Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat

December 2, 2022 | 04:18 pm PT
Paul A. Olivier
Da Lat is famous as a hill resort station with great weather conditions and scenic beauty, earning several accolades like the City of Flowers, an awesome honeymoon destination and so on.

Most of this is true, but this is not the only reality on the ground, where things get pretty ugly, too. Unless this reality is recognized and tackled seriously, Da Lat will lose its charms and become a shadow of itself.

Here’s an unflattering picture of the other side.

As one walks or runs along a sidewalk around the Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat early morning, at a certain point, one cannot remain on the sidewalk. One is forced to walk or run out onto the street, since there might be as many as ten street kitchens that completely block sidewalk access. Stepping out onto a street at night might be a bit dangerous, since there are a fair number of intoxicated drivers out at night, some of whom drive at speeds well over 120 kph.

These street vendors sell food and drink in plastic dishes and cups. Plastic trash is scattered a hundred meters or so before and after their stalls. Food and drink discarded or spilled along sidewalks and streets is a common sight.

Since food safety is not regularly monitored or maybe because people get very drunk, the sight of vomit on sidewalks is not uncommon, either. Open defecation and urination is a regular occurrence early in the morning.

There are many signs posted along the lake indicating that it is forbidden to build fires, but street vendors ignore them completely. Many tourists from warmer parts of Vietnam come to Da Lat lightly dressed in shorts and t-shirts despite the colder weather. Street vendors want these visitors to stay warm so that they stay longer and buy more food and drinks. Sidewalks are often blackened with ash from these stay-warm fires.

Several times, when I took pictures of these fires, one street vendor threatened to stab me with a pair of scissors. Some vendors started throwing rocks. One man tried to grab my running stick as well as the mobile phone that I use to take pictures. I reported these incidents to the police, but they did nothing.

These charcoal fires emit a lot of deadly toxins such as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and benzene. When street vendors run out of charcoal, some start burning plastic trash. The burning of plastic trash emits dioxins and other extremely poisonous substances. One piece of dioxin as small as a grain of rice is enough to poison one million people.

To keep their clients happy, some street vendors sell beer and other alcoholic drinks. Some install big loudspeakers so that their clients can sing and make a lot of noise as they get totally drunk. Quite often the karaoke singing goes on until 4 a.m. and can be heard from as far away as three kilometers. Even though karaoke singing after 10:30 p.m. is forbidden by law, this law is not enforced around Xuan Huong Lake. Once I heard karaoke singing in three different locations around the lake, all blaring away at the same time.

Just about all of what I have described so far represents laws that are being continually broken. But why do street vendors and their clients not follow the law, when it is clearly stated on signs planted in the area?

The answer is simple.

Laws are not enforced. I have on file more than 12,000 pictures of laws being broken in this city that gets dirty and ugly quite often, but I have not seen a fine being issued when I called the police to intervene – not even once.

One police officer explained it to me this way, somewhat grandiosely. If the police enforce laws in a consistent manner, this would make a lot of people angry, and with a lot of angry people out and about, the stability of the country would be undermined, and civil unrest might follow.

The same policeman explained further that if the police enforced laws strictly, things might get out of hand very quickly. People might become violent, and if the police would fight back to defend themselves and controversy would ensue.

With a huge police force and militia, Vietnam has what it needs to counteract violence and maintain political stability. So where does the problem lie?

I recently informed a police officer that I had on file over 12,000 pictures of people breaking laws - laws relating to building fires on sidewalks, burning trash, dumping trash, littering, fishing in the dirty waters of Xuan Huong Lake and its stinky lagoons, karaoke singing until 4 a.m. in the morning, alcohol inebriation, drunk driving, racing on motorbikes at high speeds and so on.

I was surprised when he explained to me that I should not take pictures of people breaking laws unless their lawlessness directly impacted my safety and well-being.

Surely it is any public citizen's duty to record breach of laws and inform law enforcement agencies?

Even in the case of someone threatening me with violence, he advised that unless I had stab wounds or other injuries, I should not take pictures and report the person to the police.

I was flabbergasted.

I think the government needs to get much more serious about enforcing its most basic safety and environmental laws. If it does not do so, it will not be able to tackle far bigger things like global warming impacts, carbon neutrality and sustainable development.

Photos taken by Paul A. Olivier of public littering in Da Lat:

*Paul A. Olivier is an American expat who lives and works in Da Lat.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
go to top