HANOI’S MIDAS TOUCH

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The rooftop pool is covered with 24k gold plates.

Do you remember the ancient legend about King Midas, who asked the gods to give him the power to turn whatever he touched into gold? At first it was absolutely wonderful to make everything around King Midas into an enormous golden fortune. But the downside certainly dawned on the king, when he accidentally touched his beloved daughter and then his own food and drink. His golden blessing had become a lethal curse.

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I was thinking about the Midas legend this morning after a tour of Hanoi’s new Golden Lake Hotel. The friendly management told me that the entire hotel has been gold-plated with one metric ton of gold. Everything from the top floor pool to your coffee spoon is gold plated. Even your dim sum suckling pig and the Beijing duck has pieces of gold on it.

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When checking out the golden bath tub, I had another flash down memory lane: Through the window I looked down on one the now (in)famous dilapidated apartment buildings, which were built with Soviet aid, when I first came to Hanoi in the early 1980’ies. At the time, these apartments were seen as a symbol of progress and international solidarity, providing good housing for poor Hanoians.

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Alas, when I next visited one of these apartment buildings in 2005 with the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs, Denmark’s Ambassador, the late Peter Lysholt Hansen, and my friend Trine Glue Doan, they had turned into some of the worst slums, I have ever seen. At the time, there were a number of proposals to improve the living conditions for the unfortunate families living there.

As you can see here from the Golden Lake Hotel bathrooms, not much has happened. The Hoa Binh Group (note to non-vietnamese speakers: Hoa Binh means peace) is the investor behind the Golden Lake Hotel. It probably looked like a great idea, when the project was conceived. Gold is indeed an obsession all through Asia these days. Walking around in the virtually empty hotel, I am afraid that the bloody Corona virus at least momentarily has turned this dream into a modern Midas nightmare.

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