanical Gardens – not in the top 10 list of places to visit in Hanoi but worth it…go when something’s happening and the place comes alive.

Is this what diplomacy is all about?



Categories: Hanoi, Vietnam

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