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Vietnam Weekly - August 3, 2018

Good morning! It's been another busy week, so we'll dive straight in.

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Water Woes in the North and South

Flooding has hit both ends of the country for different reasons. Heavy rain in the Hanoi region has local officials considering the evacuation of over 14,000 houses in an outer district, Reuters reports. Water levels on the Bui River, 20km outside of the city, are dangerously high. 

Zing has a great photo collection (in Vietnamese) of kids going to school by crossing rooftops to avoid the flooded roads, or traveling by boat. Their community has been inundated for 10 days, though some have also turned the nearby waterlogged highway into a giant swimming pool. Nice way to make the best out of a bad situation!

Also up north, five houses collapsed into the Da River in Hoa Binh Province on Monday, as heavy rainfall has eroded the riverbank. Luckily their occupants had already evacuated.

Meanwhile, down south farmers in the Mekong Delta are losing crops to flooding caused by water from the collapsed dam in Laos and unusually high tides. The region usually experiences flooding later in the fall, so this has caught locals off guard. 

Corruption and Protest Jail Sentences

People continue to be jailed in the aftermath of early June's nationwide protests. On Monday, a court in Bien Hoa, located east of Saigon, sentenced 15 individuals to 8-18 months in prison for taking part in the protests. Another five people were handed probation sentences of up to 14 months for "causing public disorder." Reuters notes that at least 31 people have received jail sentences since the protests ended. 

Meanwhile Phan Van Anh Vu, a businessman who was arrested in Singapore in January and extradited to Vietnam, was sentenced to nine years in jail for "divulging state secrets" after a brief trial, according to AFP

Vu was attempting to flee to Germany in order to disclose information on Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was kidnapped in Berlin and returned to Vietnam by security forces last fall. The government has never explained what the "state secrets" in question are. 

In other corruption news, Dinh Ngoc He, who is apparently known as 'Little Baldy,' became the first military official to be jailed in the CPV's ongoing crackdown. He, a former colonel, was sentenced to 12 years for "abusing power in performance of official duties" and "using fake documents." 

In a hilarious, somewhat related tidbit, Dan Tri shares that the Government Inspectorate, which collects reports on corruption from all 63 of Vietnam's provinces, shared that the provinces reported just four corruption cases nationally in the first half of 2018. This is comical, and shows that lower-level governments are way behind the central government in terms of tackling corruption. 

Go-Jek's Vietnam Subsidiary Hits the Streets

Go-Viet, the local arm of Indonesia's ride-hailing giant, launched with limited service on Wednesday. As of now, it is only available for Android phones in 12 of Saigon's districts, so this is a pretty soft rollout. I have an iPhone so I can't use it yet, but I look forward to seeing how it stacks up against Grab, whose service quality has slipped since it acquired Uber earlier in the year. 

Ba Na's Golden Bridge Blows up the Internet

A heavily photoshopped picture of the Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills has been all over major Instagram accounts this week, and the new tourism attraction has received plenty of prominent coverage from news outlets. While the structure is visually impressive, and the coverage is understandable (especially the pieces which focus more on the design), I'm frustrated that thousands (or millions, possibly) of people around the world are now seeing this and thinking they have to go, even though it's part of a garish Sun World development called Ba Na Hills

This project, plopped in the middle of the beautiful mountains that stretch from Da Nang into Laos, features a fake 'French village' and all sorts of other features (a cable car, for example) that illustrate much of what is wrong with tourism in the country. 

The context I'd like to add is Sun Group's terrible environmental record. They've built a cable car to the peak of Vietnam's tallest mountain, where a tourism complex now makes visiting the place almost pointless; they've built a cable car and giant Ferris wheel at the entrance to Ha Long Bay; and they're building an enormous complex (including, of course, a cable car) on the previously largely untouched islands off Phu Quoc's southern coast. They were also originally involved in plans to build a cable into Son Doong Cave, though they backed out under pressure, and plan to build a gigantic tourism complex with a cable car (seriously, what is the deal with these things?) on Cat Ba Island, which is home to a national park and a critically endangered primate species.

I'm hoping people who are considering visiting Ba Na after seeing pictures of the Golden Bridge take note of this. Not to mention, Vietnam's natural scenery is exponentially more impressive. Go see that instead.

Extra Links

My colleague Thi Nguyen wrote part two of her treatise on the Vietnamese typing system. 

Rachel Bale wrote a terrific, deeply upsetting piece for National Geographic on the illegal tiger trade in Southeast Asia, and Vietnam's key role in it. 

AFP has a good profile of Trinh Van Quyet, the CEO of FLC Group who has spearheaded the conglomerate's aggressive push into the airline sector through Bamboo Airways. 

A horrific crash between a minibus and 18 wheeler killed 13 people, including a groom on the way to his wedding, in central Vietnam on Monday morning. Vietnam's highways continue to be dangerous places to be.

On a lighter note, an employee of CGV Cinemas leaked a screenshot of security footage showing a couple having sex inside a theater on social media. Online chaos ensued, and my Vietnamese colleagues say this is now the most-searched topic on local sites at the moment.

Have a great weekend!
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