From the first mile in the cab, pulling away from the Hanoi airport, I knew that this place was different. The highway was a veritable river of Vietnamese “mini-vans” or what Americans would call a moped. Some mopeds had full families of 4, while others hauled bushels and bushels of perilously stacked rice at high speeds.
The red and yellow hammer and sickle flag waved next to the simplistic yellow star flag of Vietnam. Uncle Ho, (Ho Chi Minh) looked down from billboards, flags and tee-shirts. Verdant rice paddies specked periodically with the same cone shaped straw hats, unchanged for a thousand years. Massive smoke billowing Foxconn plants which make most of the iPhone sitting in your pocket. Women burning stacks of “$5,000 US Bills” in the middle of the street. Vietnam is a schizophrenic story told in a thousand colors.
Vietnam was one of the first cultures to practice agriculture some 20,000 years ago, but its history is written largely in the blood of its people, shed by colonial overlords for most of the past 1100 years. Whether the Chinese, French, Mongol, Japanese, or American, foreigners have had a near constant hand in this land. Until 1651, they didn’t even have a written script for Vietnamese language. This too was haphazardly grafted onto a Chinese script.
The Vietnamese people are largely a happy bunch. There is a frenetic energy, especially in Hanoi, where everyone seems to be in a mad rush to nowhere. People are laughing, families are eating on the street around tables made for 3 year olds, and everyone wants to talk.
For a “communist” society, this place is as capitalistic as I’ve seen.
Everybody is hustling.
From the woman with 50 lbs of vegetables on two plates slung over her shoulder
To the multitude of impromptu restaurants on every street corner
To every Vietnamese with a moped being a “taxi driver”
This is a place scraping and clawing its way to a better life. GDP growth is among the highest in the world, and there are cranes in the sky in a way that reminded me of Dubai in 2008.
More will come but it is breakfast time. Thank God the Pacers remembered to play basketball for Game 7.