Ojai Orange.com | home | archives | press | contact us

Ojai Orange | The Column of Lasting Insignificance | Books | Wait-A-Minute

March 17, 2007
John Wilcock - March 17, 2007

 

  The column of lasting insignificance
     


also posted:



2011
November 26 2011
November 19, 2011
November 12, 2011
November 5, 2011
October 29, 2011
October 22, 2011
October 15, 2011
October 8, 2011
October 1, 2011
September 24, 2011
September 17, 2011
September 10, 2011
September 4, 2011
August 27, 2011
August 20, 2011
August 13, 2011
August 6, 2011
July 30, 2011
July 23, 2011
July 16, 2011
July 9, 2011
July 2, 2011
June 25, 2011
June 18, 2011
June 11, 2011
June 4, 2011
May 28, 2011
May 21, 2011
May 14, 2011
May 7, 2011
April 30, 2011
April 23, 2011
April 16, 2011
April 9, 2011
April 2, 2011
March 26, 2011
March 19, 2011
March 12, 2011
March 5, 2011
February 26, 2011
February 19, 2011
February 12, 2011
February 5, 2011
February 5, 2011
January 29, 2011
January 22, 2011
January 15, 2011
January 6, 2011

2010
December 25, 2010
December 18, 2010
December 11, 2010
December 4, 2010
November 27, 2010
November 20, 2010
November 13, 2010
November 6, 2010
October 30, 2010
October 23, 2010
October 16, 2010
October 9, 2010
October 2, 2010
September 25, 2010
September 18, 2010
September 11, 2010
September 4, 2010
August 28, 2010
August 21, 2010
August 14, 2010
August 7, 2010
July 31, 2010
July 24, 2010
July 17, 2010
July 10, 2010
July 3, 2010
June 26, 2010
June 19, 2010
June 12, 2010
June 5, 2010
May 29, 2010
May 22, 2010
May 15, 2010
May 8, 2010
May 1, 2010
April 24, 2010
April 17, 2010
April 10, 2010
April 3, 2010
March 27, 2010
March 20, 2010
March 13, 2010
March 6, 2010
February 27, 2010
February 20, 2010
February 13, 2010
February 6, 2010
January 30, 2010
January 23, 2010
January 16, 2010
January 9, 2010
January 2, 2010

2009
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 12, 2009
December 5, 2009
November 28, 2009
November 21, 2009
November 14, 2009
November 7, 2009
October 31, 2009
October 24, 2009
October 17, 2009
October 10, 2009
October 3, 2009
September 26, 2009
September 19, 2009
September 12, 2009
September 5, 2009
August 29, 2009
August 22, 2009
August 15, 2009
August 8, 2009
August 1, 2009
July 25, 2009
July 18, 2009
July 11, 2009
July 4, 2009
June 27, 2009
June 20, 2009
June 13, 2009
June 6, 2009
May 30, 2009
May 23, 2009
May 16, 2009
May 9, 2009
May 2, 2009
April 25, 2009
April 18, 2009
April 11, 2009
April 4, 2009
March 28, 2009
March 21, 2009
March 14, 2009
March 7, 2009
February 28, 2009
February 21, 2009
February 14, 2009
February 7, 2009
January 31, 2009
January 24, 2009
January 17, 2009
January 3, 2009

2008
December 27, 2008
December 20, 2008
December 13, 2008
December 6, 2008
November 29, 2008
November 22, 2008
November 15, 2008
November 8, 2008
November 5, 2008
November 1, 2008
October 25, 2008
October 18, 2008
October 11, 2008
October 4, 2008
September 27, 2008
September 20, 2008
September 13, 2008
September 6, 2008
August 30, 2008
August 23, 2008
August 16, 2008
August 9, 2008
August 2, 2008
July 26, 2008
July 19, 2008
July 12, 2008
July 5, 2008
June 28, 2008
June 21, 2008
June 14, 2008
June 7, 2008
May 31, 2008
May 24, 2008
May 17, 2008
May 10, 2008
May 3, 2008
April 26, 2008
April 19, 2008
April 12, 2008
April 5, 2008
March 29, 2008
March 22, 2008
March 15, 2008
March 8, 2008
March 1, 2008
February 23, 2008
February 16, 2008
February 9, 2008
February 2, 2008
January 26, 2008
January 19, 2008
January 12, 2008
January 5, 2008

2007
December 29, 2007
December 22, 2007
December 15, 2007
December 8, 2007
December 1, 2007
November 24, 2007
November 17, 2007
November 10, 2007
November 3, 2007
October 27, 2007
October 20, 2007
October 13, 2007
October 6, 2007
September 29, 2007
September 22, 2007
September 15, 2007
September 8, 2007
September 1, 2007
August 25, 2007
August 18, 2007
August 11, 2007
August 4, 2007
July 28, 2007
July 21, 2007
July 14, 2007
July 7, 2007
June 30, 2007
June 23, 2007
June 16, 2007
June 9, 2007
June 2, 2007
May 19, 2007
May 12, 2007
May 5, 2007
April 28, 2007
April 21, 2007
April 14, 2007
April 7, 2007
March 31, 2007
March 24, 2007
March 17, 2007
March 10, 2007
March 3, 2007
February 24, 2007
February 17, 2007
February 10, 2007
February 3, 2007
January 20, 2007
January 13, 2007
January 6, 2007

2006
December 30, 2006
December 23, 2006
December 16, 2006
December 9, 2006
December 2, 2006
November 25, 2006
November 18, 2006
November 11, 2006
November 4, 2006
October 28, 2006
October 21, 2006
October 14, 2006
October 7, 2006
September 30, 2006
September 23, 2006
September 16, 2006
September 9, 2006
September 2, 2006
August 26, 2006
August 19, 2006
August 12, 2006
August 5, 2006
July 29, 2006
July 22, 2006
July 15, 2006

 

 


March 17, 2007

John WILCOCK in Vietnam

Pretty much everything tourists to Vietnam have told you about the country is true. It is beautiful, colorful, vibrant and fascinating. The food is excellent (although you’ll get bored with spring rolls at every meal and welcome the occasional hamburger place), the people are modest and kind, and prices are cheap. (But that won’t last much longer).

