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Full Circle

Day 76: Hanoi

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe characteristic sound of Hanoi traffic is the tinkle of the bicycle bell and the squawk of the scooter horn. It's a discordant sound, but discordant in quite an acceptable way, like that of a farmyard. It's the sound of traffic at an earlier stage of evolution, lacking the hi-tech swish and roar of Western cities.

But Vietnam, like China and Russia, is opening up. Here they call the process Doi-Moi - 'renovation' or 'new thinking' - and it has informed government policy for almost ten years. A managed market economy has replaced the communist command economy. Foreign participation in business is encouraged. It is obligatory for Vietnamese civil servants to learn a foreign language. Walking into town I pass the fruits of this policy. A four-star hotel called The Standard is being developed in partnership with Singaporeans and Malaysians and a South Korean company is building on the site of the old French prison, the Maison Centrale. In the Vietnam war this was the main holding and interrogation centre for captured American servicemen, known, mockingly, as the Hanoi Hilton. Many were tortured here. Now cranes and reinforced concrete piling rise from behind the prison walls and it could indeed become the Hanoi Hilton once again. Only for real, this time. Americans will come to be pampered.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 76
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Hanoi
  • Book page no: 112

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