by Le Quynh Anh
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Construction asked the Ministry of Planning and Investment to allocate VND11.3 trillion (US$537 million) from the State Budget to build a new National Museum of History.
The ministry aims to build the country's premier cultural institution, one that will be listed among the most modern museums in South-east Asia. The funding is enough to build 15 new hospitals with a capacity of 5,000 beds – and $120 million to spare.
The proposal has aroused public ire because of the insensibility of those behind it. Many of us could not help but scream: "Why now?". Seriously, is there any genuine urgency to start building a museum at such cost when the economy is sinking and the State budget is tight?
Those promoting the project claim the idea follows a plan made long ago. So what! Since when have officials stuck so strictly to plans? They should know better than anyone else that every plan, no matter how carefully made, needs to be mapped out within the socio-economic context of the time of its implementation.
So let's check the pulse of society. You do not have to go beyond the daily news to get a sense that the economy does not look really great. Traffic jams have become a daily headache; hospital overload is a nightmare and up to three patients share a bed; and the lack of quality schools is so severe that parents have to camp outside target schools to nab application forms for their children.
Well, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to decide where the scant State budget money should go – to a fancy museum or new hospitals, new schools and new roads? Most of us, with the exception of historians, want to learn, explore and appreciate the glory of the past only when they are quite content with their current lives.
And even if the economy suddenly prospered, what makes them think that the museum would become a popular destination and fulfil its educational and entertainment purposes at the same time?
Let get it straight, we are not a country of museum lovers! Since Viet Nam opened itself to the world nearly three decades ago, many Western attitudes have gradually become ours. We eat fast food, go to the cinema for the latest blockbusters and absorb Pop culture, but going to museums has never been a favourite thing for Vietnamese to do in their leisure time.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, there are about 138 museums nation-wide, but most of them are empty all-year round. Even the Ha Noi Museum, open to the public since 2010, appears to about as popular.
The Viet Nam National Museum of History is all about history, but have the planners measured the level of interest in history of their target audience? And let's not forget during this year's university entrance exams, the grade for history subjects reached an all-time low. They maybe able to build a huge historical museum, but how are they going to get enough visitors through the doors?
We understand the importance of the building in terms of history and culture, but are we wise enough to know that this is not the right time? — VNS