Viet Nam News
A Walk of Fame, Hollywood-style, along the Hoàn Kiếm (Returned Sword) Lake in Hà Nội.
No, I am not imagining things. Someone else has, and it is one of the proposals that the city is apparently considering as part of improving the environment and scenery around the historic, iconic lake, also known as the Lake of the Returned Sword.
I am afraid I have to answer that rhetorical question in the affirmative. Yes, seriously.
The proposal is that the Hollywood replicating avenue will be located on the pavement section adjacent to the lake, running from Hòa Phong Tower to the Bà Kiệu Temple.
It will be paved with ceramic and enameled tiles on which will be carved the names of famous people who’ve made great contributions to the capital city, like artists, scientists and researchers. Ha Noi authorities will decide whose names will appear on this walk.
When the idea was announced, before one could say “oi gioi oi,” (OMG!), a company in Hà Nội put up its hand, saying it wanted to build the avenue under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) contract.
While operating the sidewalk, it said, it would offer parking and other services, collecting entrance fees, for example, to get its investment back. A little too pat, shall we say?
Well, the truth is that this idea has received a few pats on the back. Those who’ve applauded it have said it would be an additional destination for visitors to Hoàn Kiếm Lake – one of the most popular spots in the city.
They’ve also said the walk was another way for people to remember and honour those who contribute to the city’s development, besides conventional ones like naming streets, roads, awards or scholarships after them.
Just so there is no misinterpreting my own views on the matter, I have nothing against honouring deserving people. I just don’t think this is the way to do it, for many reasons. And I am not the only one who feels this way.
Several historians, construction and urban planning experts have not been persuaded that the walk of fame is a good idea.
Historian Dương Trung Quốc told the Lao động (Labour) Newspaper: “It’s good to follow good examples but the application must match certain situations and avoid servile imitation.” That’s a phrase worth repeating: servile imitation.
Besides, the selection of people to be honoured would surely ignite controversy, he said.
Quốc also said poor awareness and resultant actions by some visitors could destroy the meaning of honouring people - littering or otherwise dirtying the area, for instance.
Dr Nguyễn Văn Hùng, former principal of the Hà Nội Civil Engineering University, said that the Hoàn Kiếm Lake area is a popular public space in Hà Nội.
“People pay taxes for building roads, including the ones around the lake. It’s not reasonable to ask them to pay any fee or extra money while visiting the place, just because there is a new work built there,” he said.
Former director of the Transport Publishing House, Nguyễn Văn Thủy, also said that it was not reasonable to make a public space commercial.
“Don’t commercialise the most beautiful street in the city,” Thủy pleaded.
Hoàng Phương Thảo, a resident of Hà Nội’s Old Quarter, said that it was hard for her to accept that one day, she would have to pay in order to walk around the lake and see things there.
“I welcome actions that make the lake and surrounding area cleaner and greener. I don’t expect a ’Walk of Fame’ here. That’s an American thing,” she said.
"Vietnamese people, especially young ones, have welcomed KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks, but it does not mean that they want the ’Walk of Fame’ here," she said.
At a conference held last month on “upgrading” the Hoàn Kiếm Lake Area, participants agreed that the lake was an important cultural and spiritual place for residents of the capital city and the country. So any plan to upgrade the place should be considered very carefully.
Yes, please. Please be very careful.
Last September, when Hà Nội opened a pedestrian zone around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, some people suggested that more services or works should be added there to attract visitors.
However, many visitors very clearly say that they go to the lake to enjoy its natural, cultural and historical charms. The legend associated with the lake is a very important part of the nation’s history, related to Emperor Lê Lợi defeating the Chinese army in the 15th century.
Today, we need to defeat the impulse to unimaginatively copy crass commercialisations of public space. Failure to do this will be a self-defeating exercise. — VNS