EVERYDAY LIFE IN VIETNAM
Someone has remarked that Vietnam is characterized by two odors-that of Nuoc-mam (fish sauce) and that of incense. The Vietnamese reaction is that Nuoc-mam represents the material life whereas incense from the places of worship symbolize the spiritual life of Vietnam. The smoke of joss sticks and incense burners rise from family altars, spirit houses, and temple courtyards and before the figures of Buddha which abound in great numbers.[Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++ ]
In the old days people used rough toilet paper similar to that found in the Soviet Union. Coconut shells were turned into brushes, used as fuel, ladles or as containers for honey. Popular Vietnamese products included Kiss Me toilet paper and Jiridium brand pens. Vietnamese champagne sold for about $2 a bottle. The label read "Champagne, product of Vietnam, Nitrogen Fertilizer Corporation." Tribespeople often store grain in small houses to protect it from fire or rats.
In the 1990s there were only one television per 31 people, one radio per 10 people, and one telephone per 544 people in Vietnam. Now cell phones and electronics are everywhere. The Los Angeles Times described Phan An, a 26-year-old freelance IT consultant who grew up with five siblings in Danang without electricity or running water. They took baths in flooded rice fields and read by oil lamp, sleeping with the rest of the family in a single room and walking three miles to school. Nowadays Phan sits at his computer listening to digital music files in a building on land that was a field a few years back. The two-room apartment he shares with a friend is stuffed with a fan, washing machine (equipped with "Fuzzy Logic 6.4"), flat-screen television, Sanyo refrigerator and electric guitar. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 05, 2010]
Red Tape in Vietnam
There is a lot of red tape in Vietnam. An investment license requires the approval of at least a dozen ministries and committees. In the 1990s the paperwork and approval process for even the most straight-forward investment often took more than two years. An American businessman told the New York Times, "in this country you have to go strictly by the book, and the book is very thick." Businessmen frustrated by the fact it seems they need authorization from every layer of the thickly layered bureaucracy. One man told Time it is "better than the old days. then, if you were dying and needed a blood transfusion, you'd have to get prime Minister Phan Van Dong to sign off."
There are a multitude of regulations and laws affecting taxation, trade, banking and other activities. The firmly-entrenched bureaucracy is hard to dismantle and as a result the government often moves at "glacial speeds" to make reforms, One American businessman told the New York Times: "There are laws that come out every week, and you're not sure how they are going to be implemented. Even when you read the laws, you're not always immediately aware what they mean."
The World Bank's 2010 "Doing Business report" says it takes on average 44 days and nine administrative procedures to start a business in Vietnam, compared with an average of 39 and eight in the rest of Asia.The American Chamber of Commerce had to cancel a big bash in 1994 celebrating the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam when it was informed by party cadres shortly before the party was to begin that meetings of 10 or people required a license. Twenty years many foreign business people in Vietnam complain things haven’t improved much.
In February 2001, The Star reported: "Vietnam has the most red tape in Asia with India a close second, according to a survey published in Hong Kong Monday. At the other end of the scale, Hong Kong and Singapore were rated as the locations where businessmen ran up against the fewest regulations. Businessmen in 13 Asian countries were asked to rate the bureaucracies where they worked on a scale of one to 10 with the lower the score meaning the less red tape. Vietnam scored 9.5 and India 9, with China close behind with a score of 8.9. Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines all scored 8. In the middle range for red tape, Taiwan scored 6.57, Malaysia scored 6.5, South Korea 6.3 and Japan 6. The least red tape was encountered in Hong Kong, which scored 3.29; Singapore, 3.6; and Australia, 4.The annual survey by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy described civil servants in Vietnam as "some of the most difficult to work with in Asia.'' [Source: The Star (Malaysia), February 27, 2001]
Religion in Everyday Life in Vietnam
Many Vietnamese habits, customs, and traditions are rooted in, and conditioned by, religious beliefs. For many Vietnamese, the village encompasses their lives. They are born, grow up, marry, have children, grow old, if fortunate, and die, often without ever having left their village environment. Since religious beliefs affect every phase of Vietnamese life, and because these are quite different from Judeo-Christian beliefs, the resulting value systems determine patterns of thinking, habits, customs, and taboos quite different from those found in America. The use of religious concepts in everyday life is more evident among the Vietnamese than among Americans. Americans tend to compartmentalize religion into a limited part of the week-in many cases to less than one hour per week. Most of the Vietnamese religious beliefs affecting daily life are so complex that they do not easily lend themselves to precise statements, definitions, beliefs, or creeds which can readily be understood by Americans. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]
Into the "cooking pot" of Vietnam, the various ingredients of animism, Ancestor Veneration or Worship, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islamism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., have been tossed. To season and spice the dish, secular culture concepts of various origins have been added. This has bubbled and stewed through the centuries, so that few of the basic religions or religious ideas will be found identical to the original. Exception must be made for such religious ingredients as Protestantism which has been added too recently, and for the animism of the tribal people who have normally stayed aloof from the whole "show" and have suffered with their "fear-controlled religion". ++
The imported religious ideas have induced permanent changes in the thought and behavior patterns of the people, and have become so deeply woven into Vietnamese daily life that Westerners tend to disbelieve their eyes, and fail to comprehend the resulting value systems. These ideas mixed with animism and ancestor veneration from South China have formulated the moral codes and standards. They have also established the various rules and systems of government, and have either promoted or hindered the growth of arts, crafts, industry and technological developments. ++
Until very recently, and in many areas is still fact, the pagoda, the wat, the shrine, the communal house, the mosque, have been the focus of village life. Birth, marriage, festivals, death, lunar occasions, etc., as well as health, posterity, travels, planting of crops, house building, are all governed by religious beliefs and ceremonies. The religious figures of the community are important personages because of either individual belief or community pressure. Social approval is essential to any Vietnamese. Many would rather die than to be held in disfavor with family or community. This would be the "sin" to many Vietnamese that creates guilt, rather than the concept held by many Americans that all men are accountable to a supreme God. ++
Ancestral altars and shrines, with pictures of deceased loved ones have traditionally dominated the front room of a house. Members of the household bow before it, light incense and pray. Altars are decorated with incense, fruit and flowers during Tet. Some Buddhist altars are situated outside in front of the house. After Tet, chicken feet are hung from the front of the house to ward off evil spirits. If the feet turn black it means a year of bad luck is ahead.
