In Hanoi

So I finally made it to Vietnam.

And Vietnam was ok.  I was in Hanoi and about half way to Haiphong to boot.  Additionally I was north of Hanoi only a few hours from the Chinese border.

These are my impressions:

First of all the Vietnamese, like all good Vietnamese, just love Ho Chi Minh!  He is Jesus, John Lennon, Marx and the Bee Gees all rolled into one. 

So I've said before, its always great to be the one controlling the narrative!

So great that the Vietnamese businessman I met in Hanoi swore up and down that Ho Chi Minh never married.  Whoops

As expected, I found the Vietnamese rather nationalistic and patriotic, which was to be expected.  This goes for both people and nations right?  To be successful first believe in yourself! 

If Vietnam was something more than a mere "province" in size and more in number and geographic size similar to say America, China would be terrified.  They would probably have the border armed to the teeth.   And if India had Vietnam's ambition and energy, then things would be most interesting indeed.

Alas, Vietnam is nothing more than Guangdong's twin. And the Chinese can probably live with that.

Until Vietnam plays its ace in the hole, the two will merely be staring at each other, China always playing the self anointed role of 老大. 

Which Vietnam may one day actually "play".

Vietnam in terms of infrastructure is about 10-15 years behind China.  The traffic in Hanoi is the same as in any big Chinese city.  The smog just as bad.  But once one gets out of the city on the modern roads towards the coast, the hills are green and the skies blue.  And the countryside is a bit empty.   Vietnam apparently does have a subway with a few stations that are open, but I wasn't able to learn more about it, much less ride it. 

The Chinese, though they are increasingly abundant in Vietnam, were not seen.  While back in China my supplier did tell me he was planning on opening a factory in a Chinese funded industrial zone North of Hanoi.  Apparently Northern Vietnam is simply cheaper than South Vietnam to run a factory.

My Chinese supplier was adamant the only thing Vietnam had to offer was a cheaper labor rate, which within 5 years would equal China's, thus eliminating any future need to be in Vietnam.  At that time, he said calmly, Vietnamese production would return to China.

I listened intently. 

I did see a few laowai there, but  not many.  Unlike in China, where many a laowai has "mastered" Mandarin, I don't think so many can claim the equivalent in Vietnam.  The "hangouts" were quite crowded, the streets full of open air restaurants.  The evenings, in the right places, were quite lively.  Apparently the only laowai to be seen were teachers.   Very reminiscent of China in the early 90's.

That is, before the laowai businessman comes in force, it is the English teachers that usually blaze the trail. 

However, Western laowai aside, the Koreans and Japanese were in abundance.  Especially the Koreans.  I actually stayed in a Korean hotel.  I was the only Western barbarian I saw during breakfast, with perhaps a hundred or so Koreans chowing down.  I later saw a Westerner in Levis in the elevator however.

Regarding the English skills of the local populace they weren't so good.  That was ok, however.  My Vietnamese was worse. 

I did manage to visit the Hanoi Hilton, but unfortunately it seems most of the history of the place was devoted to how many "patriotic prisoners" the French kept.  I of course did hope to see John McCain's cell but it was off limits.  There was no tour guide nor sign showing the way. 

I tried to visit the mausoleum of Ho, but he was "resting" that day.

The prison was a bit small.  And very much surrounded by simple development.  When I lived in China in the 90's as a student, my school was surrounded by rice fields and it took me 30 minutes on a quick day to "enter" the city.  A few years ago I walked right past the front gate without noticing, so developed was Guangzhou.   The same having happened to the area surrounding the Hanoi Hilton.  A name the Vietnamese have seemingly latched onto.

I did go to a club, with dancers, but the dancers were "ok", and the club was more of a dinner club.  One can go there to have a meal and listen to music.  There was no dancing. As such, it was definitely behind China.  Then again, I've heard Ho Chi Minh city has a thriving night scene.

KTV however, was interesting. 

While the average KTV girl in China makes at least $28 or so a night just talking with you, my KTV girl only claimed to make $5 a night.  She was tall, with an amazing singing voice.  Pretty face, a college student at the age of 21, with a marketing job to boot that paid her $1000 a month.  Not bad.
She was in KTV she said to learn English, however, I was the first laowai she had come across.

She currently did not have a boyfriend but when “stressed” told me she simply went online to find sex.  She complained bitterly about the sexual prowess of the Vietnamese boy.  All they liked was missionary.  When she mentioned this to her mother, she said, her mother concurred.  Her father is that way too, her mom said.

Oh my.

She mentioned then she and I could have sex later that night as well.  She felt I was a nice enough guy, and after all, she mentioned, I didn't have girlfriend.  She forgot to ask if I was married.

I was a bit surprised to hear about the "online" sex site.  The Chinese have something similar, I've simply never been on one. 

In sum, while I was happy to visit Vietnam, it would be hard for me to live there.  The national dish is "pho", noodles, which I would soon grow sick of.  And though Vietnam is quite cheap, I can't imagine myself getting around without being able to speak the language. 

Regarding that "ace in the hole"? 

Vietnam could allow America to establish an naval base anytime at Cam Ranh Bay.  American warships visited there in 2016.  The first time since 1975.

I someday hope to visit Ho Chi Minh City.


  1. From my understanding northern Vietnam is now where the bulk of mobile phones Samsung manufactures these days. My current S10 was made there. I'm sure that's not the only thing they make over there now too plus other Korean chaebols doing similar moves. Could explain why you meet so many on your travels.

    Also your convo with that KTV girl was interesting. Technology has really turned a lot traditional societies on their head.

    1. Indeed. Foxconn is also there. If Vietnam were only half the size of India, China would be in trouble. However, golf in Vietnam is also apparently quite cheap. The Koreans love to drink, and once I was awakened at around 230am as they were returning to their rooms. Many Chinese "doubt" Vietnam. We shall see.

  2. I loved my time in Vietnam. Beautiful country, people, and food. Especially, as an American I could not have been more welcomed, even with all of terrible things we did to Vietnam. Every American should be required to visit, I think it would change a bunch of people's minds about foreign policy.

    The Vietnamese are very proud people, and love Uncle Ho. They dislike the Chinese the most though. Uncle Ho said something to the effect that the US intervention, and French Colonialism were nothing compared to being the dung of the Chinese for a 1000 years.

    You are right that the vibe in Hanoi is like China in the 90s. There is usually a curfew of midnight, so there is a bunch of private drinking places including the KTVs you mentioned. But drinking Beer Hoi and eating in the street side restaurants is the best. I found the English at least among the younger set to not be that bad.

    You need to get down to HCMC though. Nightlife is better with normal clubs, bars, and other various interesting KTV-like establishments. Also, English is better and people actually can usually cross the street without many problems unlike Hanoi. Good French food too.

    As the other commentor mentioned Samsung is huge there, and many Japanese and other Korean MNFs are also there. Much bigger than the laowai. How did you find the factories in comparison to China?

    1. First of all thanks for your comment and your insight. I actually found a few of the factories to be a bit older than I expected. However, within one product niche, they were newer than the Chinese versions. And with better equipment. I feel for now though, transportation will continue to be a problem. My supplier told me the backlog out of Haiphong is at least two weeks. That is, the container upon arrival just sits there, due to congestion. Vietnam has a good problem on its hands of course. Too much business and too little infrastructure.


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