Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Impressions of Saigon

The street view from my hotel window in District 5
Apologies for not blogging for the past two days. I've been in Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) and it's been interesting meeting the people who live and work here and hearing their thoughts about Vietnam and its future.

I was in HCM or Saigon, as locals like to call it, some 13 years ago and I remember cyclos, or people transporting clients on pedicabs. Now they are replaced with taxis, all of which are Toyota cars and minivans. The drivers all wear uniforms and for the most part are legit.

There used to be lots of street vendors too with their mobile carts, but now many cafes and shops have taken their place, some upscale Western coffeeshops, others still the local store fronts where people sit on small plastic chairs outside sipping dark Vietnamese coffee in tall glasses.

The roads are quite small for the biggest city in the country. The right lane is taken up by mopeds or scooters, while the other one is for cars. As a result, cars and trucks can't go much faster than 40km/h and turning and crossing intersections is just like Beijing, where everything comes at you at once and you have to inch your way forward.

More people speak some English, with those in hotels very fluent. It turns out some of gone abroad for their studies; one I met went to Singapore for university, while another just recently came back from Moscow.

And it's these 20-somethings who seem very optimistic for Vietnam's future. They are realising the importance of knowing English and I heard that some are taking night classes which demonstrates their eagerness to learn the language.

Aside from HCM, Hanoi is also an up-and-coming city. One likened it to HCM being like Beijing as the capital, while Hanoi is like Shanghai. The similarities between the two countries don't end there. Young and middle-aged locals complained to me about corruption in the government and how it has hindered the country.

One explained that it was because the people in power were originally from the countryside and after becoming rulers they don't have good knowledge in governing a city, area or country. They only seem to want to ingratiate themselves, remarked a taxi driver to me.

I added that China was like that too, but he felt that people only became corrupt after the country became powerful. But I retorted saying China would be an even better country if it wasn't corrupt like it is now.

Nevertheless, young people seem pleased at seeing their country develop so quickly in the past 20 years. They are thrilled to witness the progress and want to see it continue. For them, this is Vietnam's golden period and they intend to ride the wave as long as they can.

However, what's interesting is that not many young Vietnamese are willing to work very hard. A foreign woman in sales told me that if you put too much pressure on the locals, they quit and it isn't too difficult for them to find other jobs either. They will even find a new job in a completely different field as long as it pays well. So as an employer it's hard to strike a balance between meeting your targets and keeping good staff.

This also indicates Vietnam may take longer to reach greater heights of success if young people are not willing to push themselves harder. While they are kind and gentle, hospitable and soft-spoken, they also need that inner drive to help the country grow even more.

1 comment:

  1. may be this lay back life style is common in all tropical and subtropical countries. life is easy and their material desires are not polluted by the affluent societies yet.