Hanoi: Neon nights – fast food and wifi free

Hanoi, Vietnam
In Hanoi you can be blinded by neon lights but still fall into holes on the street because you can’t see. Electricity demand is soaring in Vietnam and supply breakdowns have been reported this week in the English-language Vietnam News. Due to low water levels in the rivers feeding Vietnam’s hydro-based system industry needs have had to be prioritised around the country. In private life airconditioning units are crawling all over the new apartment towers in Hanoi. But I reckon flashy neon lights are eating into the grid too. “Fast food and WiFi Free” says one neon sign on Ngoc Khan Street. I sure hope so. And they have a Christmas Tree, actually a pile of flashing decorations smothering the plastic pine. It all started with the charming fairy lights so loved in this part of the world; they curled around tree trunks and spread out to the branches to create a charming ambience. But with development on the run across Hanoi in construction, cafes and services charm ain’t enough, you need noise. So at night multicoloured neons flash, beckon, scream for attention from hotel roofs, cafe gates and side alley shops. Giant plasma screens shimmer at street intersections blinding motorbike riders at red lights with the latest in mobile phones, DVDs and other techno tasties. In all this visual noise many Hanoians still steal electricity, plugging illegally into distribution boxes; messy ganglions of electricity wires still net their way along the streets. Along with a clean water system and a modern sewage system (current infrastructure installed by the French) Hanoi’s utilities drag behind the reality of a lit up town.