Tag Archives: Vietnam society

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.

The Race to Satisfy Vietnam’s Hi Tech Hunger

Vietnam’s science ministry reports four technology exchanges accounted for 5,482 service and equipment transactions worth $129 million last year — 34% more than a previous year, and far exceeding expectations.

In Haiphong alone, 40,000 people exchanged scientific views and searched for  technologies.  The Danang exchange has recorded 5,321 domestic businesses and 153 foreign companies registering 7,754 technology transactions over the past five years. 

These are signs that Vietnam is serious about being a global technology leader and consumer.   The government projects a 15% annual increase in technological product and service sales through 2020 as exchange projects expand countrywide and universities grow the country’s tech expertise.  

 These developments have generated a growing awareness among global technology leaders about Vietnam’s potential.  This week’s examples:

  • On Thursday the Vietnamese and Finnish governments signed a $14 million agreement to implement the second phase of their joint innovation partnership to enhance the capacity of Vietnam’s information technology system and increase activities in scientific research and technology development.
  • On Friday Microsoft formally agreed to a long-term partnership with Vietnam to focus on four technologies (1) IT infrastructure, (2) cyber security, (3) cloud apps development and (4) IT human resources.

The race is on to capitalize on hi tech hunger in a promising frontier market of nearly 100 million people.  

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.

 

 

The Cost of Living with Big Macs in Vietnam

Now that McDonalds opened its first restaurant in Vietnam this month, it will take a while to measure the effect on Vietnamese consumers — hungry for all things American but leery of the potential health consequences.  But the fast food giant already has made a significant contribution to anyone considering living in or visiting Vietnam — thanks to Big Macs.

The entry of the company’s trademark oversized hamburgers on the streets of Saigon has immediately made Vietnam a member of The Economist’s Big Mac Index.  The index is an elegant (though obviously imprecise) measurement of purchasing power in countries where McDonalds sells Big Macs.

So now we know that the Big Mac sells for the equivalent of $2.84 in Ho Chi Minh City, considerably less than the $4.62 price in the US.  By comparison, the extremes in Big Mac pricing are $7.80 in Norway and $1.54 in India.  The Economist arrives at those numbers by dividing the price charged at McDonald’s by the official exchange rate of the country; In Vietnam, consumers pay 60,000 Vietnamese dong for a Big Mac, and the Economist used 21,090 as the exchange rate.

What’s interesting about this is that the index indicates the actual cost of living in Vietnam — as opposed to the implied cost you get from the official exchange rate.  In this case, it suggests Vietnam is much cheaper than you’d expect.  In fact, if a Big Mac (and presumably everything else) cost as much in Vietnam as in the US, we’d be getting 12,975 VND for our dollar rather than the 21,090 the bank offers.

Purchasing Power Parity is a relatively good way of understanding the true cost of living in a foreign country, but it is tends to be subject to the biases of whoever calculates it.  The Big Mac Index is a convenient way to demonstrate that Vietnam is an inexpensive place to live — at least until McDonald’s raises its prices there.