When I first heard that Vietnamese touring Thailand and Singapore had come across signs like “Beware of Vietnamese pickpockets!”, my initial reaction was that of denial “you must be kidding me!”.
Then it dawns on me: we must have done it to ourselves,somehow.
There have been a steady few (among the 200,000 who arrived as the first wave in 1975 to the US) who has vaulted to the upper echelon e.g. NASA, Silicon Valley and even Congress.
The majority, however, exported themselves ( riding on Singapore and Thailand’s economic miracles) to neighboring ASEAN countries, either as mail-order brides or unwanted elements in foreign environment (where nobody knows your name, unlike in Cheers).
To Vietnam young, tt’s been a pressure cooker since the early 90’s (incidentally about the same time as the rise of the Internet).
GDP per capita is reaching $1,900 where the Philippines was back in 2,010.
Vietnam is reaping its first fruit i.e. the state of a frog-in-slow-boiled-water. It has yet recognized the trap, middle-income that is. More than half – roughly 50 millions were born after the war, full of aspiration and frustration.
This tension between break out and instant gratification spills over across the borders.
In one-on-one comparison, a high-school kid can match a googler in math test.
But everything else, except for beer consumption, is to be desired.
Other emerging and frontier nations know their comparative advantage. Vietnam, however, albeit with natural resources, strategic location etc.. has not found its focus (Swiss chocolate, French wine). A few years back, it placed an ad on CNN, touting itself as a great tourist destination. After tourism comes IT. Now, it’s playing catch-up with urban sprawl. The flow of FDI has been steady, but not without strings attached (metro rail, pork-barrel highway projects). Post-surgical patients were seen exposed to torrential rain, waiting their turns at Viet Duc Hospital, Hanoi (incidentally, China has realized its need to open up its medical sector to foreign experts and entrepreneurs).
To see the slow-boiled effect consuming the post-war generation without raising an alarm, is to silently agree with those signage in Thai and Singaporean touring districts. Those signs should have said “Beware, Vietnamese are catching up from behind”. Objects in those rear-view mirrors often appear larger than they actually are. So are the fear and put down on a nation of young people whose potential and pride will distinguish themselves in the 9.6-billion- world in 2050. The 2 billion folks who have yet joined us (India and Africa) will need food, clothing, shelters, education, technology and sustainability… stuffs that the Vietnamese now know as intimately as the back of their hands. “Beware of reluctant heroes – not pickpockets – right behind you”.