Visit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 3 of a 3-part recount…Today is December 15th, an important day for motorcyclists in Vietnam:
Based on a personal survey, I would say that, up until a week ago (when I left), less than 5% of the scooter riders were wearing a helmet. With the photo to the left taken a week ago, you can see for yourselves [note the mobile “tea time”]. By itself, the absence of helmets is a statement on the value of life. During my stay, I witnessed five accidents where a scooter rider was sprawled out on the ground motionless. Every year there are reported to be 15,000 deaths on the road, with 80% due to cerebral damage. The ironic thing is that, today, December 15th, a new law is going into place in Vietnam to make wearing the helmet obligatory. There were several large Soviet-style posters dotted around town announcing the new legislation (right). With less than a week to go, when I was in Hanoi, I did not see people lining up to buy the helmets in the stores. I can only imagine the process of implementing the helmet law will take a good long time before (a) the police manage to pass along the message sufficiently, (b) the people find the resources to purchase the helmets and (c) the habits change such that no more than 3 people ride together (it is much harder, even more dangerous, to group ride if everyone were wearing a helmet).
Scooters are parked chock-a-block on the sidewalks. Some are even parked inside the shops. I saw one house with a car parked in the ground floor living room. Scooters are part of the daily life and represent, it seems for the majority, the way of life. Families, friends, colleagues, baggage, goods, livestock… You will find all grouped onto the the scooters. The record I saw was 6 adults (young kids) who clambered on together (although it was difficult for them to get started). I was simply fascinated by this way of life. You just about saw any combination. Parents with their two kids; sometimes an infant carried by the mother behind the husband. Many were fortunately wearing a mouth protection, of course, to avoid inhaling the ghastly pollution.
Anyway, in honor of the December 15th law, this post is to encourage ALL motorcyclists to wear helmets, wherever ye may be!
Meanwhile, among I have just a couple of final observations to share with you. As much as the messages may still controlled by the government, the young population is clearly getting plugged in to the outside world, despite the filters. The internet cafes (left) were systematically crammed with eager surfers.
And I save for last the merchandising magic of the jeans stores (photo right). The mannequins are placed in the street and ALL of them are turned around so that you can evaluate “properly” the way the jeans fall. Quite an astute marketing ploy, no? In this photo, I also half captured a live mannequin-slash-shopper.
And, finally, a quick blogroll of other interesting blogs of people commenting on Hanoi:
Lockportions from NY
Sri Kebatat Photo Blog
Peter – A life in Hanoi
And, Web Censorship in Vietnam from Global Voices Online