Touring Ha Noi's Old Quarter by clean, green battery-operated cars has become a popular choice for tourists. The 30-minute trips, beginning every 15 minutes from 7am to about 10pm daily provide a quick view of all the major streets and cultural spots in the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake.
The 14-seater vehicles have been run by Dong Xuan Joint Stock Co since July 2010 following a nod from the Prime Minister as part of a project using electric cars to protect the environment. While a bit of a nuisance when they double up and follow each other through the narrow streets, as they sometimes do, they draw hundreds of passengers each day.
However, the operators have yet to be granted a business licence to run them. A representative from the municipal Department of Transport explained that current road-traffic rules do not cover such kind of vehicles, so the company cannot be licenced as a transport company.
There are whispers that the joint stock company - and indeed the passengers - have been touring the capital city illegally. But as the road laws don't cover electric cars, no-one is sure under what law to prosecute should the need arise.
Until they sort it out, climb aboard for some wicked green fun!
Give the kids a medal
On the subject of green transport, has anyone thought
of awarding medals to the kids pioneering electric bicycles through the madcap streets of old Ha Noi. What else do you do with them? The cheeky young devils are taking transport officials for a ride by silently zipping around the city with huge grins on their faces. "They're only bicycles," they say to the smarties who challenge their right to be on motorised transport at such a tender age.
These kids don't wear helmets, have no idea of road rules (ahem, does any one in Ha Noi follow any road rules?) and they often flit around at a fast rate of knots with one or two siblings on board. The other day, this columnist saw a happy little boy of no more than eight (ten minus two) driving his older sister and baby brother through the streets. As Happy as Larry, as they say in Australia.
How many amendments, rules, laws or other provisions do the traffic authorities have to refer to before, on the one hand, banning these wunderkinds or, on the other, granting licences to those performing a public service for tourism by running electric buses?
Free illegal helmets
Many people in southern Vinh Long Province recently rushed to buy mobiphone SIM cards offered by the VMS MobiFone Centre No4 - and received a free motorbike helmet. The helmets were supplied by the Nghia Phat Production and Trade Ltd Co based in HCM City.
However, the province's Department for Standards, Metrology and Quality has just announced that its tests reveal that the helmets fail to meet quality and safety standards. Say no more!
Cold Old Town
It's great to live in an Asian city that doesn't go berserk after dark. Great to live in a city where women can work in or frequent bars without being hookers - or referred to as such. Ha Noi's special charm is that it is still provincial and still respects family values.
But it's not so great to be in a city, especially for those who finish late at night, to find the gendarmes closing the bars at midnight, as they have been doing for several months. Surely there is room for two or three late-night bars to serve tourists and foreigners?
One bar we know lost its music player and furniture to a van full of determined officers a month ago, and has been tapping into i-phones ever since to feed its loud speakers. The proprietors and local foreigners have learned to stay silent, even when the furniture is taken as well, but the tourists are far from happy.
As the visitors quickly realise, there's not much to do in a cold city at night as the wind, rain and cold slide down off the tail-end of the Himalayas and swamp this Cold Old Town. —VNS