Air quality app under ‘coordinated attack’ in Vietnam amid heavy Hanoi smog

Sometimes, the truth hurts but it’s also useful in solving problems, both individual and societal.  You know the expression, “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.”  Here are two key paragraphs from this 7 October Reuters piece about Hanoi’s recent and cyclical air pollution problem and some misguided attempts to deny the accuracy of the data collected by independent monitors and reported by AirVisual via its website and app.  

The attack came after Vietnamese Facebook user (INSERT NAME), an online chemistry teacher with almost 350,000 followers on the website, said in a lengthy post that AirVisual was manipulating its data in order to sell air purifiers made by its parent company, IQair.

(INSERT NAME) did not offer any evidence to back up his claims, but the post – which said the AirVisual ranking would harm tourism to Vietnam and urged people to leave negative reviews of the app – quickly received thousands of shares and likes.

Of course, the online chemistry teacher (OCT) didn’t offer any evidence to back up his claims because he doesn’t have any.  That’s called shooting from the hip.  Or, to put it more crudely, I call bullshit.  Methinks the OCT should have put up or shut up.  It appears he’s just another social media “influencer” without data to back up his bold and slanderous assertion.  What was his ulterior motive?  More student customers?  Fame and fortune? 

Yes, air pollution is ultimately good for IQAir’s bottom line but why would a reputable Swiss company endanger its sterling reputation by “manipulating its data’?  It just doesn’t compute.  Besides, Hanoi and HCMC do have an air pollution problem, along with a long list of other cities.  In the case of the former, where I live, some of it is cyclical, i.e., there’s more pollution at certain times of the year than others because of changing weather patterns, e.g., temperature inversion.  The causes include millions of motorbikes, trucks, and buses, and the ubiquitous and never-ending construction.  

Just in case you believe the OCT’s unfounded charges, have a look at the result of the US Embassy-Hanoi monitoring station, which has been around for a long time.  (I think we can all agree that for all of its faults, the US government has no reason to manipulate air quality data.)  As of 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 October 2019, the air quality index registered 114, which is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

us embassy hanoi aqi

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the AirVisual website about the sources of data, which are many and varied.  

Where does IQAir AirVisual get its data from?

IQAir AirVisual reports from governmental and non-governmental air monitoring stations. For each station, it always lists the data source, contributor and location. IQAir AirVisual does this to be fully transparent and to give its users a choice as to which data they want to follow.

Oh, and the OCT’s claim that the AirVisual ranking would harm tourism in Viet Nam?  That’s one possible side effect of air and water pollution not only in Hanoi but other tourist destinations, e.g., Danang.  (The point is it’s the POLLUTION that could negatively affect tourism not AirVisual rankings.  Duh.)  Then there’s the long-term damage that will be done to the health of millions of people, not to mention the environment in which they live, unless these problems are addressed sooner rather than later.  Finally, there’s economic development, which will be negatively impacted by pollution.  

In the meantime, I’ll keep checking my AirVisual app, which I downloaded long before it became all the rage in Viet Nam simply because I like to know the air quality of the places in which I live and work, as well as those I visit for business and/or pleasure.  

Here are two relevant posts I saw on Facebook last week.  (OK, I cleaned up some of the language in the second post.  This is a family blog, after all.)  

hcmc smogAirVisual is a Swiss company, please tell me the reason why they picked Vietnam of all places and started a massive conspiracy to undermine the trust in Vietnam’s crispy clean air? Moreover, this is what Saigon looks like from my bedroom window… it didn’t look like that yesterday when airvisual claimed 56 points compared to today’s 152. Airvisual might be a scam but are my eyes suddenly blurry or something?

If some of you put the amount of effort you put into defending yourself into changing the small things, you’d have good air. It’s as simple as that  It’s OK to admit you f_____ up.  It happens. It’s called life. Grow the (______) up.

