Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Meaning of the APEC summit in Vietnam

The Apec Summit took place in Viet Nam for the first time November 18-19, 2006. We had missed it by about three weeks, but signs of it were all over Ha Noi when we arrived. This was the 14th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which President Bush attended, so in a way, I'm glad we didn't cross paths. Some of the important things which came out of that meeting was the launching of a "Vision Of A Trans-Pacific Free Trade Area", among other ideas to promote and stimulate the economies of the regions. Walking around the capital, you could sense that Ha Noi did go all out to try to impress its visitors.

First, everything around Ha Noi was superclean; there were signs to welcome the various delegates of the Apec Summit, from Noi Bai airport all the way to Ha Noi. And of course, in and around the area of Hoan Kiem Lake, since this is where most everything happens. I happened to meet a woman who was in the capital with a group of French teachers, and I don't recall exactly what it was that made her stop to talk to me. But we ended up exchanging business cards, and I did tell her about the Ha Long Bay experience , as well as the exquisiteness of the Press Club in the French Quarter. 

what a splash of color!

We did learn later on in our journey that HaNoi has a flower market second to none. Though I did not personally make it to the market, as it was going to be an all-male photography event, I have pictures of the vendors, the women and men who tirelessly grow beautiful flowers and make their living at this venue.  Interestingly, while Ha Noi is fast asleep around the wee hour of the morning, some vendors are hauling their goods to the Quang An night flower market  in Tay Ho District.  By sunrise, most of them will have packed up and gone home. 

It was a spectacularly sunny day in Ha Noi, and walking around the lake was invigorating. Aside from these chance encounters which are always so much fun, we were once again reminded of the love of beauty of Ha Noians. Though the Summit was over, some were still lovingly tending to the flower display on one of the lake's banks which spelled out the event in huge letters composed of yellow mums. We would find ourselves again, at another juncture of the trip, knee deep in Viet Nam's flower culture and the quaint way they preserve rose flower buds, with newspaper cones at the tips. In fact, that is just about everywhere they sell roses. 

Directly across the street from the poetry of flowers is a huge statue of Lý Thái Tổ. It's almost as if he is watching over Hoan Kiem Lake from his high post; who was he? He ruled as emperor of Viet Nam for a hair under two decades, from 1009 to 1028. If you are interested in the history of the man, click here. He stands on a very high rectangular pedestal, inside the gated area of a government official building, surrounded by a few steps, and manicured gardens. 
The seat of government is also at this location, and just to make sure I would not make a mistake, I went over to one of the guards outside the fenced property to ask. He was a bit bashful about this English, but nevertheless I encouraged him, and understood that this was official communist party business. Naturally the flag outside is a giveaway.
Thanh Long, Ha Noi's ancient name, will be celebrating its 1000th year founding anniversary in 2010. More specifically, it will be on October 10th of that year, and we are told that this milestone will be a cultural extravaganza like none it too early to mark those calendars? No matter what they do, you can bet your life that a lot of it will be happening around Hoan Kiem Lake.

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