Possessions in Vietnam
A typical rural family of five shares one television with relatives, owns no telephone, VCR or carm but has a motorbike. The father's most prized possession is his house and the mother's most treasured possession is her health. In the future, the family hopes to have enough money to afford new beds and a better motorcycle. [Source: Peter Menzel, "Material World," Sierra Club Books, 1994 \\//]
In the 1990s a typical rural family's possessions included 2 bicycles (1 Vietnamese and 1 Czech), insecticide pump sprayer, kettle, 2 beds, bedding, slippers, earthenware urn, large metal pot, chair, a desk, , a few books, hoes, rakes other farm tools, bamboo bench, sideboard, china, Chinese-made thermos, a tea set, an electric fan, a ceiling fan, baskets, serving trays, pots, pans, bowls, 2 stools, and chest with 2,200 pound of rice. The also have 4 pigs, 2 piglets, 20 chickens, a rooster, 11 ducks, 50 banana trees and two star fruit trees \\//.
An average village home in Vietnam contains a few chairs and tables, frame beds, a television, a small alter, and portraits of family members and Ho Chi Minh. In Hanoi, mattresses are relatively new amenities and are regarded as luxuries. In rural homes home there is often little space. People sit on the floor. Food is often cooked on a charcoal stove in the kitchen. Televisions often run on batteries. Many people sleep on thin mats spread on the floor, which one journalist wrote makes it difficult to sleep late in the mornings.
Ancestral altars and shrines, with pictures of deceased loved ones have traditionally dominated the front room of a house. Members of the household bow before it, light incense and pray. Altars are decorated with incense, fruit and flowers during Tet. Some Buddhist altars are situated outside in front of the house. After Tet, chicken feet are hung from the front of the house to ward off evil spirits. If the feet turn black it means a year of bad luck is ahead.
Many people keep their front door open all day. Sometimes their prized possessions are placed in such a way that people from the street can see them. Fine furniture often has exquisite mother of pearl inlays. During the war some families buried valuable possessions such as china and furniture with mother of pearl inlays to keep them from being destroyed. If the family ran out of money they could dig it the items and sell them.
Bargaining in Vietnam
Vietnamese often barter and bargain over prices. Bargaining it is done politely as aggression is considered rude. It is as much a social activity and game as it is means of economic exchange. According to Hitchhiking Vietnam, PBS: “Most Westerners believe the key to successful bargaining is to get as close as possible to the true market value of the product before closing the deal. They're wrong. The real purpose of extended negotiations is to convince each party that they have wrung from their opponent the best deal they can possibly get. This allows them to walk away secure in the knowledge that not only have they not been cheated, but if possible have made a killing into the bargain. [Source: Hitchhiking Vietnam, PBS,pbs.org/hitchhikingvietnam ////]
“Assume, for example, a typical American faced with a magnificent embroidery. She offers the Vietnamese equivalent of ten dollars. The locals respond with a demand for fifteen. The Westerner, foolishly assuming that time is money, immediately offers to split the difference - twelve fifty - and assumes the deal is as good as struck. The locals withdraw suspiciously. If she is so willing to raise her bid, they reason, then their initial asking price is obviously too low. They return with a new price of twenty dollars. She is piqued at their irrational behavior and briefly considers backing down to her original offer of ten dollars. But no, she made the offer in good faith and must stand by her word. They haggle for a while, apparently getting no closer to an agreement. The locals are just coming to the conclusion that she will go no higher than twelve-fifty and that they would do well to accept this price. She is getting bored with the lack of progress - time is money - and makes a suicidal move. They originally wanted fifteen dollars, she recalls. So be it. She will pay that much. But that was then and this is now and clearly they misconstrued her upper limits. The price jumps to twenty-five. The two long hours it took to purchase one grubby armband left me limp and wilted, and ready to go back to town." ////
“There's obviously a fundamental miscommunication when Westerners and Vietnamese bargain. Take, for example, a cyclo driver negotiating a fare. He knows the price should be fifty cents. He asks for five dollars... the foreigner is clueless and gives the five dollars, then finds out later that he has been cheated and is furious. The foreigner knows the price should be fifty cents. He says so and pays the correct fare, but he still feels like the driver tried to rip him off. Either he gets angry immediately or he sits a while, expecting the cyclo driver to apologize. When this doesn't happen he gets angry. ////
“The Vietnamese cyclo driver is essentially playing a money game. Sure, he'd like the five dollars. So he asks for it. If he gets it, great - it's like winning the lottery. If he doesn't, no problem. He'll do the trip for fifty cents. If you catch him at the game he'll laugh and give in with a joke or a gesture. He certainly won't apologize - in his mind he hasn't really done anything wrong. He is baffled by the Westerner's angry response. ////
“The Vietnamese have been quick to grasp the value of time as a bargaining tool when dealing with foreigners. They delight in quoting a ridiculously high starting price, then settling back onto their haunches to allow the minutes to wear away their opponent's patience and pry open his wallet. To this end, the vendors have long since perfected the art of dawdling. They pick their teeth with bamboo slivers. They offer their guests endless tea and under important circumstances, home-brewed rice whisky. They maintain an unbroken litany of praise for their wares, their silver tongues gathering crowds of local onlookers. They bemoan their shanty homes and dozen children and longingly finger the unpatched collars of their customer's clothes.” ////
Gender and Economic Roles in Vietnam
Women are very active is small-scale retail and trade and have traditionally controlled the family purse strings. The wife is the family treasurer and keeper of the family gold. The father and the children often help their mother in the kitchen. Often the wife is the business-head of the family and operates any financial endeavor which it undertakes. Such a business may be a small store, a mobile sidewalk cafeteria, etc. She is not normally a pedicab operator or a fisherman at sea, although she is often a fishmonger or peddler.
