Vietnam celebrates 70 years since independence
When someone says “parade”, I think: costumes, face paint, floats, glitter, and dancing. What I do not think, is: Waking up at 6am to walk silently through the city for an hour with hundreds of people to watch a military procession. But we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. And on Sep. 2, the 70th Anniversary of Vietnam’s Independence, the soldiers of the nation marched.
I rallied half of my housemates out of bed at the ungodly hour that most people here just call “morning”. Forty major roads throughout Hanoi were shut, essentially crippling our lazy motorbike MO, so we put on our walking shoes and set out for Ba Dinh Square, the centre of the day’s festivities, and the place where, 70 years ago, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France.
Halfway to our supposed destination, a Vietnamese tuk tuk driver waved us over, and in our sleepy haze, we succumbed to the convenience of an overpriced ride. Five of us crammed into the back of a metal box on wheels, jostling back and forth past growing rivulets of locals on foot, laughing at us as we passed.
But when we got to Thanh Nien, the road that would take us direct to the square, we were met by officials who waved us off. Being unable to protest, because of the ever-present language barrier, we shrugged and followed the herd down the highway.
You Take the Low Road…
As we passed road after closed road, the crowd grew, like gravity accreting disjointed particles into one solid mass. Half an hour into the walk and halfway to Hoan Kiem Lake, I turned to my housemate with a look of despair, sweat rolling freely down my face. “Are we actually going anywhere?!” I asked, fearing that maybe everyone was wandering round Hanoi at seven in the morning for their health.
He gave me a silent look that can only be described as sheer fury, and we kept going. In shops and cafes along the road, I caught a glimpse of the action on TV. The colourful display in Ba Dinh Square taunted me from the screen, reminding me what we were missing on this, the longest early morning walk of my life. Finally, we were funneled into the park at the bottom of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The crowd was impenetrable. Smart spectators had brought stools and plastic chairs, perching on them to get a better view. The sea of bodies parted only to let children through, ushering them to the front of the crowd, where they sat obediently to watch. I climbed on my housemate’s shoulders to snap a few shots; rows and rows of green-clad soldiers marched by in perfectly straight lines, enthusiastic applause accenting their strides. Speakers mounted on streetlights provided a soundtrack of loud, victorious trumpets. Onlookers climbed trees, lamp posts, buildings — anything they could find that would give them a better vantage point. Those resigned to ground level held their smartphones overhead, obsessively recording every second on video.
We waited in anticipation for the floats we saw on TV, but they never came. The last soldiers simply marched into the distance, the police took down the barriers, and the crowd began to disperse into the empty road. I looked at my housemates. “Breakfast beer?” I asked, the only possible end to this morning.
The parade may not have featured the kind of festivity I’m used to, but it was replaced by a communal pride that was strong and palpable. In lieu of floats and glitter, I saw devotion and honour, in every smile, every intent gaze, and every wave of that red and gold flag. — Jesse Meadows