With lots of stands that sold all sorts of things – old, new, and everything else in between – the six-day event which has just ended struck one as a noisy, crowded, forgettable “flea market.”
“There's no memory here,” said Mai Hoa Tran, one of many Hanoians who checked out this high-profile event, which was supposed to evoke some precious memories about Hanoi in the old days.
There were indeed some "old" things such as books, paper money and other familiar items of the era of the central economy and government subsidies at "Hanoi Memories," organized by the Hanoi Department of Tourism. They made interesting sights to young people and gave some eager elders a chance to explain to the young a bit about history.
But the attempt was too unfocused and superficial.
“It’s like a flea market, almost like the night market except that it is worse, since the night market sells more stuff,” Mai Hoa Tran said, referring to the weekend bazaar stretching from Hang Dao Street to Dong Xuan Market.
Commercialism was indeed a stand-out feature at the event. Besides the countless retail stands, there was a separate section for local travel agencies to advertise and sell tours.
As expected, the local food which was sold here was much more expensive than usual. A boiled corn cob for instance cost VND15,000 while it normally costs just around a third on the streets of Hanoi.
And here lies the thing about Hanoi: unlike the old quarter of Hoi An for instance, which seems to be re-created for tourists’ sake, Hanoi’s with its trade-mark architecture is still so much bustling with life that any mediocre attempt at reproducing it in a museum-like way would likely fall short.
Replica of O Quan Chuong Gate and of an old tram at the fair. Photo: Thuy Linh
The replica of O Quan Chuong Gate at the entrance of the tourism department’s fair looked cheap and fake compared to the real landscape. The replica of the Hanoi trams, a thing that many Hanoians hold dear, was another.
“It looks too new,” said Natsuko Togashi from Japan.
There were a few things that looked great to foreign tourists because they were genuine and different such as the conical hats that decorated the street and the thatch roofs of the stands.
“There should be more such things,” Togashi said.
The most successful attempts seemed to be the traditional games and the food court where Hanoi draft beer was sold at old-looking booths that brought back some memories.
Mai Hoa Tran suggested next time, the organizer might try to narrow the theme: focus on one thing at a time and in depth, either traditional games or food, or something else rather than flip through just a little bit of everything.