Home is not so sweet in noisy Saigon

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Malls and shops draw the attention of passers-by with blaring music, causing noise pollution and disrupting the life of nearby residents


A store in Ho Chi Minh City draws the attention of passers-by with large speakers in front. Local residents have complained that noise from such places seriously disrupted their life and damaged their health.

Tom had never thought one day he would have to move out of his old apartment in Ho Chi Minh City where he had been living for two years and rent a hotel room.

But he had to do so on Sunday (February 12), though just for a couple of hours, to escape the cacophony caused by large loudspeakers in front of a building across the street for a promotion.

"It was terrible," said the American photographer, who has been living in Vietnam for 15 years.

"I had all the doors closed. I had to cover my ears with earphones and double-close it with headphones plugged into my TV."

Tom moved into the old apartment two years ago.

"I love this apartment, the view, and the neighbors. But we can't stay and relax in our home anymore."

The problem Tom faced is an all too common one in HCMC where shops, malls, and cafés use blaring loudspeakers to attract customers amid lax enforcement of relevant regulations.

While big stores hook up huge speakers and have singers and cheerleaders and organize games to promote some brands, many fashion shops, electronics stores, and cafés play loud music in front of their shops to draw the attention of passers-by.

Khai, a resident on District 5's Tran Hung Dao Street, said his family's life has been seriously disrupted since a mobile phone chain store opened near his house before Tet (January 23).

"We have to shout at each other when they play music to draw the attention of passers-by. We cannot hear other speaking normally."

Many small cafés play dance music on giant loudspeakers placed both inside and in front. They are to be found everywhere on Vinh Vien and Su Van Hanh streets in District 10, Le Van Tho and Cay Tram streets in Go Vap, and Truong Sa Street in Phu Nhuan District.

The manager of a café on Truong Sa Street, who wished to remain unnamed, said it was their tactic to compete with other cafés.

"We often replace speakers with more powerful ones and play loudly."

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A resident on Vinh Vien Street said she has been suffering from the racket created by several cafés on the street for the past decade.

"They have become louder and louder over years. I'll surely die soon."

She was taken to hospital before Tet after many cafés played music from early morning until midnight.

She was diagnosed as having irregular heartbeat and migraine suspected to be caused by noise.

"The doctor advised me to stay in a quiet place. But I can't do so when living on a street with thundering music from cafés."

Psychologist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Giau said the cacophony caused by businesses promoting themselves "played an important role in damaging the mental health of city residents who already suffer from noise pollution caused by the traffic."

There has been an increase in mental problems like depression, anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia, Giau said.

"When a person is suffering from stress, noise pollution could worsen it."

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc of the National Otorhinolaryngology Hospital said noise pollution could lead to hearing impairment and even deafness.

"Several studies have found that noise of above 50 decibels at night could cause strokes. Regular exposure to loud noise could lead to underweight and defects among newborn children."

Vigilante justice the only option?

After a mobile phone shop opened before Tet on District 8's Pham Hung Street and played excessively loud music, many furious locals carried stones to the shop and threatened to smash the speakers if they did not stop playing.

Hung, a worker at a timber store next door, said the shop still plays dance music on its large speakers in front of the shop, but has reduced the volume after that incident.

Nguyen Minh Thuan, a lawyer of the HCMC's Saigon Vietnam law firm, said residents could complain to the local people's committee, police, or environmental inspectors about such noise pollution.

"They can file a suit to demand compensation if there is damage caused by noise pollution," he said, but pointed out that there must be evidence that the damage was caused by the noise.

A government decree issued in 2009 stipulates fines of VND2-100 million for causing excessive noise, he said. Depending on the time of day, only between 40dB to 70dB of noise is allowed at public places, he said.

Violators could have their business license revoked or suspended until they undertake to follow the regulations, he added.

Selina, an expat living in HCMC, said she was "physically ill" and "losing her mind" from loud noise at a promotional event near her house on Sunday.

"I could not hear my TV, talk on the phone, read a book, or concentrate on correcting my students' essays," she said, adding that she could see now why some countries used "precisely this technique to torture suspected terrorists."

Selina said she did not call the police because she was advised by some locals that it will be useless.

"I pay 20 percent of my income in tax to the Vietnamese government. For this I should at least be able to enjoy a day of peace in my own home."

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