I saw this kid selling Coca-Cola to motorists at a stoplight in central Saigon today and had to snap a pic. Embodied in this fresh-faced teenager is all the incredible change that is sweeping across Viet Nam. I was thirsty too, so I bought a bottle.
A capitalist, consumer culture has taken root with a vengeance here. It's almost as if the Vietnamese are in overdrive to make up for 25 years of economic stagnation. Everywhere I see evidence of a burgeoning middle class and the trappings of wealth -- DVD shops (pirated, but obvious evidence of DVD players) , florists, photo studios, refrigerators, LCD HDTVs, glossy fashion magazines, etc.
Yesterday I went to a Walmart-type store crammed with toasters, cookies, cell phones, audio equipment, shampoo, cosmetics, pots and pans, produce, a bakery (the Vietnamese bake excellent bread), clothing, stationery, rice cookers -- you name it, this place had it. Except for the checkout girls wearing ao dais, It felt pretty much like any similar store in Des Moines or Milwaukee. It warmed my heart.
Some find it fashionable to bemoan the spread of wealth and market-based economies across the world. "Everything is being Starbuck-ized!" they complain as they sip their lattes or Pinot Noir. Certainly the free market has its ugly spots. But I challenge any of those people to spend 40 years working from dawn until dusk plowing fields with a water buffalo and living in a dirt-floor house. I'm pretty sure they would politely decline. Instead, they would go to the local Whole Foods and drop a wad on overpriced organic produce and free-range chicken packaged in tidy, sanitized containers. Just like the Vietnamese.
Here's the checkout area of the store I visited yesterday. A security guy scolded me for taking this photo. Maybe he thought I was working for the competition.
Some glossies for sale. I see these stands everywhere.
Frequent sightings of the hammer and sickle offer a sharp reminder of the country's pedigree. But with every passing day it seems more and more an anachronism.
People of Viet Nam, I salute you!