According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: "Nearly all the country’s market stalls today are run by women. Though they are more often small merchants, it is interesting that the richest private capitalist in Vietnam today is also a woman. Not only do women form the overwhelming majority of all active merchants in the country, they constitute the majority of the customers as well. As O’Harrow (1995) points out, in spite of the male role of provider, which is implicit in the Confucian paradigm, Vietnamese mothers raise their daughters to understand, if not explicitly, then by example, that they should always have their own money and cannot depend on men. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]
The most commonly acquired commodity for this kind of female protective investment is jewelry, preferably in unalloyed gold or with recognizable gems. Young girls quietly watch their mother’s elaborate systems of boxes, jars, purses, hidden floor boards, and furtive containers of every kind and dimension, never opened in the father’s presence. They observe and learn. The extraordinary interest Vietnamese women appear to take in jewelry is commonly misunderstood by outsiders as simple vanity. But in fact the precious contents are considered the mother’s property and will stay with her should she leave. \*/
Vietnamese Prefer Cash to Cash-Less Economy
In 2004, AFP reported: “In a country where the average annual salary is a paltry 450 dollars, it's not surprising a majority of Vietnamese do not have a bank account and have never even seen a cash-dispensing machine. Government efforts to encourage a shift away from a cash-based economy to one with a modern banking system have come up against tradition and decades of mistrust about depositing hard-earned wages in someone else's protection. "It is simply our habit of using cash for transactions," said 54-year-old Tran Tien Hung, an employee of a state-owned company in Hanoi. At present, only about 1.1 million of the communist nation's 81 million people have bank accounts, according to the State Bank of Vietnam. "These people are the minority among the vast population of Vietnam," said Nguyen Duc Vinh, director general of the Technological and Commercial Bank of Vietnam. [Source: Tran Minh Ha, Agence France Presse, October 18, 2004 <=>]
“Johan Nyvene, manager of corporate and institutional banking for HSBC in Vietnam, says government efforts to encourage non-cash transactions need to be supported by fundamental infrastructure changes to the banking system. "To begin with, the centralised automated clearing system needs to be established in all provinces and used by all banks in the system comprehensively for all dong and non-dong transactions," he said. "There is also a need for the inter-bank payment system to be operated efficiently with intra-day and overnight overdraft limits to be standardised between banks." <=>
“A recent draft government ordinance that would force Vietnamese companies to use the banking system for transactions of more than 10 million dong or 700 dollars has triggered concern within the business community. Businessmen say the ceiling is too low and that cash transactions are more convenient for themselves and for the recipients. The World Bank, which is helping the government reform the banking system, says the cash economy fuels money laundering, while the government says change is needed to ensure Vietnam's full integration into the world economy. "Cashless transactions are essential to our efforts to become a part of the global economic community, particularly in our bid for WTO entry by the end of 2005," said a State Bank official requesting anonymity. Experts, however, say it will take many more years before the majority of Vietnamese shift their savings from underneath the mattress to the bank vault. <=>
Markets in Vietnam
Traditional markets are part of Vietnamese culture, where people go not only to buy food but also to socialize, exchange information, living experiences and cooking tips. "It’s so easy to go out and pick up things you need in five minutes. Vietnamese normally prepare fresh food every day rather than have them stored in the refrigerator for a week," Trang says. "My mother goes to the market and even though I’m busy with work, I always try to wake up early and get fresh food for my own family before I go to work," she adds. "This takes me only half an hour at the market." [Source: Hoa Ta, Viet Nam News, September 15, 2009 /=\]
Hoa Ta wrote in the Viet Nam News, “Vietnamese have a saying that nhat can thi, nhi can giang (it’s best living near a market, secondly living near a river) where it is easy to get food and easy to travel. Markets are part of the Vietnamese culture, says cultural researcher Vu The Long of the Institute of Archaeology. It’s where one can find everything about lifestyle, culture and customs of people living in that region. /=\
“With other people who like to exchange cooking tips with their housewife friends, going to market is a source of communication and gathering information in their retirement. "It’s boring to stay at home all day cooking and cleaning," says Hoang Cam Tu, a retired teacher. "I enjoy going to the market where I can meet and talk with other housewives and exchange cooking techniques and news around the community. "Things in a supermarket are clean and well arranged. However, everyone seems to be less friendly and things are more expensive," Tu says. /=\
“The markets and street stalls with food and fruit are not only convenient for housewives, they are part of the character of the country, says David Stout, an expat in Hanoi. "Isn’t it the nice thing about Viet Nam? What I love about Viet Nam and other Southeast Asian countries are the markets. Things are fresh and easy to get. It is different from my country where things are all in supermarkets." "People always complaint that street stuff is bad quality but I really enjoy the fruit they sell on the streets. Both the quality and the price are very good," says Keith Halstead, a freelance cameraman. /=\
Types of Markets in Vietnam
Countryside Market: Many communes in rural Vietnam feature countryside markets (cho que). There are two main types of countryside market: the fair and the evening market. Fairs are held periodically. For example, it may be held on days with the numbers three and eight, which would imply fairs on the 3rd, 8th, 13th, 18th, 23rd and 28th days of each lunar month. Major markets attract huge numbers of people. Apart from local products, visitors can find industrial and expensive commodities produced in other localities. Of course, necessities such as fruit, oil, salt and vegetables are always available. [Source: [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
