Chaos. When I walk through the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam, traffic is insane. Like a swarm of bees motorcycles run over the streets, and you just have to start crossing it, foot by foot.
Hanoi is one of the cities with the worse air quality of South-East-Asia, Ho Chi Minh later on will turn out not to be that much better. Both air and water are strong polluted, just to underwrite this with numbers: the level of PM10 – which is particulate matter emitted by burned fossil fuels, or by sand and dust – is 120, while the daily limit as set by the World Health Organisation is 20.
The streets are taken over by hundreds of motorcycles, causing air pollution and noise; but what is worse, a street full of cars, or one full of motorcycles? Moreover, since this pile of motorcycles is moving continuously, the streets are filled up, but not congested, or is moving congestion also congestion? I try to count how many people would pass by in an hour on motorcycles, than replacing this amount by cars. If 1 motorcycle goes for 1 car, but with the same amount of people, for sure, it would be worse.
What about little electric motorcycles as I’ve seen in China? Or more bicycles? Or just facing that there are a lot of people willing to move around on a small surface? Which Shanghai would call the Big Cities Disease.
Since the sidewalks mostly are used as parking spot for the above mentioned motorcycles, or to organise street markets, pedestrians often fill up the few empty spots on the street. The bicycles that drive around are converted into market stalls as well, completing the traffic mosaic.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of greenery in the city, from trees in the streets to parks of various sizes and even small lakes. Moreover, there is an open-air exhibition organised on sustainable city development. As a result of a cooperation with Denmark, various techniques and inspiring examples of sustainable city development are spread out on banners.
It is Sunday, and the area around the lake is closed for traffic. Only pedestrians are on the streets, so the exhibition is easily accessible, however, not too many people take a look at it. Maybe because of all the banners show exclusively Danish examples, which are inspiring for sure; but, they are very different from the reality in Hanoi, considering climate, culture and infrastructure to name a few, and therefore different solutions might be required. It is like watching Star Wars, fascinating, but it looks like it belongs to another universe.
After my walk in the pedestrian only lake zone, I dive back into traffic. Were the smaller streets only occupied by a bunch of motorcycles and bicycles, than the big cities are occupied by cars. The air quality is so bad, I have the feeling not breathing air anymore, but exhaust gases. I can feel how the air pollution burns in my eyes, my nose, my mouth.
In contrary to air pollution produced by buildings, factories, and electricity plants, outside or above the city centre, this kind of pollutants are emitted precisely on the level where you breath. Causing a direct impact on your body.
Are you Aware?
The pollution makes me run into a park, I need to take a breath, where I wonder about the impact of this air pollution on people who live here, moreover the younger and the elderly, the ones with the most vulnerable lungs.
I wonder how the kids survive sitting on the back of a motorcycle, breathing gasses rather than air, the long term consequences of air pollution. Air pollution kills, they say, and it is not only about lung diseases, but the fine particles, called PM2.5 and PM10, for example get through your lungs, entering your bled and causing damage in your entire body, such as hearth diseases.
I end the day with a visit to the Temple of Literature from Confucius, where graduating students are taking pictures, girls in white dresses, boys in suits. It makes me think about the students in Hongkong, young girls who interviewed tourists to practice their English, an interesting way to practice languages, but more interesting were the questions they asked. The same happens here in Vietnam, girls come up to me, asking questions about pets and relationships; but in Hongkong they asked about air quality and air pollution.
Would they actually be aware?
And Hanoi is not the only Vietnamese city with this issue, but that’s for later.