Once upon a time, you could get a haircut, buy a duck or watch a video on Hanoi's teeming sidewalks. Now all you can do is walk on them - something that was nearly impossible before.
A new traffic law going into effect this week closed the barbers, tea servers and fruit vendors who made a modest living operating on sidewalks. Pedestrians no longer have to navigate an open-air bazaar just to stroll down the block.But police enforcement of the new orderliness has robbed Hanoi of some of its flavor, while driving much of its emerging private economy out of business.
"People used to sit a lot in the tea shops on the sidewalks, so it was easy to find customers," said Nguyen Hai Son, a 13-year-old shoeshine boy from neighboring Hai Hung province. "Now they all go inside the shops, and not many shop-owners will let me go there."
Son said he found only three customers Tuesday instead of the usual five, meaning his average daily income of 10,000 dong, about 91 cents, fell by nearly half.
Cafe owners removed low-slung awnings and pulled tables and chairs indoors. Merchants squeezed bulky display cases of shampoo and stationery into their front doorways, eyeing the streets anxiously for customers.
Sidewalk barbers and bicycle mechanics vanished altogether.
Merchants, most of whom were unemployed before, bemoaned the new regulations, but many didn't want to be quoted by name for fear of getting into trouble with authorities.
Not everyone complained.
"I used to have to walk in the street," said Cao Son, a retired professor. "Now there's finally space on the sidewalk."
Residents agreed the law, if enforced, will make Hanoi a safer place for pedestrians.
They won't have to take their chances walking in traffic just to move at a normal pace. They won't have to bob and weave to avoid being garrotted by the cords and wires that supported awnings over tea stalls.
"It's good because the sidewalks will be larger and there will be fewer accidents, but it will be harder for us to do our business," said Nguyen Phuong Nga, 30, a fruit vendor who commutes daily by battered bicycle from Gia Lam district across the nearby Red River.
Hanoi's budding private sector, made up mostly of small, family-owned businesses, will feel the biggest pinch. But some of the most popular private businesses, bars serving draft beer called bia hoi, will probably survive.
Nguyen Thi Bich Ha used to have seats on the sidewalk outside her bia hoi parlor, but is confident customers will happily crowd in-side.
"They can't give up the beer," Ha said.