On the eve of the 30 April celebrations, I went to record the flag ceremony at Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. The square is named after the first three communes, who rebelled against the French.
Every evening at 20:50 the guards will ask the hundreds of people there to stop exercising in front of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and move to the back of the square to make space for the solemn ceremony.
When all looks neat, the loudspeakers will open up with Vietnam’s hymn “Bac dang cung chung chau hanh quan” (Uncle Ho is still with us when marching into battle). Then 33 soldiers, in crispy white uniforms will emerge to be led by a senior officer to the enormous flag pole at the center of Ba Dinh Square.
The number of soldiers is a reference to commemorate a famous unit in the People’s army of 30 men and 3 women, who were led by the legendary general Vo Nguyen Giap. Ten years later – in 1954 – general Giap commanded the Vietnamese forces in the final battle against the French in the Dien Bien Phu valley. The military defeat was a stunning blow, which resonated around the world and led to the collapse of French colonialism in Indochina.
Three soldiers will then approach the pole and lower the flag.
During the ceremony last night, I was surrounded by the whispers of grand parents telling their grand children of forgotten battles, decisive victories and lost friends. Their voices was like a persistent wind somehow overpowering the loudspeakers. It was a quiet beauty beyond words.
Then the flag was down to be neatly folded and taken away and stored for the night in the army barracks.
The simplicity of Vietnams flag – a single yellow star on red – is meant to carry a strong message of nationalism, pride and unity.
For Non-Vietnamese friends: The red symbolises the blood stained sacrifice of the Vietnamese people. The yellow 5-pointed star is showing the almighty power of Dang Cong San – The Communist Party. Each point represents the different contributors to the building of the nation: The farmer, the worker, the artist, the doctor and the soldier.
Whether you agree with the Vietnamese system or not, one thing is certain: Taking down the flag is a beautiful, simple and dignified ceremony, and it is there for you every evening at 21:00.