HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vietnam

Vietnam. For many Americans, it remains a loaded term; a name that conjures up terms like carpet bombing, the Viet Cong, and My Lai. This is probably why so many people, when I tell them where I'm going, respond with, basically, "Why the hell would an American go to Vietnam?" This is a valid question. Why, indeed, would a person from a country who's military machine gunned, napalmed, and Agent Oranged large parts of Vietnam into oblivion go there? Don't they hate Americans?

Well, no, and there's a reason for this. After the fall of Saigon and unification, Vietnam was a basket case. It's economy was ruined, and over a million Vietnamese escaped to safe havens abroad. As a response, the Socialist government recommended a policy of exuberant baby-making, in order to replenish the country's decimated population and stimulate economic growth. The Vietnamese responded with gusto, and today Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. As a result, there is a huge under-30 population in Vietnam, a generation that did not see the war first-hand. Today, Vietnamese are among the most friendly people in the world, and they harbor no grudges against Americans.

Although this rapid population growth is now causing problems with land use and the environment, it has certainly helped Vietnam's economy, and so has the policy of Doi Moi. This was a restructuring of the economy initiated in 1986 in an effort to transition the economy from centrally-planned to a "socialist-oriented market economy". Basically, think China: lots of government involvement, but also a lot of foreign investment and removal of trade barriers. The results of Doi Moi have been impressive, as Vietnam's economy has grown by over 7% a year over the last decade, while poverty has been halved.

The second question people ask when I tell them I'm going to Vietnam, after "wait, what?," is "why Vietnam and not somewhere else?" I knew it would be easiest to find work teaching in Asia, since demand for English-speakers is going through the roof. Asia also fascinates me, since there is so much good food, so much history, and, as an international affairs junkie, so much important stuff happening over there, so I had no problem deciding which continent to focus on. I really want to see what it is like to live in a country that is changing and growing by the day, and Asia is the obvious place to go for that. Originally I had applied to teach in China, but they needed my diploma in hand before I could start working, and I won't get that until October at the earliest. I didn't want sit on my ass at home for that long, so I chose Vietnam, mainly because I love Vietnamese food (if you've never had it go eat some now), Anthony Bourdain loves the place, and after seeing pictures like this:

and this:

and finally this:
I really couldn't resist. So Vietnam it was, and I will probably be working in Ho Chi Minh City (from now on HCMC), formerly Saigon, which is basically the New York of Vietnam: everything but the capital. I think I will like HCMC. It is sometimes called the "New Orleans of Asia," thanks to its vibrant nightlife, French cultural influence, and rather liberal social norms. I like all of these things. Also, Vietnam's long coastline means every city is well-stocked with all kinds of seafood, an important factor for a self-described seafood whore like myself. With a metro population of around 9 million, a number that is growing fast, HCMC is frenetic. (For example, search Ho Chi Minh City traffic on Youtube and prepare to be amazed.) I've never lived in a huge city, so this will take some getting used to, but I've enjoyed all of the big cities I've been to: New York, Chicago, Toronto and Berlin. I'm sure I will have some interesting encounters, since 6-foot white guys don't exactly look native, but overall I am definitely looking forward to experiencing this country first-hand. I just have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

1 comment:

  1. Hope to see another post soon! You've captured my interest and I'm dying to hear more!

    ReplyDelete