The lotus pond is the priceless pearl – don't cast it before swine

By George Burchett   August 15, 2022 | 06:38 pm PT
As an expat living in Hanoi, I hesitate giving my opinion on controversial topics that I am perhaps not sufficiently informed about.

Still, as a resident of Tay Ho District for a number of years — and as someone born in Hanoi — I feel entitled to an opinion on a matter that directly affects my immediate environment: the project of floating a pearl-shaped opera house in one of Tay Ho's beloved lotus ponds.

The defenders of the project say, among other things, and here I quote Phan Dang Son, chair of the Vietnamese Architects' Association, in Vietnam News (August 11, 2022): "The architect association sees that there is currently not one architectural highlight of cultural and tourism significance as expected in the West Lake area, and this is something that needs to be addressed."

I beg to differ.

Right next to the famous one-hundred petal Dam Tri lotus pond, where the new opera house is to be built, is Phu Tay Ho, which attracts a huge number of visitors from all over Vietnam during Tet, the Lunar New Festival, apart from many Hanoians of all ages and all walks of life every lunar month, all keen on paying their respects to the Lady of the Lake, Princess Lieu Hanh.

The whole of Ho Tay (West Lake) is dotted with pagodas, temples and other culturally significant monuments, beloved and visited by Hanoians and all Vietnamese, old and young.

So the claim about the lack of "architectural highlight of cultural and tourism significance" is neither very compelling, nor convincing.

What Ho Tay doesn't lack is construction sites — some gigantic — and never-ending roadworks. On this, I believe, most can agree. As a local resident, I join my voice to those who oppose the new opera house project. The last thing we need is another large, five-year long construction project.

Another point I would like to make is that nature is also culture. And not just nature. People are culture – the cafés, street vendors, heroic municipal waste collectors, bia hoi pubs, Hanoi dogs, chicken, roosters, birds, everyone and everything alive — in no particular hierarchical order, make Hanoi the unique and vibrant city we love.

In my opinion, all these ambitious projects tend to displace that culture, and are not necessarily accessible to everyone.

*George Burchett is an artist in Hanoi.

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