Breaking news & screaming headline!  Vietnam teacher apologizes after igniting smear campaign against AirVisual.  This happened the day after the Reuters article was published and picked up by a number of international news outlets, including the New York Times.  Gee, I wonder why?  Maybe, probably, most likely, because of enormous pressure applied to the OCT by AirVisual attorneys.  Can he spell L-A-W-S-U-I-T, I wonder?  Most likely, he didn’t want to end up living in a rented room and using public transportation or worse because I’m pretty sure he would have ended up with nothing after justice ran its course.  For all I know, maybe the Swiss ambassador to Viet Nam filed a complaint with the Viet Nam Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there are limits to freedom of speech.  We can’t just write and say whatever the hell we want whenever we want to, especially if it’s not true and especially if it’s harmful to others, in case this a Swiss company.  The offender was forced to shut up, thanks to swift action by AirVisual, because he couldn’t put it.  Chalk this up as a minor victory for accountability! 

Can you guess what the greatest concern is for the Vietnamese?  Health (!), according to a recent Nielsen survey.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Keep Viet Nam Beautiful! Gìn giữ Việt Nam tươi đẹp!

plastic bottle in ha long bay
A plastic bottle floating in Ha Long Bay.  Photo:  MAA

Vietnam is the fourth-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution globally, a 2015 study by the University of Georgia showed.

I took the above photo during a recent trip to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 and one of the natural wonders of the world.  While the water is often described as “emerald” that is not always the case because of pollution.  In addition, if you take a boat out on the bay for a half a day or overnight, there is a nearly 100% certainly that you will see plastic items floating in the water. Most of this garbage will eventually find its way into the sea.  

Aside from the importance of maintaining a healthy environment for the sake of the flora and fauna that live in it and the people who consume what it has to offer, there is also tourism, which is ultimately dependent upon a clean and beautiful natural environment, including the water that people swim in.  

71898034_949339342071006_6045097062448496640_n
Photo taken in the same area at the same time.

Sadly, Viet Nam is one of Asia’s five worst polluters of ocean plastic waste with 13 million tonnes of waste released to the ocean every year.  The country ranks 17th in the world for ocean plastic waste pollution.  According to the February 2019 article from which that information was taken, each person in Viet Nam consumed 3.8 kg of plastic per year in 1990; in 2015, that figure had skyrocketed to 41 kg (Source:  Viet Nam’s Association of Plastic).  The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) estimated that about 80 TONS (!) of plastic waste and bags are thrown away every day in Hanoi and HCMC alone.  

To learn about positive steps that are being taken and can be taken, read the rest of the aforementioned mention article, Việt Nam takes action to reduce plastic waste.  Waste is not only a burden but an economic opportunity with the use of existing technology and that currently being developed.  There’s gold in garbage, as many entrepreneurs have discovered.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

My First VinFast

20191008_095439

The Powerful Spirit of Vietnam (slogan of the VinFast Lux SA20 Turbo, which will set you back about 1.5 billion VND ($64,602 USD)

I saw my first VinFast car!  Here’s an excerpt from the “About Us” section of the VinFast website:  VinFast is a private automotive startup backed by VinGroup – Vietnam’s largest conglomerate. This allows us to take a bold new approach to design. It was our goal from the outset to create a world-class car with a Vietnamese identity.  By inviting Vietnamese people – our future customers – to be directly involved in our designs right at the start, we turned the traditional design process on its head.

VinFast stands for:

Việt Nam (Vietnam)
Phong cách (Stylish, Ph=F)
An toàn (Safety)
Sáng tạo (Creativeness)
Tiên phong (Pioneer)

For more background information about VinFast, which was founded just two years ago, have a look at this overview.

I’ll be interested to see how Vingroup’s famous brand translates into VinFast car sales in the coming year.  There’s no shortage of competition and saying your product has a “Vietnamese identity” is no guarantee of success.  The competition is fierce.  Stay tuned!

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Education investment catching attention

A9RC42A.jpg
Photo: Viet Tuan (VET)

Here’s an informative article from the September 2019 issue of Vietnam Economic Times about the growth of private education in Viet Nam.  The introductory paragraph should whet your appetite for more, assuming you have at least a casual interest in this topic.

