Saturday, 16 March 2013

Hanoi Tannoy

All over Vietnam we keep seeing loudspeakers rigged to the tops of telegraph poles and wondering what they're for. Well today we found out, as we wandered around Hanoi to the sound of government announcements chattering from every street corner, echoing off buildings and making for a surreal atmosphere. The speakers are a legacy from the war era when they would warn people of impending air strikes and provide news from the front lines. But more than forty years on they continue to fire up at least twice a day, including a pleasant wake up call at around 5:30 in the morning, to tell citizens about the wonderful things the Communist Party has been up to! Sometimes the announcements are interspersed with rousing anthems to help everyone really appreciate how great things are. It seems that, to most locals, these speakers are an outdated nuisance, though few would dare say so, but to the Party officials they are an essential means of disseminating information to the people of Vietnam. The sound of a disembodied voice crackling out from these old speakers certainly makes the place feel Orwellian and though we found it fascinating to experience, we'd be the first to cut the wires if they put some up outside our bedroom window!

In other places we've heard loudspeakers put to an entirely different use, though we completely failed to notice until a guide pointed it out to us. "Can you hear the birds?" we were asked. We could. "They're not real" we were told and were directed to look up at the flat roof of a nearby building, on top of which a big box with rectangular slotted windows had been constructed. And from this box, the recording of bird song was being played. This attracts real birds into the box where they are trapped and presumably put in cages and sold (we've seen lots of birds in cages here).

We've also heard recorded messages blaring from bicycles, as women wearing bamboo conical hats and the obligatory face mask ride up and down the streets selling bananas or sticky rice from their impossibly large panniers. Kind of like ice cream vans, though I haven't heard the Match Of The Day theme blaring out anywhere here.

All this, on top of the noise of a thousand motorcycles and horns and people chattering away to each other while sitting on the street takes some getting used to, but as one translated announcement confirms, at least we're safe in the knowledge that "Reconstruction and reorganization of the Party has been done seriously and frankly, which has created more positive changes"...Which is nice.

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