A wake-up call straight from Itaewon

November 04, 2022 - 11:53
A famous Vietnamese saying goes, "càng đông càng vui" (the more, the merrier). But this ought to be changed to "the safer, the merrier".
Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

We were all shocked when we saw the news of the tragedy in Seoul. Around the same time, my friends and I were roaming Tạ Hiện walking street in Hà Nội's Old Quarter. As only women and teenage children, we wanted to drift further out, far from the loudspeakers and eternal flow of people pouring into the area.

Looking down from the balcony where we sat, we could see a sea of people having a good time sitting on the ground; some were having some chips or snacks, and some had nothing but numerous bottles of beer on their table.

When we heard about the incident, our hearts sank for the loss of so many young people and their parents' agony. Many were young women venturing out to have a good time at the craziest yet maybe the most fun time of their youth, adorned with scary costumes and make-up without being judged.

Since many new buildings have been built in Việt Nam in the past 20 years, I was pretty surprised not to see a sign warning that the maximum number of people that could be standing in an area simultaneously. Being able to manage the number of people helps circulate the flow if any fatal accident arises.

We need to remember that before we enter a crowd, we need to know a way out. This is true, but not always within reach, as we often enter one end and then leave on the far end.

Many of us have been stuck in a crowd at least once. When we were young, a trip to Perfume Pagoda was always jammed along the mountain slopes; we could not get up or down, and a crowd at the pagoda during special ceremonies or village festivals. It's terrifying being stuck in a group; all you can do is move along to where you are pushed.

A young female traveller who has spent much time going to crowded parties gave me a few tips.

Always wear your backpack in front, and keep your wallet and phone in your backpack. When the crowd pushes you too hard, the bag shall protect your chest; if it's soft and fluffy, you will have some space to breathe.

Wear flat shoes, and if you see some taller, stronger men, move closer to them, as you could be shielded behind them. Yes, we know that women care strongly about gender equality, but in life-threatening circumstances, let logic dictate.

Many people recall the day in 2016 when it was too hot for many elderly and children to stay out during the main day of the Hùng King Temple festival. The number of people was estimated somewhere near 1 million. Fences set up by organisers were pushed down and jumped upon.

Before the crowd was allowed to walk up, authority representatives had to lead first, and not let the crowd burst without control. Many kids lost touch with their parents; they were exhausted and dehydrated after hours of standing in the yard under the sun.

Every year in Spring, the Trần Temple festival also witnesses some people losing consciousness, being wounded or getting into fights as hundreds of thousands of people pour into the small area of the temple. Some even climbed onto the temple roof and dropped into the yard to get a place.

These are all sacred national heritage sites. But only a few weeks back, a crowd gathered for a spontaneous balcony show, where singer Tuấn Hưng sang from his own balcony, which overlooked a large group on Hà Nội's pedestrian street. The authorities stopped the unlicensed show, and many netizens criticised them.

Everyone wants a good time, but authorities must ensure everyone is safe. A famous Vietnamese saying goes, "càng đông càng vui" (the more, the merrier). But this ought to be changed to "the safer, the merrier".

Even better, try to stay away from large moving crowds. Any crowd that gathers with more than four people per square metre, without organisation, poses a risk.

You need to know some basic principles: do not move against the crowd, and keep your feet on the ground as firm as possible. Do not run, as you may fall and be stepped on.

As the crowd moves, try to turn on your side to divert the force from your chest.

Try to assess the situation and act accordingly. Even after this tragic incident, young people will keep their partying spirit; it's not practical to advise them to stay home. Let them go out and have a good time, but always put their safety first. VNS