For the last week, I've woken up each morning at five to join ordinary Hanoi residents exercising in Lenin Park, which surrounds one of several huge lakes in the centre of the city. The first time I went out of curiosity, but it was such a buzz I've returned every morning.
Before first light, ordinary people of all ages stream into this and other parks. There are aerobics classes for women, where the young and elderly enthusiastically move to the beat from thumping sound boxes. Badminton games are in full swing and under some trees, elderly couples exercise with swords while other couples are waltzing.
People walk or jog around the lake and along the shores there are people doing stretches, while others fish with bamboo rods and hand-held spools.
As the sun rises over the lake I think of how commodified simple exercise has become in Australia. So many people have been convinced to shell out heaps on gym memberships to do stuff they could do for free in the parks. In the process, we're sold all sorts of rubbish about body image. Many are actually intimidated out of exercising because they are worried how they'll look in the tight (and expensive) outfits we're convinced we need to wear.
Australia has a national obesity epidemic, avoidable heart and other disease, as health, well-being and plain enjoyment are sacrificed for the profits of gyms, sports stores and pharmaceutical companies.
I hope Hanoi doesn't lose this tremendous social and health asset as it races to catch up with development delayed by years of war and relative isolation. In the future, Australians might learn from this fine example.
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