Mini Hanoi-Summary

Hello everyone.  Tomorrow I arrive back in Perth, to the world of $4.40 coffees, $300 hotel rooms, and taxi fares which make your eyes water ... hang on, there are no taxis.

Only joking, of course!

Just jumping on the cynic-bandwagon - comparisons between cities should not be done frivolously.

In my trip to Hanoi I have responded to the city, as we all do when visiting a place, and tried to document it.

These are things which I will post now as a summary:

  • Yes, I like Hanoi
  • I love Hanoi.  Why?
  • It's a world of small businesses - 1,000s of them, each of about 1-4 metres (3'3"-13'1") in width (yes, 1m!) forming an unbroken network among snug, appropriately sized, human-scale streets (the arguments of what constitutes 'human-scale' are yet unresolved, but I have taken measurement of streets so we can begin to debate this thoroughly).
  • Street widths of about 9.5m (31'2") - building line to building line.
  • Laneway widths of about 4m (13'1").
  • A city of 1,000 faces.  I have yet to document this but I am considering it as a new category.  The buildings of the city are so varied in form, shape and their projection outward toward the street that they present '1,000 faces' to the eye.  Does this matter?  Yes. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it) your city is dependant upon people having a positive sensory response to it: visually, smells, touch ... and those other senses, and the 'many faces' presented on a building's facade support this. 

That's about it for now.

Thank you for reading, and tell your friends!

The Shopfront Dilemma

Now, many - most - of the Hanoi shop-fronts have a roller door.  Bad? 


Just like in a shopping centre, a roller door permits 100% shopfront activation.  If you have glass panels and doorways - as most of us do - it seems you are creating more barriers between the public and private realms.

Not good.

OK, so 'roller shutters' are taboo.

We know that.  Some localities actively ban them - others are trying to back-fit their cities to rid themselves of them.

Opportunity!  We need roller doors that are acceptable when in closed position.

You can get 'semi-clear' roller doors now - pretty ugly,  but certainly they could also be decorated, have visual permeability, LED-lights inserted ...

See?  I should be rich.

Retailers have enough to worry about - activating the community in your city, for example - so the last thing they should have to do at 2am is wake up because someone smashed their front window.  This is why they like roller doors.

Because they just want to focus on growing your community and economy, and no customer or local authority is going to help them (either in time or money) to repair their constantly-scunged-up shopfronts.

Above: Thinh Can, 92 Hang Chieu, Hanoi, Vietnam

Another Stunning Hanoian Streetscene

I have written earlier about my attraction to this city and these types of scenes.  I am still wrestling with the simple words that explain why.

Building widths, from left to right: 2.89m, 2.37m 2.41m, 3.04m (9'6", 7'9", 7'10", 10')

I think it's interesting how colours are all from the same palette.  They're similar, but different.

Worth noting that texture and materials play a role, I think.  Paint (not sure what sort it is) on plaster gives this sensational finish.

All good, but perhaps unrealstic to replicate in my city?  Mainteance costs (plaster!) can be a killer.

Above: Nguyen Sieu, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Below: To the far left of the picture you can see a side-by-side comparison of the new vs the old.

Hanoi Retailer Interview

This is Lam,  He is the co-owner of Ying & Yang Restaurant at 78 Ma May in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • The restaurant is about 100sqm
  • He pays about $48,000 USD per annum in rent, including outgoings
  • It is 54 seats
  • At the time of my visit, guess how many staff were on, in the restaurant - serving at that time?  20
  • There is no minimum wage - staff are paid via negotiation
  • Rubbish is ejected out the front and plonked on the road in bags.  The walking bin cart picks it up each night at about 10pm and loads it into a bigger, waiting truck.  This is paid for by the local government
  • The time I was in, the restaurant was packed, yet this only generates, apparently, three medium sized bags of waste per day
  • Cardboard, bottles and plastics are stored on site and traded or picked up by an intermediary who takes them to a bigger recycling depot

Hanoi Shopfronts

Above: Huy Hoang, 43 Thuoc Bac, Hanoi, Vietnam.  Shopfront width: 4.82m (15'10") for both.

I didn't pop in to sneak a look, but this could actually be two shops.  I know the signage makes it look like one but there's a partition wall there.  It could be just to create more racking space and we actually have a door connecting the people, and that they've had to post people on both sides of the shop.

Don't know.

Stunning French Buildings?

I have been racking my brain, trying to work out what it is within this city that I respond to so strongly.  I think I am going to create some new categories to help me:

  • residential,
  • colour,
  • architecture (or something) and
  • decoration.

We all argue about quaint or quirky villages, and we'd probably both agree that Hanoi has this appeal - I mean, just look at it.

But what is it exactly?  We want to replicate, and not waste time with junky buildings, so what is it about these that is so fantastic?

I have already created a skinny column, so you can check that out.

I just want to post these, and I'm sure I'll work out what the magic charm is soon.

In the meantime, I distill it to this:

  • Colour - and the right colours.  Unfortunately, beautiful patina requires an age to appear (or does it?)
  • Shape/Form/Decoration/Texture:  Buildings have hundreds of shapes.  For some reason, some cities shows off thousand of edges and walls and window sills and forms.  We all know a huge clunky building has one massive wall and a little bit more.

I guess I am appreciating 'detail' but I want to find out the detail of the detail.



Hanoi: You Could Live Here

Video: 2m03sec.

I like having red-wine conversations about the magnificent environments we've all found in our trips abroad.

I even like complaining about why we can't can't have these things back home.

I sometimes even like going through the reasons why: the economy, first world vs third world benefit/costs arguments, labour costs, 'service', 'regulations' ... and all that malarky.

But what should be unacceptable to all of us is to repeat these conversations generation-in-and-out whilst our young people (and even normal people) are presented with situation normal - which is a community that is unstimulating and stifles self-development.

We are still building communities, wondering how to 'house' people, and how to accommodate the reasonable demands of the average bloke and bloke-ette who want to wake up in the morning and efficiently grow their life.

The places they're in are critical to this.

That's why you don't live in Antartica or Tel Aviv.  Or Belmont.

And people are smart.  They know that they're only a short plane ride away from a new life.

And that's an affordable and very real option these days.

But don't worry.  On behalf of all the people sitting opposite me on those dark nights, with sediment in their glasses from hours of debate about city management, urban revitalisation, 'service', retail and 'the economy' (sheesh) I have found the mother lode.


Hanoi is Embarrasing

I'm in Hanoi and it's embarrassing.

I recall being in Torun, Poland and having the same thought.

It's an embarrassment of riches.

I'm in shock each time I go out.  I'd classify it like this.

  • Short streets, of about 60m each
  • Truncated intersections, so four shopfronts face into the centre of the intersection
  • Tall and skinny builidngs of no more than 5 metres in width
  • An independent retailer in the ground floor of each building

For example, I saw one street which had a about twenty hardware shops only, each about 3-metres wide.  As I drove past I began to quiver.

Photos wouldn't do it justice at this stage.