Highland Market: Markets in highland areas where ethnic minorities reside are not only places of commerce, but also cultural festivals. People wear their nicest clothes and spend some days at the market. They may play their pan-flutes, dance, sing and meet new friends. Therefore, markets in highland areas are also called Love Markets (Cho Tinh). ~
Floating Markets: There is a very interesting kind of market in the Mekong River Delta. Thousands of boats gather to form a place of economic activity. Trading activities take place all day, but the most exciting time is in the morning when boats arrive loaded up with agricultural products.On a cho noi (floating market) all trade activities take place on boats. The largest cho noi include Phung Hiep, Nga Bay, Phong Dien (in Hau Giang), Cai Rang (in Can Tho) and Cai Be (in Tien Giang). Most of the agricultural productions sold in cho noi are for wholesalers, who then re-sell it to food processing factories or ship it to the north. ~
Urban Life in Vietnam
Urban population: 30 percent of total population (2010); rate of urbanization: 3 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.) Major cities - population: Ho Chi Minh City 5.976 million; Hanoi (capital) 2.668 million; Haiphong 1.941 million; Da Nang 807,000 (2009). [Source: CIA World Factbook]
In 2004 about 26 percent of Vietnam’s population was urban, up from 15 percent in the early 1980s. the cities many people live in cramped apartments. Until fairly recently many had no electricity or running water. People still sometimes cook outside using stoves fired by bricks made from coal and mud. In Saigon, fruits and perishable items are brought into the markets in the middle of the night when temperatures are the coolest. Many trees painted white, apparently to keep people from bumping into them at night.
Vietnamese cities are breaking at the seams. Between planting and harvests, farmers go to cities looking jobs. Mainly as a result of peasants heading to the cities in search of jobs, which they usually don't find. Ho Chi Minh City has grown from 2.5 million people in 1975 to 4.5 million in 1995.
See Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
Urban Transportation in Vietnam
Vietnamese cities are dominated by pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, three-wheeled pedaled taxis known as cyclos, and especially motorscooters and motorbikes (the are a couple of million of them in Saigon alone). The number of cars and trucks, however, is increasing everyday. Streets in most towns and cities are named after the same two dozen or Vietnamese heros.
Alan Richman wrote in Conde Nast Traveler, “Cyclos, a suicidal form of public transportation, are hard to find. I used to love riding in them, sitting in a little chair without seat belt or helmet, a Vietnamese with ropy legs pedaling madly behind me, launching both of us into traffic. The few that remain are no more relevant than the gondolas of Venice. The single best sight in Asia, Vietnamese women in their ao dais, riding on motor scooters, long black hair flowing behind them, has practically disappeared too. The women are still around, still on their scooters, but now they wear T-shirts that read groovy in glittery letters.[Source: Alan Richman, Conde Nast Traveler, December 2005]
Many intersections don't have stop signs or traffic lights. Generally, the bigger vehicles bully their way through and pedestrians and people on smaller vehicles have to give way. Traffic police in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are largely ignored. Police who do stop vehicles are more interested in collecting bribes than stopping traffic offenses.
Crossing the streets is like dodging field artillery. When crossing a busy road, pedestrians work their way across in stages, and move slowly without stopping. Vehicles make way for them as they cross. Motorscooters and bicycles entering traffic from the opposite side of the road sort of do the same thing by going diagonally against the traffic until they reach the lane going in the direction they are going. It looks chaotic but Vietnamese know the rules and there are surprisingly few mishaps.
One visitor to Vietnam wrote: “Hanoi is famous for its traffic. There are still mopeds everywhere, they still don't seem to follow any rules and you still take your life into your own hands when crossing the roads. From this perspective, nothing had changed. Once I was able to trust that these moped drivers really weren’t going to hit me, I started to admire their skill at driving and doing about 10 other things at the same time.”
Hanoi's Dense Old Quarter and Plans to Ease the Congestion
Ian Timberlake of AFP wrote: "There are 21,900 households in an area of less than 100 hectares (247 acres), the Ancient Quarter research booklet says, citing a 2006 census. "In many houses, an entire family may occupy no more than a single room," it says."The density in here is too high," says one Old Quarter resident familiar with the redevelopment plan. "They want to move people out, make a better life", he said, adding that the plan has been proposed but not yet approved by civic officials. [Source: Ian Timberlake, AFP, December 22, 2009 ////]
"Nguyen Thai Hau, 63, has lived almost 50 years at a house on Hang Ca street, named for the fish once sold there. She says her house, built in the 1940s, originally belonged to one wealthy man and his wives. "Now there are six households here with about 30 people," she says. Many say the convenience of Old Quarter living compensates for the lack of amenities. Tradition is also a factor, says the old woman on Hang Bac. She says some residents have bigger houses elsewhere "but still no one wants to sell because these are the houses of the ancestors." ////
"The Vietnam News described a plan to move 25,000 of the Old Quarter’s 84,000 residents, beginning in 2009 when 1,900 households will go to a new development called Viet Hung, across the Red River. With its wide streets and broad sidewalks devoid of almost all people and vehicles, the mix of high- and low-rise apartments certainly has something the Old Quarter lacks: a feeling of space. That is not enough to entice Nam, the life-long Old Quarter inhabitant with a shared toilet. ////
"We don't want to live in a high-rise block," Nam says. "We are not used to it." Nobody will be forced to go, said the other local resident, who is familiar with the plan. Authorities will take time to find out what people will need to make them feel comfortable in their new neighbourhood, he said. "This is a very difficult project. We have to spend lots of time to study," he said. As a first step, after two years of negotiation, several families who squatted inside a Hang Bac temple have been moved to new accommodation and given compensation, he said. ////
