As someone born and raised in Hà Nội, I have always been proud of the city and the character of its residents.
Hanoians have long been famed for their elegant, polite and dignified manner.
Throughout many upheavals in history, from wars to plagues and pandemics, this good character and manner has run through each and every one of the city’s residents.
It’s like a non-stop stream -- solidarity, humanity, sharing, awareness, mutual support. Hanoians always have each other’s backs. It is expressed in the way they help each other. It is expressed in the way they follow the law. And it is expressed in the way they are fighting the coronavirus.
Illustration by Trịnh Lập
More importantly, each person realizes this process requires effort from not only the Government’s but from all agencies across society, from top to bottom. The final victory depends much on the kind-hearted and civil behaviour of the people, especially those living in the capital.
Hanoians have confronted all manner of difficulties since the pandemic broke out across the country early last year, but they have remained steady, calm and unflappable, as is their nature.
It has been like this ever thus, right back to earlier periods in history such as when Thăng Long was chosen as imperial citadel in 1010. As the administrative, political and economic centre of the country, it has experienced many attacks from enemies, natural disasters and worse, but it refuses to panic or become cowed by fear.
After each upheaval, Hanoians realise that they need to join hands, support each other and work for mutual interest. It is an uplifting, defiant attitude, and one to make the soul soar.
Nguyễn Vinh Phúc, a culture researcher of Hà Nội, once wrote, “Despite the civil wars between the Trịnh Lords from the north and the Nguyễn Lords from the south (in the 17th and 18th centuries), Thăng Long’s economy developed. Foreign traders flocked to the area to set up trading firms and trading places… The trading area of Thăng Long Imperial Citadel covered a spacious area, gathering a lot of people. Since that time, Thăng Long was named Kẻ Chợ (market area).”
The city has experienced many pandemics throughout its storied history, which stretches back over a thousand years, but it has always managed to prosper, with common sense and kindness prevailing whatever the situation.
Hà Nội was swept with cholera in 1888, plague in 1902, and a further two bouts of cholera in 1910 and 1914.
Writer Philippe Papin said that in every year of cholera or plague, some 600 to 8.000 lives were lost in Hà Nội.
He also wrote that between 1885 and 1920, due to such epidemics, the average life expectancy of Vietnamese working for the French authorities in colonial Việt Nam was 30.6 years, and this was for the well-to-do class. The poor died much younger.
However, the city authorities published strict regulations on hygiene and epidemics usually subsided in July and September of each year, according to writer Nguyễn Ngọc Tiến.
“Patients were treated in Infection Department of Phủ Doãn Hospital (today’s Việt Nam-Germany Hospital) and Robin Hospital (today’s Bạch Mai Hospital). People no longer rushed from the urban area to rural areas,” wrote Tiến.
At present, the fourth wave of the coronavirus has spread far and wide, causing havoc in its wake. Yet, Hanoians have remained calm, stoic and humane in facing it.
Many people from the city volunteered in more seriously affected areas of the country, particularly in the south such as HCM City and Bình Dương Province. Thousands of health workers, students and soldiers went to the south to help people there, doing their all to battle the pandemic.
They did the same during the historic Hồ Chí Minh military campaign to liberate the south. Thousands of young Hanoians volunteered to head south for the campaign. And even when peace was established in the south, many from the north, including Hà Nội, still went to support the post-war economic recovery.
Today Hanoians share love, food and essential things with needy people.
Free meals, zero đồng goods at special supermarkets, rice ATMs, charity kitchens at quarantine areas, and people distributing food to the needy are just a few of heroic acts that have been mushrooming throughout the city and beyond.
Such sincere actions have inspired the whole community.
Trần Thị Gái, who gave free meals to the needy in Hai Bà Trưng District, said she believed she had a duty to support people during the pandemic.
“I received much help from kind-hearted people when I was an orphan,” she said. “Now I give back my fortune to others. It’s a natural cycle. People should live to love one another.”
Nguyễn Viết Chức, rector of the Thăng Long Culture Research Institute, said that the important thing is encouraging self-awareness and self-discipline among Hanoians.
“Then each of them will realise the necessity to wear masks in public places, wash their hands, do physical exercises to enhance health and keep a distance when meeting others,” he said.
People will do the sensible thing during the pandemic. Crowded wedding parties will be replaced by wedding announcement cards, and luxurious parties or festivals will be replaced by small gatherings or silent solemn ceremonies.
With a general awareness of pandemic prevention, the community will be more attuned to reacting to poor behaviour, whether it is refusing to wear a mask in public or the gathering of large crowds at pagodas or temples, according to Chức.
The pandemic is another test of the Hanoian character, and one it will no doubt pass.
When the pandemic is finally over, the ‘era of COVID’ and all its travails will be remembered as a time when people pulled together in love and sharing, and helped each other in their daily struggles.
Behaving in a civil manner and joining hands to wipe out the pandemic is a kind of 'community vaccine' for Hà Nội to control the global health crisis.
Once more, the good character of the capital’s residents will be highly appreciated.
Be strong and stay united, my Hà Nội! VNS