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Hanoi brings back neighborhood loudspeakers

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, is noisy. And it's about to get noisier. The government is bringing back old-school neighborhood loudspeakers, even though, for some reason, few residents seem to want that. In this story, Michael Sullivan, a veteran correspondent for NPR, tries to be heard above the sound.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: I have a very strong memory of my very first morning in my new house in Hanoi, with one of those loudspeakers mounted on a pole just outside my bedroom window.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: They were a relic of another era, useful in the '60s and '70s to warn residents of approaching U.S. bombers or to inform people of the Communist Party's latest vaccination campaign. But five years ago, Hanoi's mayor pulled the plug on the loudspeakers, saying they'd completed their historical mission. Now there's a new mayor, and he wants them back. He's in the minority.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Actually, the people are speaking loudly that they don't want it. Newspaper are publishing results of survey where 80% of the people don't want the loudspeakers.

SULLIVAN: Nguyen Qui Duc (ph) is a longtime Hanoi resident who was grateful to see them go five years ago. A bar owner who pulls many a late night, he remembers many a sleep shattered by those speakers' relentless drone.

DUC: Yeah, 5 o'clock in the morning, 6 o'clock in the morning, 5 o'clock in the afternoon, all night - you know, crazy.

SULLIVAN: This idea to bring them back has been savaged on social media and even in the tightly controlled state-run media, with one op-ed declaring them an hour-long torture twice a day - technology many say is completely outdated and unnecessary. Nguyen Qui Duc emphatically agrees.

DUC: We are living in 2022. And we have apps. We can download news. You can text us. You can send us the news if there's some urgent matter that the government wants to tell the people. But we just don't want you to wake us up at 5 in the morning.

SULLIVAN: Noise pollution is already a problem in a city full of motorbike horns and endless construction, many residents complain. Why make it worse? Despite the complaints, city officials aren't budging and say they aim to have the whole city wired or rewired by 2025.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.