The Bad and The Ugly

Most of my posts I believe highlight what a great place Vietnam is.  But with all good things there are bad and even ugly things.  I believe that silence is a form of permission.  I will warn you upfront that there are some images that may disturb you. The intent is to disturb so we can learn.  Please do not proceed if the ugly bothers you.

There are many wonderful things in Vietnam.  I love it here and would come back or even live here.  The people make it that way.  They are peaceful.  They are happy and easy to laugh.  They are uncomplicated and very intelligent.  Vietnam is the most progressive of all Asian countries towards LGBT rights and stigma.  It is also the most progressive for women’s rights and equality. Still work needs to be done in both areas but for LGBT and Women it is ahead of the curve.  It is a very safe country for foreigners.  For traveling and for living.  On top of that there is the raw natural beauty of the landscape.  From the mountains, to the jungles and to the beaches. Mother Nature spent some time here and it shows.

So let us start with the bad (mind you this is in my opinion).

  1.  Water:  As a foreigner you are told not to drink the tap water or even eat the ice.  This is quite common around the world.  However, here the locals do not even drink the tap water.  It has been shown to have a high quantity of E. Coli.  So this leads to the water only being used to wash, washing clothes and cooking.  How that is okay I am not 100% sure.  But I will say I have not gotten sick.  But what else this leads to is an alarmingly high amount of plastic water bottles.  Water bottles everywhere because everyone drinks them.  Everyone has home water bottles delivered for drinking.  Plastic, even though is recyclable, is not really biodegradable. It is actually one of the largest pollutants in lakes, rivers, and oceans.  So if you cannot drink the water then you will turn to bottled water.  Logical.  Each night in Hanoi, people sweep their trash to the side of the road and all night long people walk by with wheel barrels and put the trash in a carry it away.  What I have learned is that they tend to use open air dump sites.  Not only an eye sore but it tends to pollute ground water and there really is no containment of the trash.  The root cause is multilayered.  First is
    West Lake fish deaths

    infrastructure of the water pipes.  We take for granted our water system.  We can drink our water.  Ok well most of us.  Flint, Michigan would disagree rightfully so.  So to have safe drinking water there has to be investment in infrastructure.  It is just not here yet.  Second is respect for water as a natural resource.  Without water we die.  Simple as that.  I live on the largest lake in Hanoi.  It is called West Lake.  In October thousands of fished died in the lake because of lack of oxygen.  What they found out is that a company illegally dumped pollution into the lake and killed all the fish and made the lake unsafe for humans to go in.  People can no longer get water from the lake.

    Polluted river

    You have to respect the natural resources like water.  That has to be culturally driven.  Vietnam is not alone in not respecting water.  The US is quite guilty in this as well.  I believe because we take it for granted.  It comes right out of the tap.  Even with a tap we all tend to still buy bottled water even though it is free right from the tap.

  2. Air:  Oh my!  The air quality here is bad!!!!  I worked in LA for 3 years.  And LA has nothing on Hanoi.  There was a very public study picked up by most international outlets on a UNICEF study on kids health in poor air quality places.  There are 2 billion children living in ares where the air quality does not meet the WHO air quality standards.  Hanoi

    is ranked 2nd worst in the world. What they are showing is the long term health effects are not good.  600,000 children’s deaths can be contributed to air quality around the world each year.  Pollutants of course affect the lungs but can also cross the blood brain barrier and hurt development.  Many people here wear masks that try to keep out the pollutants while they are outdoors.  Most are just thin hospital masks.  Masks need to have filters that are rated and tested for certain particle sizes.  These are not.  I did bring one.  It makes me look like Bane from Batman.  But I do not drive a lot.  I ended up giving it to a local person because they were getting sick a lot.  I am a healthy guy.  I do not have asthma nor get respiratory infections. I have had 2 in 5 months.  The first one lasted 90 days.  I attribute it to the air quality.  Again this is a multilayered problem.  You have a developing country that is having an economic boom.  This has lead to more cars, trucks and motorbikes on the roads.  There is more manufacturing sites now.  There is no regulations.  They have cut down most trees in the surrounding area to make room. So there is no natural filter.  I know that the EPA in the US is considered controversial but if you come to Hanoi you will appreciate all the things that agency does for us.  No really.  Tax me more whatever.  I do like to breathe!  Because having lived here for 5 months now, I do not take my air quality for granted at all!

So time for the ugly.  I am an animal lover so these things bother me greatly.

  1. Poaching:  I have been to three different jungles here.  Outside of a single cobra that slithered over my feet, I have never seen an animal. No where.  I am talking I have trekked through several.  Like no paths but going to where animals should be.  Nothing.  It is poaching.  The Vietnamese eat every kind of animal.  This has lead to there being very little natural wildlife left in the rain forests.   Most species of monkeys, gibbons, turtles, frogs and snakes are endangered here. I have been to a Gibbon and turtle preserve where they are trying to teach local people about animal conservation.  But again it is cultural.  Also for years there was food rations.  When you don’t have food, what do you do?  You hunt.   You eat what you can.  And they do not waste anything from an animal. They eat everything.  So this mentality still exists even though there is no food rations anymore.  There are still poor areas but there is access to food now for most people.  The Vietnamese do not like products from China.  They believe that most things from China are fake.  But one thing they do like from China is traditional Chinese medicine.  Vietnam has been shown to have a direct impact on African poaching.  A couple  years ago there was a rumor that rhinoceros horns cure cancer here.  The poaching of Rhino’s in Africa increased.  There was money to be made.  Mind you those claims have now been proven to be false.  But that did not stop people from killing an animal to make some money on its horn.  Many of those horns were shipped here and ground up into powder for soups and broths.  The most amazing thing that I have been found is animal migration.  Vietnam borders Laos. Laos junglesare filled with animals (elephants, tigers, monkeys…). But the animals do not migrate to these empty jungles.  There are some natural barriers but they tend not to.  Not sure what to make of that.
  2. Dogs:  They eat dog and cats.
    Dog in a cage ready for market

    They say that each breed tastes different.  It is sold by the size of the dog.  There are dog meat festivals and restaurants that cater to this.  This is all of Vietnam.  Not a specific city.  A lot of times you see a place that has many dogs and you think oh how cute.  Then you realize that they are the dog farms basically.  Raising dogs to be sold to the meat markets.  I am not a vegetarian in anyway and eating one animal should not be different than eating another.  But to me this makes me nauseous. I have spent more money than I will ever tell to  help my own dogs live long healthy lives.  So the thought that people could raise them just to slaughter them really gets to me.  But that is hypocritical of me I know.  There should be no difference with pigs, cows, chickens….I understand why people go vegetarian now.

Every country has the good, the bad, and the ugly.  That does not mean it is not a good place.  It just means there are areas of opportunity.  In developing countries we try to tell ourselves that it is because they are poor or lack education.  But we have access to money and education and we do similar things.  The environment and the humane treatment of animals can be considered a social issue.  I do not believe that.  We have a single home.  This planet.  We do not have the technology to live anywhere else.  If we ruin the water and air then we are all doomed. If we hunt the animals to extinction then we will all have to become vegetarians.  That is if we can figure out how to pollinate the plants!



  1. Wow! Interesting blog!! Also very unsettling and sad. I do appreciate your transparency and honesty though. For a while I was thinking it was all fun and games for you !! 😜 Your pictures, while a little disturbing, really brought your words to life. Thanks for sharing, as always.

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