What is Vietnam?

Well it is early, been up since 5 am, listening as the Ancient Quarter comes alive.  Shop keepers preparing for the day, street cleaners washing down sidewalks, the Pho sellers preparing the morning meal. As I sit in my room overlooking the busy street below, I have had one thing in my mind since yesterday- what is Vietnam? That is the question I am going to try and answer- or more correctly, come up with more questions about the reality of Vietnam.

Vietnam is another example of authoritarian capitalism gone wild.  From the airport, across the Red River, to the Ancient Quarter the most prescient item, like China, is the construction crane.  The pollution is legendary here.  The smog was just awful yesterday, a low hanging mist that blocks heat and humidity making the streets a moist, hot, difficult to breath place.  Most people wear masks, not because of fear of the Bird Flu, but because of the smog.  Is this Vietnam? 


Certainly that is the message coming from the state- the primary thing people are worried about here is the market- making money.  The political is important, certainly issues of corruption etc.  But primarily people in Vietnam today are not talking about the glories of the revolution, as much as who to make enough money to survive.  Yes, you can buy Gucci and other high end retailers, and there is a new growing middle class, but the vast majority still live on less than $2 a day.

So one issue we shall continue to grapple with and I will add to later, is the complicated relationship between the market, the attitude of the people we talk to on the street and the official position of the government. 

Perhaps this is the real Vietnam?Image





4 Responses to “What is Vietnam?”

  1. 1 butterflydoc
    June 17, 2013 at 1:40 am

    That sounds a lot like what we just saw in China, and what some of us are still thinking and chatting about… I’m curious to hear of what differences you’re able to tease apart while you’re there.

  2. 2 Martin Tracey
    June 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Have you had an opportunity to talk with a range of Vietnamese people about how they think life has changed since the introduction of some capitalistic reforms, and whether they think that the changes are, on balance, for the best?

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