Sunday, October 24, 2010

Articles Sent By Jessica

Jessica sent me two great articles -- one from The New York Times and one from The Economist -- about the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi.

In The New York Times article, I especially like this section about the development of the city:

“I very strongly believe that everything that has happened in the inner area has been good,” said Lawrie Wilson, an Australian urban planner who has worked in Vietnam since the early 1990s.

But it is a rule of thumb, he said, that for a city this size roads should cover 15 percent of land space. In Hanoi, the figure is just 5 percent, and traffic has begun to choke the city.

The buzz of motorbikes and the constant beep-beep-beeping of their horns are a jarring backdrop to life in Hanoi even if, after a while, they fade into white noise.

It is sometimes said that traffic patterns reflect the character of a nation, and on Hanoi’s chaotic streets, no one gives ground, no one compromises. Everyone single-mindedly pursues his or her own route. “The gridlock happens all the time, everywhere, all day and all night,” Mr. Wilson said.

“And if it rains, there is an unwritten law here that you totally ignore traffic laws,” he added. “You drive up on the footpath, you drive through public parks and you just do what you like.” In recent weeks, the gridlock has intensified, and complaints have multiplied during last-minute construction and cleanups for the anniversary.

The reason I like this part of the article is twofold. First, it really helps to explain why the traffic is so bad here at times. Secondly, this city planner got it totally wrong. People don't disobey the traffic laws when it rains -- people disobey the traffic laws all the time. In fact, after reading this article I went to the gym and watched as an Army officer blazed by me while riding on the sidewalk, trying to get his little kid to school on time. If anything, the best time to ride a motorbike in the city is when it rains because nobody is on the street and you actually have room to drive.

The Economist article talks about how Hanoi did a bad job of getting foreigners to come to the city for the big event. My favorite part of this article is about the Vietnam Airlines air promotion which only has discounts for people leaving Vietnam, not entering. I didn't realize this and excitedly sent the Vietnam Airlines promotion to many friends who are coming for the wedding. Here's the beginning of that article:

A BANNER on the back of an electric buggy trolling Hanoi’s old quarter reads “Thanh Long Hanoi International Tourism Festival”. It refers to the celebrations being held in Hanoi from October 1st to 10th, when the capital officially turns 1,000 years old. There are no more international tourists than usual though. Somehow no one got round to inviting them.

This despite the many officials who extol the importance of luring foreign tourists to the capital’s millennial celebrations. In 2007 a campaign with the questionable slogan of “Hidden Charm” ran around the world, airing on several international cable networks. Nothing special for Hanoi’s 1,000th though. The national flag carrier, Vietnam Airlines, did offer a promotion in honour of the occasion. Trouble is, the flights are all out of Vietnam, not into it.

And with that, I conclude this chapter of my blog on the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi.