Vibrant Vietnam - 2007

living there. The median age is 26 and 26% of the population currently is age 14 or under, so youth is dominant. Literacy among the Vietnamese is 90%, the best in Southeast Asia. The communist influence is seen strongly in the religion-adherent figures: 9% are Buddhist, 7% Catholic, and 80% no religion. Though the Buddhist temples are visited and people do make offerings there, it seems that the visitations are more superstition-based than spiritual. According to our young guide, people will make an offering of fruit or flowers when asking for some favor or blessing but it is more superficial than worshipful. G OVERNMENT The Communist Party is the single one in the country and though elections are ostensibly free, there is usually no choice but a CP-approved candidate. However, since the mid-80s, the Party has changed its economic policies to encourage more free trade and free enterprise. The population has embraced the changes wholeheartedly and the national economic growth rate is one of the fastest in the world (9% last year). This year even more changes are being made as the Party seeks to enter new trade agreements with other countries and to encourage foreign investment: currency stabilization, property rights laws, easier investment procedures were all in process as we visited in October 2007. Really impressive is Vietnam’s overall poverty reduction record. Prior to 1993, its poverty rate was estimated at 60% of the population; today that level has been reduced to 20%--a much more amazing reduction than what has occurred in China and India, though both those countries are also lifting their populations up rapidly as well. The government recognizes the need for an educated populace and has made great strides in providing education to all sections of the population. As Guide Lan said, “We have Ho Chi Minh in our hearts and capitalism in our pockets!” An ironic change we noted too is that English is being encouraged as a second language. What we could not win on the ground, we have apparently won in the culture. Westernization is seen all over the country. Movies, TV, products on sale, dress, music, language, fast food restaurants. The 2/3s of the population under 30 wants the things that middle-class life promises. These youth wear fashionable clothing, use cell phones constantly, drink coffee in trendy cafes, surf the net easily, seek entertainment and travel opportunities. This is a busy, happy, aspiring country today, too occupied with its own rapid advancement to dwell in a miserable past! A L ITTLE R ELEVANT H ISTORY One of the issues that caused my own antiwar opinions was the question of whether or not the conflict between North & South Vietnam was a civil war or an invasion by a foreign country (the North) into another country’s territory (South Vietnam). During the 60s, I was pretty well convinced it was a civil war and that we should not be interfering despite fears generated by the “domino theory” which dictated USA foreign policy at the time. Our visit to this now vibrant country did not definitively answer this question for me because there are obvious differences in the north and south. Sitting just south of gigantic China, Vietnam 5

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