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Queuing in Vietnam

By: Jonathon Hoff Posted: November-11-2012 in
Jonathon Hoff

People queue. British people are famous for queuing. We queue just to get into another queue. We queue to ask about where we should queue. We separate queuing people with ropes and guide them with signs. We spilt queues when they get too big and start them again on somewhere else. We zig-zag queues to accommodate all the queuing people. Personally I had forgotten about this phenomena. However frustrating a queue may be, I prefer it to total and utter disorganization - i.e. Viet Nam. Not to say Vietnamese are disorganized, it is all for a reason...

Mounting experience with Vietnamese bureaucracy, most recently the registration of a motorbike, has exposed me to the systems within it. Registering a bike seems like it should be a formality. It isn't. Arriving on a narrow main road deep into Binh Thanh District, a shop on one side of the street is the 'fixer'. Despite being a privately owned business, ALL bikes being registered must visit a place like this first.

About ten young men work in the shop, along with the older administrative staff. They take off the front panel on the bike where the serial number is and prepare some paperwork for the police station across the road. Of course, no queue here. Just a 'who can shove to the front and get someone's attention first'. With roughly three new motorbikes arriving every minute, it's a lot of fun. Once they have done their bit and claimed 80,000 dong for 'insurance' (although I am not holding out hope of a payout), you can take the bike across the road to see the police, who read the number. Again, the 'queue' is just a stressful crush of bikes attacking a small portal from all angles. After this it's back across the road to the shop, where they offer to attach your number-plate to the bike (and make a killing by overcharging, a local garage will do it cheaper).

Stress. A queue is stressful, but a non-numbered, non-queue, non-order system? Which would you prefer? Some are catching on - Vietnam airways have a numbered ticket system, but you often see customers unfamiliar with it. In the government office for registration of births, deaths and marriages there is a numbered ticket system. In the office for registration of business licenses, there is not. What there is, is no air conditioning and a small waiting room crammed full of, on estimate, about 200 people everyday, all with no system as to who is next.

Corruption. The guys in the motorbike registration 'shop' pay the police to provide this service. We 'pay them' as does the garage that sold me the bike. Essentially, it is around 20 jobs and a lot of money changing hands. The whole registration system could be overhauled, computerized, not even touched by the consumer. Bikes should be plated by the time they reach the showroom -- but then who's going to make any money out of that? The guys in the business registration office -- they are on a (seriously) low salary, so they have to make more money somehow.

So, how do you get served quickly? You have to know someone. How do you know someone? You get an agent to help you. They do the paperwork, and as part of their job, they should have a contact (who obviously, they pay). Problem is, some wily people change the staff in the office every three months, so you've got to be on the ball.


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