Friday, August 21, 2015

Vietnam: Anh

It was not her car I was impressed with, although it was a very nice car. It was the driver. It is only the truly wealthy that have full time chauffeurs. Anh had her own chauffeur. 

Modern Hoi An is a beach town much like beach towns anywhere. The town lies on the clear waters of a river delta a short distance from the sandy beaches of the South China Sea. Hotels, restaurants and upscale boutiques targeting tourists abound. My friend Rich met Anh on a dive boat out of Hoi An and made a date to have lunch later in the week, in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hoi An, Central Vietnam.

Anh had attended UCLA, spoke English perfectly and gave me excellent guidance on how to navigate the Vietnamese bureaucracy to obtain a business visa. Anh’s family owned several hospitals. She was accustomed to moving amongst Saigon’s elite. Anh was an affable woman, intelligent, articulate, socially conscious and aware.  Were it not for a slight Vietnamese accent, it would have been easy to mistake her for an American. But even in a rich country such as the US, Anh would not be considered average. She had many gifts, including that chauffeur, a really nice perk.  In Vietnam, Anh was a dramatic outlier; there aren’t many in her class.

Ho Chi Minh was a determined guy. He led an anti-colonial effort to unite North and South Vietnam, a politically divided country long before Ho’s communist army drove out the French and Americans. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 before the end of the war. But in 1975 his successors united North and South Vietnam under classic communism. The New Republic of Vietnam elevated Ho Chi Minh to iconic status and erected a bunch of Ho statues. About five years later, when the country was starving to death, they dumped the commie ideology and invited in Starbucks.

My friend Anh is emblematic of Vietnam’s growing wealth under the current political and economic hybrid emerging out of the communist era. Ambitious and enterprising, the Vietnamese are becoming players in the world economy.  However, new Vietnamese wealth is concentrated in a very small minority.  Much of the country struggles to survive. 

Saigon street vendor.

In my next story I will introduce Nhung, a more typical Vietnamese woman doing whatever it takes to live and prosper.