Makeover of Hanoi’s Old Quarter:
Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: “Hanoi's low-rise Old Quarter seems generations away from the office towers and electronics megastores springing up in other parts of the capital. But with property values high, this neighborhood could change dramatically in the coming years as similar ones already have in Singapore, Shanghai and many other cities. Authorities want to begin gentrifying the Old Quarter by relocating 6,200 households between this year and 2020. New construction is likely a few years away, but some residents already have been relocated. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, February 15, 2014 ^*^]
“Some of them are nervous, though not necessarily over lost history. They worry about being exiled to the city's dusty margins, and of being forced to accept a bad deal from a Communist government that has generated public discontent across Vietnam by forcing people off their land with compensation far below market rates.Pham Dinh Tranh, a retired jeweler in the Old Quarter, has watched many of the traditional jewelry workshops of Silver Street slowly morph into cafes and souvenir shops. The 82-year-old wouldn't mind a change of scene: The Silver Street home he shares with his extended family is cramped and the roof leaks. But he said Hanoi officials will need to make a convincing case for relocation. ^*^
"We're willing to go, but not if they take this property and resell it for profit," Tranh said. Vu Thi Hong, an official with the Hanoi government's Old Quarter Housing Relocation Project, said the main goal of the planned relocations is to reduce population density while preserving cultural heritage. With about 66,000 people, the quarter has a population density of 823 people per hectare (2.5 acres) — nearly eight times New York City's. ^*^
Hong said compensation for relocations is paid at market rates determined by the government. City planners have not yet decided what will be constructed once current residents are relocated, she added, but new buildings won't exceed three stories. She said a few hundred Old Quarter residents have been moved in the last decade from weathered temples and pagodas, and authorities plan to build an apartment complex on Hanoi's outskirts to house thousands of others. "Most of those who have already been moved say they have a better life now," Hong said, adding that the government pays up to 81 million dong ($4,000) per square meter at streetfront properties.
In Hanoi's real-estate market, the average transaction price at Old Quarter properties is currently between $12,500 and $15,000 per square meter, according to Nguyen Son, a property agent in Hanoi. That exceeds the average price of $9,337 per square meter paid at luxury residential properties across Shanghai, as calculated last year by the London-based consultancy Knight Frank.
Pham Ba Bao, who was relocated from Silver Street in 2010, is not entirely satisfied with his new situation. The retired bicycle maker used to live in the temple that has since been refurbished. He said he received 900 million dong ($42,300) and later purchased an apartment about seven miles away for 474 million dong ($22,278). "We're happy with this apartment, but we can't make a living," Bao said recently at his new place, down the street from some gasoline storage tanks. He said he used to earn 200,000 ($9.50) to 300,000 ($14) per day selling tea outside the temple, but foot traffic in his new location is minimal. He now survives mainly on the 3 million dong ($141) per month his daughter-in-law earns as a hairdresser.
Hoang Thi Tao, who runs a newspaper stand near the Old Quarter, is cautiously optimistic about the impending changes. "The project will help to make the Old Quarter prettier, improve its residents' living standards and lure more foreign tourists," Tao said. "But it'll also require a lot of resources and determination on the government's part. They'll need to give big compensation offers to persuade those people to leave."
Plan to Supersize Hanoi
Roger Mitton wrote in The Straits Times, "Vietnam is embarking on an ambitious plan to almost quadruple the size of its capital despite reservations, even among members of the ruling Communist Party, about the move. The scheme to 'supersize' Hanoi has been criticised as unnecessary, ill-conceived and a distraction from the urgent need to tackle the nation's severe economic downturn. Said lawyer Nguyen Tran Bat, chairman of Investconsult, one of Vietnam's major business advisory groups: 'The project to expand Hanoi is illogical, poorly thought out and wrong. It is just a bad decision at a bad time.' Added Mr Nguyen Thanh Ha, a Hanoi construction company executive: 'I don't understand why the government spends all this time and effort discussing the size of Hanoi when it should be solving our economic problems.' [Source: Roger Mitton, The Straits Times, June 7, 2008 ==]
"Under the plan, the capital's borders will grow 3.6 times and its population will double to 6.2 million, making it bigger than Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. But it has drawn such strong opposition that no fewer than six ministers were dispatched to the National Assembly to try to argue its merits - with little success. 'You mean, Hanoi has already used up its entire 920 sq km?' asked assemblywoman Nguyen Thi Tuyen sarcastically. Deputy Ngo Van Hung doubted if Hanoi could be turned into a cultural and international entrepot so easily, saying: 'I'm afraid we will not have a Hanoi that meets all these expectations by this time next century.' ==
"Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung conceded that an earlier presentation was flawed, but argued that supersizing Hanoi will make it a 'cultural, political and economic center' equal to other great cities in the region - and even resorted to feng shui. Said Mr Dung: 'Hanoi will lean against the Ba Vi Mountains and face the Hong River. It will be stable in the curling-dragon-crouching-tiger position.' Despite the continued criticism, however, there was never any doubt that the regime's plan would be approved. When the debate finally ended, a majority of deputies - all either party members or affiliated with the party - swallowed their qualms and voted for the proposal. ==
Slums in Saigon
The poorest neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s— District 4— was known as the district of the "five no's"—"no sewers, no water, no electricity, no jobs, no hope." Many of those that live there in some way supported the American side in the war. At that time people slept on the zoo grounds.
Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, William Horsley of BBC News wrote: "The slums are an ugly reminder of the legacy of the war. Efforts to clear them began 15 years ago, but up to quarter of a million people still live in them. The slums grew up during the war, when refugees from the countryside streamed into Vietnam's biggest city to escape the bombs and the fighting. Many settled on the damp ground along the city's network of four large canals. These are natural branches of the Saigon river, whose waters rise and fall with the rains. They snake through the city towards the west and north. The Thi Nghe canal runs just a few blocks from the modern heart of the city. On one bank is a slum, where people live below the official poverty line of US$1 a day. Here drugs, crime and prostitution flourish. Some men, with families to feed, scrape a living as pedicab drivers.[Source: William Horsley, BBC News, October 24, 2004 *-*]
But there is frenzied activity in its alleys. Women are busy cutting bamboo sticks for sale, minding small stalls of fruit, and gutting fish from plastic buckets on the ground. Men hurry along carrying scrap metal to sell, or to repair the flimsy shacks they live in. The canal stinks, with a sickly smell of human waste and rotting vegetation. Inside the huts old men and women sit or lie still on narrow bunks. The canal water often breaks its banks and floods this area, especially during the summer rainy season, leaving a layer of mud that breeds disease. *-*
"Clearing Saigon's slums is a huge project, and the city is setting an example for the country as a whole. The World Bank has praised Vietnam for its success in reducing poverty, and as Vietnam opens up, more international aid is arriving to help. The government has re-housed over 35,000 people in the past 10 years. But Luong Van Ly, of Saigon's Planning and Investment Department, says 50,000 households have still to be re-housed, most in new high-rise tenements in the suburbs. It will take many years. The biggest problem, Mr Ly says, is finding the money to compensate the slum-swellers for the land. Saigon's economic boom has raised land prices to record highs. *-*
"The government is naturally sensitive about the slums. Officials did not allow the BBC to interview slum-dwellers or their helpers in the worst slum areas, like the one around the Thi Nghe canal. Instead, they prefer to show off areas where the slums have been cleared. One is the Nhieu Loc canal district, on the road used by visitors arriving in Saigon from Tan Son Nhat airport. US President Bill Clinton came here on a visit four years ago, to see the progress being made. It is now part of an Urban Upgrade Project, which aims to bring clean water and sanitation to 1.5 million residents of Saigon who lack them. Today the canal banks are lined with trees. The houses on both banks are newly-built. But the water is still badly polluted. *-*
"Le Hung Vong, a journalist from the English-language newspaper Vietnam News, explained that the new housing was now linked to a modern sewage system. But wide areas of slum dwellings are not. In those parts, sewage is still dumped straight into the water, so it stills flows through parts of the city. "Before 1950", said Mr Vong, "people here on the Nhieu Loc canal say they used to bathe in the water. It was clean." And how long will it take before they will be able to swim in the water safely again ? "Maybe in 2020", Mr Vong says. "Then they will be able to enjoy the water. No more bad smell!" *-*
Hanoi's 'Tube' Dwellers
Ian Timberlake of AFP wrote: "She stands in the narrow doorway, a dark tunnel stretching behind her until it ends at a patch of light half a block away. Inside the tunnel are tiny rooms the old woman and her family call home. "I enjoy living here and I will die here," says the 83-year-old, her mouth stained the color of red wine from chewing betel nut. She declined to be named. [Source: Ian Timberlake, AFP, December 22, 2009 ////]
"The stream of tourists passing her tunnel in Hanoi's Old Quarter could easily miss it, along with the many similar dark spaces throughout this neighbourhood whose roots go back almost 1,000 years. As much as life in the Old Quarter is lived on the noisy, crowded streets, it also takes place -- unseen by casual visitors -- inside these long, narrow homes known as "tube houses." Civic authorities have deemed many of these homes unsuitable. They are seeking approval to move about one-third of Old Quarter residents to highrises to improve their living conditions, state media reported. ////
"We share the same toilet with dozens of others," says Tran Dinh Nam, who has spent all of his 45 years in one Old Quarter house and is proud of his neighbourhood. He and other tube dwellers vow to stay put. "I don't want to move anywhere else, even to the next street," says the old woman who has lived in her house for 60 years. Her quarters were not always as cramped as they are now. She said the tunnel is a relatively recent addition, dividing her family's space from that of others whose entry doors open onto the dark corridor. ////
"Such renovations are typical, says a booklet based on research by Hanoi's Ancient Quarter Management Board and Japanese universities. "If there is an empty space, a dwelling will be built on it," the booklet says. "Almost every available space between existing buildings has been developed or infilled." ////
"Reached through a short tunnel, the two-storey structure rises from a courtyard where Nguyen Thai Hau, washes rice for cooking in a small kitchen. "Of course, the living conditions are not good... but we are used to it," says Hau, whose family sells clothes from the sidewalk in front. Her 30 square meters of space (322 square feet) is small but, like others in the Old Quarter, is extremely valuable. "It may reach nearly 20 billion dong (one million dollars) this year, I guess. I did not sell it as my elder son refused to go anywhere else. He said it's easier living here, at the center of Hanoi." ////
Rural Life in Vietnam
Rural populations: about 70 percent. In 2004 about 75 percent of Vietnam’s population was rural down from 85 percent in the early 1980s. About 60 percent of the work force in Vietnam is made up of farmers. Many of these farmers have small plots of land barely able to grow enough food for their families.
Christine Salins wrote in the Canberra Times, "Even from a tour bus, Vietnam is a passing parade of vignettes: women wearing conical hats and carrying bamboo poles with baskets of fresh produce, chickens and ducks for sale on the side of the road, pigs being taken to market on the back of motorbikes, and people squatting to cook and eat on the footpaths. Lush green rice paddies extend as far as the eye can see, traffic roundabouts spill forth with edible plants, rows of banana trees line the rivers and prawn farms jostle for space as we approach scenic Halong Bay. If rice is a mainstay of the economy, so too is coffee, grown in the highlands and exported in huge quantities. Brewed in individual filters, Vietnamese coffee is sweet and strong. Served with condensed milk, it's a taste you either love or hate. As well as producing a liking for coffee, the French colonial influence gave the Vietnamese an appreciation for baguettes and ice cream. [Source: Christine Salins, Canberra Times, September 11, 2002]
Generally, the Vietnamese rice farmer (rice raising is the major farm activity) lives in small villages and walks to and from his various rice paddies. Sometimes small boats are used to reach these fields by means of irrigation canals and ditches and the rice crop is sometimes transported to the village by boat when harvested. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division, 1967 ++]
See Villages in Vietnam under Villages and Homes
Buffalo Boy: Lovely Film About Rural Life in Vietnam
Bruce Newman wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, "Water is everywhere in writer-director Minh Nguyen-Vo's "Buffalo Boy'' ("Mua Len Trau''), a coming-of-age story that depends as much upon the flooded Vietnamese countryside as the humans who seem to float just above it to reveal its secrets. Based on the classic short story collection "Scent of the Ca-Mau Forest'' by the celebrated Vietnamese author Son Nam, the film employs the waters that perennially flood the country as "a mixed metaphor for life and death,'' according to a statement by Nguyen-Vo. [Source: Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News, September 15, 2006 :::]
"There is plenty of both in "Buffalo Boy,'' which reveals its beauty in vast, glistening panoramas that should be more evocative on the big screen than in the 2004 DVD version. If you have ever wondered what the life of a Vietnamese peasant was like in the 1940s, it seems unlikely there will be a lovelier evocation of it than "Buffalo Boy,'' which opens today for a two-week stay at the Camera 12 Cinemas. The director will be on hand for question-and-answer sessions following the evening shows today and Saturday and for the matinees Sunday. :::
"To anyone unfamiliar with life in rural Vietnam during the French colonial period, the opening scenes of "Buffalo Boy,'' which made the rounds at film festivals in 2004, might seem almost comical, with all the earnest discussions between father and son about the health and well-being of the family's two water buffaloes. But they're not kidding. Not only do the buffaloes account for most of their livelihood as draught animals in a subsistence economy, it's also easy to see that Kim (Le The Lu) loves them as if they were pets. During Kim's journey, he sleeps on the back of one of the buffaloes, and after talking to him about his plans for the next day, he hugs the animal's giant head. :::
"In this film, buffaloes often get more respect than humans do. Director Nguyen-Vo lingers lovingly on a shot of buffaloes watching the clouds as they graze on the floodplain. In the evening, husbands and wives discuss the beauty of the great buffalo herds they have seen. You never heard such a lot of buffalo talk! But if the specifics of a Vietnamese trail drive differ noticeably from those of their Hollywood western counterparts, the rustlin' and fightin' among frontier varmints appear to be the same everywhere. :::
"Kim's search for grass that his buffaloes can fatten themselves on has brought him to the brink of ruin, when he awakens to find a herd going past. But his offer to indenture himself to the leader of what the herders refer to as their "gang'' is at first spurned, and the brutality of this world — in which man and beast sometimes simply are left for dead — is powerfully evoked. Even strength in numbers doesn't always prove decisive in such a harsh landscape; after Kim is allowed into the gang that had rejected him, his buffaloes go hungry when a rival gang lets its herd devour all the grass on a hill to which Kim had looked for salvation. :::
Determined to keep his story stripped down, Nguyen-Vo never shows us the French masters who rule these peasants' lives, just the emissaries who come roaring up on a boat in the middle of the trail drive to collect a tax for letting the herd through. The herdsmen dull the pain of the day by smoking a joint around the campfire, but even this brief recreation is interrupted by a murderous monsoon of violence. Kim eventually goes home disillusioned, and finds himself betrayed even there. Some of the intricacies of the plot -- particularly the dynamics of his relationship with his family -- remain murky to me, but I doubt that an audience more familiar with Vietnamese culture would have any difficulty understanding the subtler nuances of the film. :::
The boy's passage into manhood is even more tumultuous than his trek across Vietnam's watery plains. He falls in love — or lust anyway — with a woman who belongs to someone else, and like everything else in this movie, she comes into his life and goes out of it again in a rush of water. I'm not sure if the acting is best described as naturalistic, or if Le is even trained in the dramatic arts. He is not, in any case, given to unnecessary theatrics, which seems unlikely to land him the now-vacant lead role in the next "Mission: Impossible'' picture, but seems just right for the simplicity of this story. :::
Rural Vietnamese Lifestyle
Women often work in the fields into the night while the older children take care of the younger ones back home. People wear the broad conical hats associated with Vietnam in the fields for protection from the sun. Many things are still carried on shoulder poles or in various kinds of cart. Fresh milk is in short supply. There are few cows. Most people rely on condensed milk. The loudest noise in many rural areas in the sound of a gas-powered generator hooked up to a water pump. These pumps are used to supply drinking water but mainly there used in irrigation.
Children and adults are usually up and dressed before 6:30am. Stores and banks are usually open by 7:30. Before breakfast, a rural family usually feeds the pigs, collects eggs from beneath laying hens and straightens the house. After the children leave for school, the father usually goes to the rice paddies, checks the irrigation levels and works out a water schedule with the manager of the pump station.
