Vietnam, next Hong Kong?

On my first trip to Hong Kong summer 1981, I was taken in by the energy and entrepreneurial spirit there.

A camera shop (pre-Iphone era) next to a watch shop (again, pre-Ipad era) next to an electronics store.  Shoppers from India, Europe, Australia were all there, bustling about. Double-deck buses (still under British colonial rule) moved to and fro from Kowloon to Sham Shui Po.

China‘s Champs ELysees.

And that’s 30 years ago.

Now, boarding a bus in Saigon, full of college students from the University of Industry, I saw Vietnam‘s future 30 years from now.

Every kids on that bus ( with Samsung phones) will start a business or work for MNC companies, which will surely be coming (when wage pressures increase in China and water level rises again in Thailand).

In fact, Quang Trung Software Park is holding a conference on that very same topic (Human resources, mostly ICT, in a flat world).

Thailand wants to play a lead role in connecting and collaborating at this gathering.

Alliances for a planned and collaborative future (who is going to be the next Hong Kong or Singapore?)  Indeed, Manpower and other HR agencies have sprung up all over town. With hard and soft skills, one can command a decent wage here.

The living condition leaves much to be desired however : supermarket is located next to a dry dirty river, for instance. But all that can and will be fixed in time. Right now, younger learners are enrolled in foreign-own classes, picking up an expression here and a tune there.

My relative sent his daughter to the US to complete high school, Singapore to finish college and now to Australia for graduate school.

Stories like this put Vietnam on the path toward becoming another Hong Kong , while Hong Kong itself has moved up the value chain (per NYT Friedman) to full service economy, “off-shoring” its manufacturing further up North.

In other words, if those “Boat People” were to arrive today and be allowed to go off camp to work, they would be at a total loss, as opposed to work off-book in the garment industry as back then (“tailored in Hong Kong”).

Back to ICT as a way out

Young people naturally pick up new skills faster than older workers.

This is especially true for language-acquisition.

Once we can integrate the two camps (business savvy vs tech savvy) we are on our way to a promising future.

I notice primary schools and Universities here have started an all-English curriculum,  Vietnam’s latest attempt to copy the Asian Tiger miracle. Private universities are busy constructing “campuses” modeled after counterparts overseas (Hoa Sen, Tan Tao ), still have to shuttle students to and fro on chartered buses to city’s outskirts.

Countries like Taiwan, Singapore and S Korea have all traveled that road.

The raw materials are present, as evident from my bus ride which was all of a sudden empty after the drop off  at the main campus. Franchise concept has taken hold here: sticky rice chain, sugarcane juice chain, KFC chain, Lotteria chain and Tous Les Jours.

Being a “virgin” market has some pluses. Investors can’t wait to stake out location, location, location and brand positioning.

But the locals will learn the ins and outs of good and bad use of capitals.

(23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism by Chang).

The solution: go ahead with caution, but still move ahead speedily when  opportunity presents itself.

Just the way heavy traffic is here . Just the way people are moving about in Vietnam now. Just the way I saw in Hong Kong then.


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