Thursday, October 26, 2006

Keep it down

It has to be said: Vietnam is a noisy place. Maybe one of the noisiest places in the world.

It's 9pm on Thursday night, and one of my next-door neighbours is cutting metal inside his house. Another neighbour is just arriving home from dinner, and instead of ringing the doorbell she is sitting on her motorbike beeping the horn, over and over, until one of her under-age servants runs and opens the door. Soon, I know, another of the neighbours will send 4 or 5 of his servants to the rooftop - directly facing my bedroom - to start washing the clothes he has smuggled in from China. They will be talking, and laughing, and singing at the top of their voices until they are finished in a few hours' time.

Once you've lived here for a while, you either get used to it, or it drives you crazy. Or, like me, your tolerance level rises and falls depending on how much sleep you've had recently.

One of the peculiar things is how infrequently local people complain about the noise. I am sure that the vast majority of Hanoi's population have hearing impairments, but that cannot explain why they tolerate karaoke at midnight, or large parties gathering on the street at 5am.

But lately I have learned something new: locals DO complain about noise. Depending on who is making it.

The Blue Dragon center is spread out over our street, occupying parts of four houses in total. And we are increasingly receiving complaints by the neighbours about our noise.

One of the staff explained it this way: In a village, the richest person might make a lot of noise, play his CDs at full volume, and hold parties long into the night, and nobody will say anything. But if the poorest person in the village makes some noise, everybody will tell him to shut up.

And that's exactly what's happening on Blue Dragon street.

Of all of the houses in our neighbourhood, our center is almost certainly the quietest. We have strict rules about the kids when they are coming to and going from our center: No playing on the street... no calling from the houses to the street (and vise versa)... and no beeping of horns, ever!

Today some neighbours complained about the noise from our center after 10pm every night. Only problem is, we have a 'lights-out' rule at 9.30! The kids are asleep by 10!

Yesterday, a neighbour complained about the noise made by children as they come to visit us. The same neighbour beeps his horn every time he comes home - getting off the motorbike and ringing the doorbell is soooooo last season! - and, of course, our kids come and go by foot or bicycle. How on earth can they see us as the noisy neighbour!?

If there's any bright side to this predicament, it must be the opportunity we now have to teach the kids to stand up for themselves. We can show them that they do not have to accept unfair criticism just because they are poor. We can show them that they do not have to be punished just because they have no family to defend them.

It really is to our wealthy neighbour's shame that they are being so mean and hypocritical. Our kids don't deserve it!


Anonymous said...

I felt ashame when I was reading your post as I'm Vietnamese, and wanted to say some words to make that "noise making" becomes not that bad, but what has been said in blog is paintly true,so....
but still, there are people who don't care about the " rich and poor things", they are usually quite people so you don't hear them.
Anyway, I hope the Blue Dragon kids can go through all of this unfair criticism and grow up happily

David Mckiever said...

Wudd up Blue Dragon! Just came accross your blog. As a poor musician/writer, I am not able not offer a monetary contribution at this point, but I would like to donate a few of my children's books and a music cd if you think it would be appreciated. Both are in english, but easily understandable. The book is for ages 5 to 9 and the can judge for yourself. It's not much, but it make promote some smiles. You can preview the music at and learn more at my blog at At any rate, keep up the good work.

Nam said...

G'day, I am fully aware about the noise levels in VN. Notice the poor ppl never whinge or make noises, it's only the rich ppl who are so arrogant and bad mannered!!
You are teaching the kids to stand up for themselves and to defend them,which I think is most GREAT! Thank you for the wonderful job you are doing in Vietnam with the kids.

Viet said...

Hahha.. it's all in Vietnam's charm, eh? :) I feel kind of bad for laughing while reading this entry. What you say here is soooo accurate it's funny. I'm glad you're teaching the kids to stand up for themselves, though. :) Keep up the awesome awesome job!