Vietnamese culture has evolved with wet rice agriculture. The lifestyle of the Vietnamese population is closely related to its village and native lands. In Vietnamese society, people gather together to form villages in rural areas, and guilds in urban areas. Villages and guilds have been forming since the dawn of the nation. These organizations have gradually developed for the population to be more stable and closer together. Each village and guild has its own regulations called conventions. The purpose of these conventions is the promotion of good customs within populations. All the conventions are different but they are always in accordance with the state laws. Approximately ten thousands such conventions are kept in the History Museum in Hanoi and in other museums throughout the country. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
"The landlords once had an awful lot of power," said one farmer describing the old days . "Tenants were merely their slaves and had to work from dawn to dusk... For every ceremonial feast the tenants had to come work and to bring rice or poultry to put on the altar... They were afraid if they did not do so the landlord would be angry and might take back his land... Now they are no longer afraid." [Source: Mark Moyar, Naval Institute Press, 1997]
Migration to the Cities in Vietnam
Vietnam has experienced periodic waves of migration to the cities. There was a large one during the Japanese occupation in World War II when the cities were thought to be safer than the countryside. The migration to the cities after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 was so high the government posted slogans that read: "To produce is to survive—return to the countryside." In recent years there has been a migration to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City by peasants seeking a better life. One young man from the provinces who worked for $2 a day at a factory told the Los Angeles Times, "I came to Hanoi to establish myself although life is not as exciting as I hoped" but is better than the countryside where "there simply is no work between crops."
On survey found that half the people in greater Hanoi were born somewhere else and one in four did not live in Hanoi a decade earlier. In Ho Chi Minh City, an estimated 10,000 new immigrants arrive every month. In Hanoi the figure is about 5,000 a month. All these people have created environmental problems and strained the city’s social services. Outside the city shanty towns full idle men have sprung up. Crime rates have increased.
Residents of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are supposed to have permits to live in the cities. Authorities have tried to crack down on immigrants without permits but there are simply too many of them and there is no place to put them. A common job for migrants is mixing mud and coal into bricks used for cooking for two dollars a day.
David Lamb wrote in the Los Angeles Time, "Tran Tien Dat dreamed the dream of the countryside. It was about all the wonders the city must hold: the excitement, the brightly lighted streets and, most important, a steady job. He could not shake these thoughts and knew that one day, despite his parents' objections, he would flee the rice paddies. Last year, he left rural Phu Tho province in northern Vietnam and, as have so many young men, sought work here in the capital. His dream has taken him to a small factory on the banks of the Red River, just beyond the Long Bien Bridge, which U.S. bombers attacked repeatedly during the Vietnam War. Now he stands shinbone-deep in mud, covered with soot, sweating over the bricks of cooking coal he helps produce.[Source: David Lamb, Los Angeles Time, February 17, 2000 \:\]
"Though still low, crime is on the rise crime is increasing in the major cities. Rivers and lakes are becoming fouled with refuse and human waste. Air pollution is increasing. Those problems, the government says, are all related to migration. Shantytowns have sprung up on the outskirts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, populated by transplants who cannot afford housing in the city centers. Along Hanoi's Giang Ho Street, groups of former farmers idle away the hours chatting and playing cards, hoping for a day's work as casual laborers. "There is no job I won't do," says Hoang Pham, 28. His daily expenses for living quarters and food amount to 35 cents. \:\
"Authorities have responded to the migration by making repeated attempts to enforce regulations that still require Vietnamese to obtain permission before taking up a new residency. But the cash-strapped Communist government, which is uncomfortable when it sees its control of the population lessened, has found itself without effective tools to limit the flow of people. It is estimated that one of every five people in Ho Chi Minh City is an "illegal" resident. \:\
"In fact, a U.N. report on Vietnam's rural exodus concludes: "Migration is a rational act." The movement is a search for economic opportunity and security stimulated by government policies adopted in 1986, under which Vietnam took the first steps toward a free-market economy, which led to growing prosperity and foreign investment. Most of the investment and the opportunities it creates are concentrated in or near the major cities. Despite the strains that migration creates in a population that is 78 percent rural and the most dense in Southeast Asia after those of Singapore and the Philippines, there are some positive economic aspects, says Nicholas Rosellini of the U.N. Development Program. \:\
"It increases the labor force," says Rosellini, the program's deputy representative here, "and it can increase rural opportunity because most of the workers tend to send their income back to the families in the rural provinces." As a result, economists say, the disparity between rich and poor provinces is reduced. The migration from country to city is hardly unique to Vietnam. A similar movement fueled Europe's Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Southeast Asia's economic boom of the 1980s and '90s pushed the populations of metropolitan Manila; Bangkok, Thailand; and Jakarta, Indonesia, upward to about 10 million each. All three cities are still trying to cope with the resultant stress on social and medical services, public transportation, housing, law enforcement and the environment. Nor is migration new to Vietnam. When the country was partitioned into north and south in 1954, about 1 million northerners, many of them Roman Catholics, crossed the Ben Hai River into South Vietnam. The exodus from the Communist north to the capitalist south was encouraged--some say engineered--by the CIA. \:\
"During the war, millions of Vietnamese fled from northern cities into the countryside to escape the U.S. bombing campaign, and millions more fled into southern cities to seek protection from ground fighting in rural areas. Thousands Fled After the Fall of Saigon Then there was the flight of hundreds of thousands to Western countries after North Vietnamese troops marched into Saigon in April 1975, and the involuntary resettlement between 1976 and 1990 of 3.7 million Vietnamese into the government's "economic zones" in the Central Highlands and in the Mekong Delta in the south. The zones, which collectivized farming, proved a disaster, led to near famine and forced the government to reevaluate its policies and move toward a free-market economy. \:\
"It is said in Vietnam that if your face is to the earth and your back to the sun, your work is hard. At the factory on the Red River, work is indeed hard. Barefoot young men with rolled-up pants mold mud and coal together to make the bricks that millions of Hanoians use as cooking fuel. Each cylindrical piece sells for about 3 cents and burns for two hours. "This is only a temporary job because it has no future," says Nguyen Van Bang, 30, who has been in Hanoi for a year and is studying English at night. "But I hope it will lead me to a better job, and even though this work is dirty and low-paid, my life is still better in Hanoi than it was in the country." \:\
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014