The Vietnamese national flag carrier is pulling copies of the latest issue of an in-flight magazine from all of its planes, as the cover of the publication has purportedly drawn the ire of the Buddhist community in Myanmar.
The November edition of Vietnam Airlines-run Heritage Fashion features a model wearing ao dai on its cover, with what is said to be Myanmar’s renowned Shwedagon Pagoda printed on the traditional dress.
The ao dai is a national costume commonly worn by women with a tight-fitting silk tunic dressed over a pair of silk pants.
The pattern of the dress was pointed out by a Myanmarese monk, who posted nine photos of the controversial magazine on his Facebook account, named Venerable Nayaka, on Wednesday.
The monk said he was upset to see the sacred pagoda printed on a costume for women, an act he deemed offensive to the Myanmarese Buddhist followers.
He said the Shwedagon Pagoda-featuring ao dai has hurt the heart of the Myanmarese people, adding he would report the issue to the Vietnamese Embassy in Yangon as well as Vietnam Airlines agents in the Myanmarese capital.
The post and photos were shared across Facebook on Friday, but the Venerable Nayaka account appears to have been deactivated in the afternoon of the same day.
“This is an insult to Myanmar’s spiritual heritage,” said a Myanmarese passenger of Vietnam Airlines.
The Vietnamese flag carrier, however, had swiftly responded to the controversy, announcing that it would pull all copies of the issue from its fleet.
“The recall is meant to limit the impact of different cultural views,” Le Truong Giang, editor-in-chief of the airline-run Heritage magazine, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Friday.
Giang also expressed his apology to the community, especially Myanmarese customers, for the incident.
Heritage Fashion is a supplement issue of Heritage, both of which are available for free on all Vietnam Airlines flights.
Its November edition was specifically designed to showcase custom-made Vietnamese “ao dai” that promote the country’s traditional culture and embody the beauty of Asian spiritual heritage, said a representative from the magazine.
The Shwedagon Pagoda-themed ao dai is in fact part of a collection called “Asian Beauty” by Thai Tuan, a famous Vietnamese silk maker, which features many other attractions across Asia on the Vietnamese traditional dress, according to the Heritage editorial board.
The collection is intended to show respect for Vietnam’s ao dai and Asian heritage, and the Shwedagon Pagoda image was deliberately chosen to introduce the typical religious trait of Asia, according to the designers.
The Heritage editorial board said it was a lesson learnt for using religion-themed pictures for the magazine.
“We always respect all religions and religious relics of each nation in the world,” it said in a statement.
The editorial board has promised to take into consideration all countries’ cultural value, beliefs and religions in its future publications.
The Shwedagon Pagoda, officially named Shwedagon Zedi Daw and also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda and the Golden Pagoda, is a gilded stupa located in Yangon, Myanmar.
The 99-meter-tall pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in that country, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas.
Heritage, which is a monthly magazine published by Vietnam Airlines, appeals to the full spectrum of travelers, providing insightful coverage on the following topics: business in Vietnam; Vietnam’s culture, cuisine and crafts; tourist sites in Vietnam; and international and domestic travel destinations.
Heritage Fashion focuses on the promotion of Vietnamese fashion collections created by Vietnamese designers.
The magazine is presented in Vietnamese and English.