Viet Nam News
By Hường Hiên
Every day at 4pm an old man with white hair dressed in a faded army uniform is seen walking along Nguyễn Trãi Street in the capital city of Hà Nội.
He caught the attention of local residents not just because of his appearance but also because he was doing what no one else would do – removing illegal advertisements and leaflets in the Thanh Xuân District.
His name is Nguyễn Văn Minh, a 74-year-old Hanoian who has spent 14 years doing this unique job.
The reason he engaged in this occupation was quite simple: he wanted to contribute to society after retiring from the Rạng Đông Light Source & Vacuum Flask Company.
Despite Hà Nội’s effort to turn it into a green and modern city, many foreigners are overwhelmed by the chaotic traffic, street vendors occupying pavements and particularly illegal advertisements stuck on the walls of houses, lamp posts and many other public spaces in the city, he said.
The mushrooming illegal advertisements gives the city a dirty and tattered look, and also poses health threats when they are stuck on transformer stations and even hung on electrical wires to make them harder to remove.
At first, Minh tried to remove advertisements while doing morning exercises near his house.
There were a lot of factories and universities nearby, such as the Thăng Long Tobacco Factory, Hà Nội Soap Joint Stock Company, Hà Nội Architecture University and Hà Nội University of Science. People often advertise rentals, repair services, household appliances and internet business, he said.
He felt disappointed in the first two years as he was working alone while dozens of advertisements were posted a day.
"I frequently remove the ads but new ones will be stuck again soon, especially early in morning or at times when few people are around,” Minh said.
After wondering in the neighbourhood for some time, he travelled to streets farther away to look for illegal advertisements.
“Some people thought I was crazy and advised me to take a rest, but I will never follow their advice,” he said.
"I consider removing illegally posted advertisements as my responsibility to make the city clean and beautiful."
“Every day you have to clean your house and so does the city,” he explained.
His son and daughters want him to stop, fearing that some aggressive advertisers might do him harm.
But his efforts have paid off as the number of illegal ads had been reduced substantially compared with previous years.
Carrying a sack of paper and a knife, Minh has become a familiar figure to local residents. People are even willing to help him by either informing him of illegal ads or removing them.
However, Minh is still sad that many people, including students, remain indifferent and even sneeze at his activity.
Nguyễn Văn Minh uses a knife to remove illegal advertisements. -- VNS Photo Nguyễn Thị Hường
In recent years, many advertising and posting violations have been reported in the capital, affecting the landscape and environment.
"Billboards appear everywhere. I see nothing but rusty iron frames on rooftops and the walls at intersection," said Nguyễn Thị Hòa, a resident of Cầu Giấy District.
"There were a number of billboards with torn canvasses which should have been replaced to ensure aesthetic beauty for the city," she said.
Efforts have been made by city authorities to curb widespread advertising violations including inspections as well as asking telecommunication companies to stop offering services for subscribers whose ads posted illegally in public places.
The city has also conducted campaigns to rid public places of illegal advertising, calling on people to engage in cleanup efforts.
However, the crackdowns and measures have failed to deter violators.
According to the city’s Culture and Sports Department, about 190 large posters and 149 electric billboards have been reported along roads, including 68 along the Thăng Long-Nội Bài Expressway in Sóc Sơn District and 26 in the Nam Từ Liêm District.
Some of the illegal posters have been displayed for years, marring the city’s face.
Illegal billboards which are bigger than regulations allow are often installed centrally to catch the attention of passers-by.
Enterprises have to get permission from authorised agencies, but many don’t.
Minh suggested that agencies stop providing services to enterprises and individuals that post advertisements illegally in public places.
The current regulations - an administrative fine of between VNĐ1-2 million (US$45-90) for each illegal notice - was not harsh enough and stricter punishment should be imposed, he said.
He also recommended that authorities expand the areas designated for advertising as an effective means of stopping illegal advertisers. — VNS