The International School @ ParkCity Hanoi (ISPH) will officially welcome hundreds of students to study at its new 2.5-ha facility in September. “We are here in Hanoi to meet the educational needs of Hanoi residents, both Vietnamese and expats,” Mr. Pham Duc Trung Kien, a private equity investor and Board Member of ISPH, told VET. “There are many great success stories in Vietnam’s education sector for both founders and investors. So I am upbeat about investing in the country.”

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Reflections on the passing of General Giap and the end of an era

reflectionsHot off the digital press, a retrospective view of the passing of the legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died six years ago this Friday at the age of 102 in Hanoi.  Click on the image to read the article in its entirety.  

gen giap.png

Here are two photos that will appear in the forthcoming Vietnamese translation.

gen giap funeral1
Group photo of Vietnamese, US and other foreign colleagues.
gen giap funeral2
From left to right: Michael Cull, who passed away in early 2018, Manus Campbell, MAA, and Chuck Searcy. Photograph by Catherine Karnow

Update:  Here’s a link to the Vietnamese translation on Soha.    

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Happy 10th Birthday, Capstone Vietnam!

Độc lập – Tự do – Hạnh phúc (Independence – Freedom – Happiness)

capstone vn logo

10 years ago this week Capstone Vietnam, now one of Viet Nam’s premier full-service educational consulting companies, was established in Hanoi. That was a time when our vision, mission and values were still taking shape and the groundwork being laid for our future work.  Since 2012, we have had an office in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and a nationwide presence through various events and activities, both on- and offline.

recruit in vnWhile our official slogan is Reaching New Heights, which is related to our company name, Capstone, meaning a “high point” or “crowning achievement,” we are also inspired by this unattributed saying, Success Without Integrity is Failure. This sentiment will continue to guide Capstone’s work for the next 10 years.

10 year logoWe’re grateful to the many clients, both individual and institutional, and our partners, who have placed their trust in us, as well as staff who have contributed to the success of Capstone Vietnam, over the past decade.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, our development and growth have paralleled that of Viet Nam, in some respects.  I included Viet Nam’s national motto above because it also applies to private sector companies that are given sufficient leeway and flexibility to carve out a niche in the market, make contributions, and do what they do best. 

One testament to our Capstone’s success is that other companies have copied our business model in the spirit of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.  On the dark side, this copy and paste mentality also reflects a decided lack of creativity and intelligence among some in this and other industries.  As you know, this tendency is not unique to Viet Nam.  

capstone student volunteers
Capstone student volunteers promoting our fall StudyUSA & Canada Higher Education Fairs – with smiles on their faces!

If the spirit moves you, raise your glass, alcoholic beverage or not, and make a toast to independence, freedom, and happiness in the field of international education in the private sector.  Chúc mừng sinh nhật lần thứ 10, Capstone Việt Nam!

Shalom (שלום), MAA

B-1/2 vs. F-1 Visas to the USA

us state dept seal.pngThe adjusted refusal rate for B (tourist/business) visas issued to Vietnamese citizens in 2018 was 26.2%, which means the issuance rate was 73.8%. I wish we had access to the same information for F-1 (student) visas broken down by state and even institution and type of institution.  

Student visa issuance rates are generally quite a bit lower, more so at the US Consulate in HCMC than the US Embassy in Hanoi.  I’ve heard of issuances rates ranging from less than 50% to over 75%.  I work with a number of secondary and four-year institutions that boast an issuance rate of 100% in Viet Nam.  

Other foreign governments do a much better job of sharing this important information. For example, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recently released information indicating that the refusal rate from 1 January to 31 May of this year for Viet Nam was 55% compared to 15% for China and 36% for India.  In 2018, it was 22% for Viet Nam.  

As I’ve mentioned to a number of US colleagues and journalists, the only way to obtain this information is through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  It shouldn’t be this hard.  These are not state secrets after all.  I recently heard from one colleague who filed a FOIA request.  I look forward to seeing the results.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA