Tag Archives: Vietnam culture

Vietnam’s Outbreak of Measles and Outrage

Says another: “How many more children have to die before you declare an epidemic?  If you still have some dignity, please resign and give the position to someone else with better qualifications and more willingness to do the job so that the people will suffer less.”

Other Internet comments suggest health officials are downplaying the crisis because of Vietnam’s  commitments to eradicate measles by 2017 — inspiring this caustic Facebook post:  “Through this we can see how talented our health minister is—too talented. Her motto is listening to no one, knowing nothing, seeing nothing.”

Criticism escalated when Tien seemed to minimize the undeclared epidemic by contending only 25 deaths were technically attributable to measles, even though scores children have died as a result of measles-related complications such as pneumonia.

The World Health Organization says it is “very concerned” about the outbreak, partly because WHO and UNICEF undertook an apparently less-than-successful vaccination campaign to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.

In the age of the Internet, the message for Vietnam is the same as that for government agencies worldwide:  Google knows and Facebook shares.

 

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Vietnam’s Hard Line on Soft Drinks

Vietnam isn’t being very hospitable to two of its most prominent American multi-nationals.  Starting next July, the finance ministry wants to impose a 10%  tax on carbonated soft drinks — which is to say Coke and Pepsi.

The rationale is these beverages are harmful to public health, just like other products consumers want — but which health officials don’t want them to have — like  cigarettes and alcohol.

The new tax is getting criticism from foreigners who are thinking more about profits than health.  A consultancy that focuses on global interests in Vietnam says the tax will hurt consumers and the local sugar industry, retail distribution system and retailers.

The American Chamber of Commerce, whose members include Coke, Pepsi, Miller beer, Philip Morris tobacco, Dow chemical and other companies that give Vietnamese health officials pause, calls the proposed tax unfair to consumers.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese officials aren’t in agreement with each other.  The Viet Nam Tax Consultancy Association favors the tax, but the Central Institute for Economic Management suggests it would be counterproductive — bringing in $8.4 million tax revenue but costing the beverage industry $41 million and Vietnam’s economy $12 million because demand for soft drinks would decline 28%.

The proposed tax is testing Vietnam’s Communist Party ideal of creating an enduring socially responsible free enterprise economy.  That won’t be easy to do as the country opens its door ever wider to the global marketplace.

Just How Determined Are the Vietnamese?

In the 20th Century, the West learned a lot about the tenacity of the northern Vietnamese, whose determination repelled the American military and drove out European colonialists.  Now comes a story from a village near Dien Bien Phu, where France surrendered in 1954, that shows the enduring power of Vietnamese will.

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Delivering a bagged and dry pupil

When recent storms caused flooding in Dien Bien Province, a raging river took out the suspension bridge that separated Sam Lang village  in the far northwestern corner of Vietnam from its schoolhouse.  Anyone else would have postponed classes, but not the Vietnamese.

Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre published pictures showing what happened next:  The father of one of the children grabbed a large plastic bag, instructed his child to get into the bag, and then swam across the river with the bag to deliver his child to primary school.  Then he returned and repeated the process for every child in the village.

The children arrived safe and dry.  School went on as usual.  Despite nature’s inconvenience, the children of Sam Lang walked a day further on the road to prosperity.  If you think this event showed unusual commitment to education, you don’t know the Vietnamese.  

 

 

 

The Americanization of Vietnam’s Food

McDonald’s has been in business for one month in Vietnam, and it’s already clear the culinary culture of this leading producer of rice and seafood has changed forever.  Just one restaurant served 400,000 customers in the month after the grand opening on Feb. 8.

So far, the Saigon McDonald’s served 61,980 Big Macs for $2.84 apiece, well above the daily income of a typical Vietnamese rice farming family.

This is just the beginning.  McDonald’s is the latest chain to join the fast-food reformation of Vietnam’s diet, but it should have no problem surpassing Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen,  KFC, Subway, and others.

In part, that’s because the owner of the McDonald’s franchise has the political clout to get things done; he’s the prime minister’s son-in-law who, like McDonald’s itself, is a Chicago native.

McDonald’s Vietnam owner Henry Nguyen spent two summers as a teenager working at McDonald’s in Chicago before moving to Ho Chi Minh City a decade ago and ultimately impressing McDonald’s as “the ideal mix of business acumen, proven record, passion, and ability.”

