And a wild robbery in Hue
Good morning! Hello to new readers, and welcome to the latest free-to-read edition of the Vietnam Weekly. On Wednesday I published an article for paying subscribers about VinFast and the latest moves related to its launch in the United States. You can upgrade to a paid subscription (US$5/month, US$50/year) below.
On to the news.
And Then There Were Three
This means Vietnamese holding a new passport cannot apply for a visa to these three countries. To quote the Spanish Embassy in Hanoi: “The new passport does not show the bearer's place of birth. This is important information for personal identification and is also required for processing visa applications to the Schengen countries.”
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, joined France in announcing that they will continue to recognize the new type of passport.
It’s still not clear why we’re seeing this patchwork of stances, but the Immigration Department continues to issue new passports, with an unnamed official telling VnExpress that there were “no problems” with the document.
The Vietnamese Embassy in Berlin said it would issue birthplace certificates to nationals with the new passport until this issue is resolved.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Public Security said that involved state agencies would look into whether adding place of birth data back to the ID page of new passports is possible.
There has been no explanation of why this info was removed in the first place, other than officials saying that it is not required by international standards and that numerous other countries also don’t print this data on their passports. (As noted last week, this isn’t wrong, but in most cases, the place of birth is recorded in a passport’s embedded chip.)
In the meantime, tour companies planning outbound trips to Europe are having to reroute itineraries for customers with the new passport while facing decreased interest in traveling to the region over concerns that more countries may reject it.
There’s certainly a conversation to be had here regarding the imbalance of power when it comes to passports and visas between developed and developing countries, and I’ve seen speculation that place of birth was removed to avoid discrimination against people from provinces known for their link to human smuggling/trafficking, but this debacle is pretty shocking considering how many stakeholders must have been involved in designing the new passport.
Hue’s Robin Hood Robbery
In a wild story, last Sunday, a uniformed prison warden armed with an AK-47 robbed two gold shops in central Hue and threw gold items into the street while reportedly shouting “gold for the poor!”
As passersby scrambled for the gold, he fired a few rounds into the air and ran to a nearby park. Dozens of police - including some armed with heavy weaponry, if pictures from the scene are to be believed - arrived in response and locked down the area.
The article also says that the suspect was suicidal, but there hasn’t been much info on what spurred this brazen incident.
Meanwhile, the city police asked that anyone who took gold from the scene return it or face criminal charges, and as of Wednesday morning, eight people had brought gold back. It’s not clear how many people took any gold away.
Electronic Expressway Tolls Have a Rough Start
Sometimes I worry that people might get bored of all the infrastructure coverage in Vietnam Weekly, but I can’t help it when this topic gets so much media attention.
Over the last week, dozens (not an exaggeration) of stories have covered the messy rollout of an electronic toll collection (ETC) system on the HCMC-Long Thanh-Dau Giay expressway. (Hopefully your eyes haven’t glazed over already.)
This expressway, the busiest in the country, switched all but one toll lane in both directions to an ETC program in an attempt to improve traffic flow. Instead, massive traffic jams ensued as thousands of drivers hadn’t installed the ETC sticker on their vehicle; or if they had, the system didn’t recognize it and wouldn’t let them through.
Even with these problems evident through the last week of July, the Ministry of Transport carried on with its plan to implement ETC on tolled highways nationwide from August 1.
This resulted in major congestion on Highway 1 and Highway 51 in HCMC, the Noi Bai - Lai Expressway near Hanoi, and others. Some drivers even drove into toll barriers after their ETC sticker was recognized, but the gate didn’t open.
Ironically, this new system is called ‘non-stop toll collection,’ though it has created a lot of stopping.
Presumably, these kinks will be worked out, and if everything goes smoothly, this should help speed up car movement on expressways, but one can’t help but wonder why this rollout went so badly.
Unfortunately for HCMC, its tiny set of expressways (three, to be precise) is already completely overloaded: the Long Thanh Expressway receives about 50,000 vehicles per day, and even though the speed limit is 120kph, it can take up to three hours to cover the highway’s 55 kilometers due to traffic. (Having driven this road from end to end, even when there isn’t heavy traffic, you often get stuck behind people who refuse to go faster than about 80kph.)
And the new Trung Luong-My Thuan Expressway (built without an emergency lane due to funding problems) already handles over 30,000 vehicles per day against a planned capacity of 23,000 daily vehicles by 2025.
HCMC’s water supply, lifeblood of 13 million, faces serious problems (VnExpress International)
Have a great weekend!