by Hong Minh
For a month now, 75-year-old Hoang Van Cuc has found it increasingly difficult and dangerous to ferry his granddaughter to and from kindergarten in Thang Long International Village of Ha Noi's Cau Giay District.
The previously peaceful and large pavements used by the pair on Nguyen Khanh Toan Street are now being swamped by dozens of temporary kiosks selling traditional mooncakes for the upcoming trung thu (mid-autumn festival) in three weeks time.
"The kiosks are encroaching two thirds of our path, forcing us onto the road," Cuc said, adding he was always nervous about leaving the safety of the pavement, especially during rush hour.
"Why do local authorities allow these kiosks to open? Isn't the pavement there for pedestrians to walk on?"
Sharing Cuc's concerns, many residents around the city are complaining about the sudden appearance of mooncake kiosks on the pavements, blocking their way and forcing them into the sea of onrushing traffic.
Passing main streets such as Giang Vo, Van Cao, Lang Ha, Thai Ha and, Nguyen Trai, it's easy to spot these kiosks colourfully decorated, eye-catching and temporarily set up with a covered steel frame.
A number of famous local confectionery and bakery brands such as Kinh Do, Huu Nghi and Thu Huong can be found all over the city - the more crowded the street is already, the more likely you are to find an additional swarm of kiosks.
Le Ngoc Khanh, a Cau Giay District resident complained that she nearly suffered a traffic accident as mooncake customers on the corner of Nghia Do Park had left their motorbikes in the road.
"The kiosk is located at the crossroads of Nguyen Van Huyen and Nguyen Khanh Toan which are already crowded streets," she said, "Customers buying mooncakes normally block the traffic and restrict the vision of other drivers."
However when questioned, the seller at the kiosk claimed her boss had received a selling licence from the city's Department of Transport.
Nguyen Nguyen Huy, head of the department's Urban Traffic Section, said some kiosks did own temporary business licenses for a short time before the mid-autumn festival.
"Of the 564 streets in the city, the Department of Transport is managing 88 main streets," he said, "And we do grant business licences to roughly five companies. They are permitted to open six to eight kiosks to promote traditional mooncakes on the streets we are managing."
"It's a good way to support prestigious brands and bring customers a convenient way to buy them," he said.
Huy said companies applying must be prestigious and meet requirements in food safety and hygiene, as well as pledge to abide by traffic and fire-fighting regulations.
"We grant kiosk-size licences based on how wide the pavement is," he added.
According to an unofficial statistic from a local reporter, there are around 400 kiosks selling mooncakes around the city, with far more brands on display than the five mentioned by the transport official.
"The other kiosks are licensed by local authorities, plus the people's committees at district and ward levels," Huy said, "Those kiosks are outside of our jurisdiction."
He added the department had assigned traffic inspectors to check whether kiosks were operating legally and following regulations. So far, the inspectors had not discovered any kiosk violations, he said.
However, it seems to be a different story with other kiosks, possibly those out of the transport department's reach.
The Deputy chairman of the Van Quan People's Committee said authorities in his ward did close illegal kiosks and seize materials from those causing traffic jams in the area.
A police officer in Dich Vong Hau Ward, Lieutenant-Colonel Mac Dinh Thang, said police can only deal with illegal kiosks seriously if they encroach the street and cause traffic jams. As a result, it seems to be impossible to thoroughly manage whether all kiosks across the city follow regulations.
There is also public confusion over who is managing these kiosks.
Personally, I love to eat mooncakes during the mid-autumn festival and I think temporary kiosks are acceptable for a short time so that customers can buy their favourite brandname cakes. But I think instead of having too many authorised agencies granting licences, there should be a single body responsible for the quality and management of all kiosks. — VNS