Similarly, Vietnam’s hunger for American products and culture makes it an ideal market for McDonald’s — as it is for American soft drink, alcohol, tobacco, and other brands that are contending with legions of skeptical consumers at home.

Dreaming in Vietnam on $1 a Day

Vietnam’s statistics office and the World Bank shed new light on income in the country — and quantify the  rural-urban gap.  They say the typical city dweller earns $142 a month compared to $76 for rural residents.  Average earnings for Vietnam’s poorest citizens are estimated to be $24 per month, a 39% increase over the highly inflationary period between 2010 and 2013.

This helps explain two things: (1) why the world’s multi-national manufacturers are flocking to Vietnam to source their products, and (2) why entrepreneurial dreams are flourishing in the world’s 13th most populous country.

Vietnam has a young, educated, eager — and, most important, plugged-in — workforce accustomed to wages far behind its peers in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.  Even citizens who earn $1 a day tend to be literate and have someone in the family who is connected to the Internet.

And despite urban migration that is spurring explosive growth in Hanoi, Saigon and other cities, Vietnam’s population remains mostly rural and the employment mostly agriculture.  In this sector, $1 dollar a day remains the standard wage — and a job offer from a Japanese or German widget-maker looks like an attractive stepping stone to the entrepreneurial dreamland that is the World Wide Web.

 

 

What Flappy Bird Tells Us about Vietnam

If you don’t think Vietnam has arrived yet as a player in the global economy, consider the case of Flappy Bird.  The sensational smart phone app dominated downloads of games on android and iTunes until its creator yanked it from the Internet last weekend.

The Flappy Bird inventor is a Vietnamese software engineer named Dong Nguyen, who lives with his parents in Hanoi.  He withdrew the app — even though it was bringing in up to $50,000 a day in ad revenue — because he was tired of the notoriety that was ruining his tranquil life.

A few years ago, millions of people in Vietnam didn’t have electricity, land lines, computers or access to the Internet — much less smart phones, and nobody in the Western world could have imagined a 29-year-old Vietnamese geek inventing a silly game that would consume hundreds of millions of hours that could otherwise have been spent on something more productive.  Yet that is exactly what has happened since Dong released Flappy Bird to the global economy last May.

Dong’s critics — and there are many of them — question whether he withdrew the game from the market as a publicity stunt to get people to focus on his next act.  He says the game disappeared because it is too addictive and because the international attention caused him too much grief.

A broader explanation might be cultural:  Vietnam has changed so dramatically and so fast that sometimes its ways of life cannot catch up with technology and market realities.  One of the cultural attributes of traditional Vietnam is a tendency not to bring attention to oneself — to be unassuming, modest, shy.  Could that be part of the reason Dong wants to get his life back?

The lesson for Western investors is they are well advised to learn the difference between cultural modesty and lack of initiative.  Vietnam is full of Dong Nguyens — millions of brainy entrepreneurs prepared to transform their own country and, in the process, infuse the world with Flappy Birds.

 

 

 

 

Vietnam’s Most Treasured Import: Cash

More than five million Vietnamese people do not live in Vietnam.  They migrated to 100 nations around the globe, and include 500,000 Vietnamese guest workers in other countries.  Together, at year’s end, they will have sent $11 billion in cash back to relatives in their native country.  That includes nearly $5 billion sent to Ho Chi Minh City alone.

Most of the money comes from the West — especially Europe and the US, top_site_international_businesshome to 1.5 million Vietnamese Americans, many of whom are affluent.  The cash is transferred through banks, such as Dong A Money Transfer (that received $1.5 billion in 2013) and Sacomrex, which expects the total to be $1.7 billion, (15% more than it had expected).

World Bank says Vietnam is one of the top ten countries receiving remittances from overseas.  Others include India ($71 billion), China ($60 billion), and the Philippines ($26 billion).

The cash remittances are a cultural statement about the intensity of Vietnamese family connections.  The money significantly raises the standard of living of relatives in Vietnam.  And it helps build Vietnam’s social infrastructure — such as access to education and health — family by family.

The $11 billion inflow represents nearly 8% of Vietnam’s GDP.  It strengthens and widens the bridge between Vietnam and the US.  It helps explain the warm reception that often surprises first-time American visitors to Vietnam.