Monday, January 12, 2009

Wet Markets or Supermarkets?

Wet market

In the last few months, the local authorities have abruptly knocked down or closed quite a few of Hanoi’s wet markets. Prior to this, the movement to modernize the city’s markets had always seemed rather long term, something that might eventually happen. But now they are serious. The Old Quarter market in Hang Be Street has been halved in size, the large Hang Da market has been closed pending re-development and the famous 19/12 Hell Market was demolished overnight a couple of months ago. Western style shopping malls and supermarkets will start cropping up all over town in the next few years. So it looks like it’s goodbye to yet another part of traditional Vietnamese culture.

Wet market

As the city market scene changes shape, most of the stallholders have been relocated to temporary sheds along while construction takes place. Hundreds of tiny green sheds have further narrowed the streets or pavements of the old quarter, most noticeably along Phung Hung Street parallel to the train line. Many of the stalls actually have no frontage onto the street which makes merchandising their goods quite difficult. For many, I’m sure this situation has resulted in large reductions in their revenue. Most of the vendors are not happy and remain pessimistic about their capacity to afford the rent when the new premises re-open. The move has also affected consumers, many of whom are no longer within walking distance of their regular vendors. The 19/12 Hell Market stalls are now several kilometers away from their original location. No doubt one of the government’s objectives with these plans is to improve the hygiene and sanitation of Hanoi’s markets. Health scares raised in the media are often blamed on the conditions in wet markets. Presenting an image of modernization appears to be another reason for the redevelopment. Tall residential buildings and modern commercial buildings with glass facades are springing up all over town and I suppose the theory is that the rickety, temporary appearance of Hanoi’s wet markets is not in keeping with the vision for the city. This thinking is partly flawed. A modern market or supermarket does not automatically eradicate health fears. Shiny surfaces and lots of glass create an image of new and clean but the reality is that harmful bacteria can exist anywhere. Education about improved food handling practices and systematic cleaning is still required. Refrigeration is useful only if the food is stored correctly and the fridge is actually turned on.

Wet market

Finding some kind of compromise between the old and the new does not seem to be on the agenda. Would it be possible to modernize Hanoi’s markets without completely stripping them of their original character and atmosphere? Should going to the market be an experience where customers simply pick up what they want and pay for it with very little interaction? Do we want Hanoi to be transformed into another Singapore or Bangkok, where only pockets of traditional culture are visible amongst the concrete and glass? Is there a risk that Hanoi’s modernization will alienate tourists looking for diversity and difference?

I don’t have the answers but I know what I think!


It's My Life....full of joys and loves said...

Hi...glad to know and read ur blog...

i'm ajue from malaysia...would like to ask help and information from you about Hanoi and Vietnam as whole (any opinion, suggestion). Hope to get your email address.

Thank you.

Ajue Malaysia

Anonymous said...

YES! change is good. Affliction to the old is bad, just look what happen to John Mccain. LOl.
I am 10.000 miles from where you are, & america used to have local chicken coop/butcher on every street and that was 1960s, today when you talk to 50-60yrs old american, thats how they remember it. Today the street is cleaned, smoking is ban, human pollution is minimal, we'll try to keep human pollution minimal.Humans will alway pollute, dont let culture be an obstacle of what is obvious in sight. it's a small step, even if Vietnam is as modern as Japan, there's are fews things about japanese that makes people's forehead wrinkled, called it custom, culture, whatever preservation, as a vietnamese i am sick of the western views about us eating snake, dogs, and other oddities, the less sightful we are to the world the less they talk about. Its as bad as watching Korean do african american music, that is if vietnam is as modern as korea.

Zoom Le said...

I agree with Anonymous. Change is good! I’m a hanoian. However, I have gone living and studying abroad for a long time. Now, I’m back home and I’m shocked to experience all of the changes in Hanoi after 8 years being far away. Many, many places have changed, but Hanoi still remains Hanoi. Hanoi is so charming because it is a city of contrast. It is interesting to follow its mutation from the old into the new.

So, what do you think?

Anonymous said...

In one more year Hanoi will be 1,000yrs old, that is peronsally special even for non hanoian viet overseas like me! Something to brag about like its yours :) 8yrs of change seem modest so far, now i dont' want full speed ahead, but i'm seeing changed in behaviours that mean something for the next 1,000yrs.
As such VnExpress would report on the bad mannerism that hanoian treat their flower garden, or the brazen corruption on the streets of hanoi, it's the little things that will ripple a society for better or worst but it has to happen. Now what can we do about hanoi's traffic?, to West it's a death defying act just to cross the street, do i want to hear about that for the next 8yrs?

Anonymous said...

This is a bittersweet issue that you bring up. On our visit to VN last spring we could not believe how much everything had changed from our last visit in 2003. Just five short years and there were buildings and bridges that exist now where there were only fields and rivers - even golf courses in Da Nang! But I agree with you in that shiny new buildings and paved streets do not necessarily equate to progress. The hardest part for us was the pollution and the disparity with which the people we spoke to expressed. "There is no tomorrow only today, so let's just enjoy today" was the attitude amongst many young adults we spoke with in the city. It was indeed disheartening to hear those comments and see the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.

I wish we had been able to met up with you on our last visit, to chat and to get to know more about the city, but I guess that will need to be saved for another time. Great job on this blog. It's always very interesting to read your posts and to get insight from a person that is living through these changing times. Hopefully the new year will bring to you the best of luck and the happiest of times.

Anonymous said...

From the last photo: thit cho song? the mind boggles

Van Cong Tu said...

Anonymous, you are right.
Ajue Malaysia ,

Anonymous said...

oh that's really sad that is happening in Vietnam. In Indonesia it is happening a lot as well.

In Eastern Europe, I noticed that there were still many traditional markets that had been relocated into newer buildings, but still maintained the old market atmosphere. Selling traditional foods, the one on one interaction with stallholders, haggling, fresh fruit bought in from local farms. Maybe this would be a better approach to take, balancing the old with the new.

Sarah said...

hey Vietnamese god are you still in Hanoi? I am writing an article for a magazine about markets being phased out etc and wondered if you were around for a chat? Can you email me



Invertir en Oro said...

Today the street is cleaned, smoking is ban, human pollution is minimal, we'll try to keep human pollution minimal.