      Tourism is going through the roof with 25 million visitors expected this year earning the country $3.5 billion. Visitors from the US have doubled in the past couple of years. United is the only US airline with regular flights.

     Business is booming with investors from scores of countries seeking an opening. The Japanese may spend a billion dollars on Ho Chi Minh City’s first subway; South Korean companies have put $3 billion into hotel and residential construction and heavy industry; Intel has just agreed to triple its investment to $1 billion; and Viet Nam News has been carrying stories about shareholders on the Hanoi stock market who are buying lavish flats with trading stock gains.

   Of  course,  the country is still officially communist, but just as in China the country’s leaders seem to have decided that getting rich is something to promote and there’s a visible gap growing between rich and poor. Out in the countryside, huge Malibu-sized mansions are rising among the rice fields, built by affluent farmers who have gone into other businesses— ceramics, marble statues, tourist souvenirs. This despite the  age-old tradition of modesty suggesting they should not make each other envious with overt displays of wealth.

     Apart from the garish exhortary billboards so familiar from the Soviet era and the colorful banners inscribed with hammer and sickle, there is little obvious sign of politics. Even the police, with their dressy green and red uniforms are unobtrusive and somehow defanged when seen riding on the back of motorbikes like millions of other people. (And millions of motorcycles clogging every street is certainly every visitor’s first impression. Nothing and nobody slows down at pedestrian crossings; the pedestrian takes his or her chances, anticipating the swerving of  oncoming traffic. Somehow it seems to work.)

    For the Vietnamese, of course, freedom is not as clear as it seems. There is no opposition media, no public protest about anything and—although readily accessible—the internet is carefully watched, with sites banned that mention subjects such as dissidents or democracy.  Recently, even the arts have been under fire with a show, Saigon Open City,  scheduled  for HCM City’s Fine Arts Museum closed before it could open. One of its curators, a Thai named Gridthiya Gaweewong said: “The Vietnamese say they’ve liberated themselves from the Chinese, the French, the Americans, but now the government is oppressing its own people even as it seeks economic ‘openness’”.

   And therein lies the dilemma. Does encouraging capitalism lead automatically to a more democratic system? It hasn’t in China, despite the exuberant eagerness of foreign companies to pump money into that country.

     Corruption has been very much in the news here lately (hardly unique to any country). Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung was confronted with the subject when he spent a couple of hours online last month answering carefully chosen questions from the public. Some people had “paid only lip service” to the fight against corruption, he said, but “the most difficult question I’m facing right now is that I don’t have a sufficient budget to afford a decent living for civil servants to rid the nation of this problem”.

    But another problem—what tourism may be doing to the country’s culture and traditions-- is growing fast. An English-language magazine, The Guide, ran a story about an ethnic village in the northern mountains called Sapa, whose visitors have increased to 2,000 from 170 since the early 1990s. “Experts worry that the precocious tourist industry and all the changes it has brought may have compromised the old traditions”  Van Huyen wrote, “and some traditions may have gone for good”. He mentions the villagers who used to work in the fields and who now throng the streets selling Chinese-made souvenirs, the young boys who serve as unofficial guides and the women whose pose for pictures—for a fee. Prostitution has also arrived. “The traditional H’mong woman who, her whole life through, never thought of any man but her husband, is now virtually extinct. Marital fidelity is an outdated concept”.

    For the present though, tourists may be more concerned by the hazardous driving conditions and the dangers of eating from those enticing street stalls. “Vietnam ranks second among the most dangerous road environments in East Asia” warned  a report by the World Bank, and as for buses, “They are death traps—disasters waiting to happen” declares Grieg Craft, founder of Asia Injury Fund in Vietnam.

     Meanwhile, on the sidewalk, death and sickness lurks among the 14,000 street stalls more than 80 per cent of which are contaminated with micro-organisms according to a recent official study. “We can’t imprison people who eat dirty food, nor do we have a law banning suicide” wryly comments the Food Administration’s Nguyen Thang Phong.  Tales abound of stalls with no facilities to wash dirty dishes before they’re reused, and of waiters who dip their thumbs into bowls of noodles.

    But countering all this are the observations from the large colony of expats living in the big cities who apparently brave death and disaster every day—and love it. Pathfinder, an English-language listings info-filled magazine, runs a section on street food listing places for banh my (“like sandwiches only better”), fried rolls and bun oc  (vinegary snails). The ubiquitous pho bo stalls are always packed with customers slurping the traditional noodle soup with pork or beef (add fresh chile, lemon juice, pepper, fish sauce). Pho, now world famous, used to be served by peddlers who carried bowls, chopsticks and ingredients on one end of a pole, a boiling stock pot over a coal oven on the other. Expats commiserate with each other on how hard it is to leave this beautiful country where a hedonistic life in Hanoi means “a circle of friends, work (if you felt like it), bars, road trips, more bars and food” as Australian Sarah Studds puts it.

MARCH 10/07

=======================================

TOP

     

© 2006-2013 ojaiorange.com | web design by David Buehrens