A Vietnamese visitor has found the Vietnam pavilion at Expo Milano 2015, the universal exposition ongoing in Milan, Italy, as being “messy, unadorned, and cheap,” while opinions on its looks may vary among different people.

Nguyen Thi Oanh, the chairwoman of an international school based in Ho Chi Minh City, recounted her negative impression of the booth showcasing Vietnamese culture, cuisine and tourism at the event on her Facebook page, and her post on Tuesday immediately went viral.

Two responsible officials, when contacted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Wednesday, were divided on the comment, as one of the them criticized that Oanh’s remarks were unsupportive of the efforts of Vietnam’s tourism at the expo, while the other admitted the comments were justified.

The Expo Milano 2015 is running from May 1 to October 31, with 145 nations and territories introducing themselves to the world.

The Vietnamese booth, called Vietnam Pavilion, is a bamboo structure designed by renowned architect Vo Trong Nghia under the theme of “water and lotus,” according to the event’s website.

Oanh, in her lengthy Facebook update, complained that there was no Vietnamese flag at the booth, while some souvenirs, clothes and Vietnamese dishes are displayed in what she deemed “an unprofessional way.”

Such products are on display without adequate information to let people know about them, whereas their quality is no different from those on sale at markets back in Vietnam, according to the post, which was shared more than 14,000 times as of Thursday afternoon.

Oanh also asked the booth attendants if they were assigned by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism to attend the expo, and learned that private businesses are representing Vietnam at the world-level event.

The visitor also compared the Vietnam Pavilion with those from the U.S., Russia and Japan, as well as Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, to underscore the difference.

Oanh said she and her family were “really angry” during their visit to the Milano Expo 2015 on Monday, and titled her Facebook status “National Shame” when referring to the Vietnam Pavilion.

But Nguyen Trung Khanh, head of the International Cooperation Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said such feedback from Oanh is unsupportive and inaccurate.

The department has joined hands with the Vietnam Exhibition and Fair Center (VEFAC) to run the Vietnam Pavilion at a total cost of US$3 million, taken from the state budget for promotional campaigns of the tourism ministry.

“All of the displays, designs and decorations at the Vietnam Pavilion were assessed and approved by relevant agencies,” Khanh told Tuoi Tre on Wednesday. “We did not do it on our own.”

Khanh said the feedback by “that certain visitor” is incorrect and lacks encouragement because it comes from only one individual.

“There were also other comments before the event kicked off and we have made some changes,” he said.

“Leaders from the Party and the government have visited the Vietnamese booth and all gave good remarks about it.”

The official also said the photos of the Vietnam Pavilion which Oanh posted on her Facebook page “might have been taken a long time ago; possibly shortly after the Expo Milano 2015 kicked off.”

“Or she might have visited the Vietnamese booth right at the time it was less visited,” he said. “I can assert that there are no such things as what the visitor complained about at the moment.”

However, Oanh asserted that all of the photos were captured on Monday.

“It is very easy to verify these photos,” she told Tuoi Tre via email.

While Khanh tried to defend the organization of the Vietnamese booth, Tran Van Tan, chief representative of Vietnam at the Expo Milano 2015 and ex-director of the VEFAC, admitted that what Oanh complained about is true.

“We have plans to go to Italy to fix things,” he told Tuoi Tre.

The tourism ministry selected Runam Co. as the exclusive supplier of food and souvenir services at the Vietnam Pavilion, but the firm failed to meet requirements set by the Expo Milano 2015 to join the event.

The Vietnamese booth was thus left empty for a month from the opening of the fair until early June, when a company run by an overseas Vietnamese was introduced by the Vietnamese Embassy in Italy to fill in the blank, Tan said.

“Food or clothes on sale at the Vietnam Pavilion cannot be sold at too expensive prices as it will be difficult to find buyers,” he explained, referring to Oanh's complaint about the "cheap food" and "items" at the booth.

Tuoi Tré News - August 13; 2015