Not What Marx and Engels Had In Mind: Welcome To Hanoi!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
not what marx and engels had in mind welcome to hanoi

I just spent two weeks on vacation in Vietnam, and my pre-trip expectations of seeing fleets of left-behind-by-the-French Peugeots, left-behind-by-the-Americans Falcons, and left-behind-by-the-Soviets GAZs turned out to be ridiculously inaccurate. I saw a few old cars (more on that later), but most of the cars in Vietnam are boring late-model rides like Kia Rios and Toyota Innovas. However, I did see quite a few conspicuous-consumption statusmobiles in Saigon and Hanoi; the grumbling old-time revolutionary veterans no doubt refer to the current Hanoi leadership as CINOs. Here’s an example I spotted near St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

You see a lot of old-timey heroic-workers billboards celebrating stuff like the founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the sure-didn’t-look-like-victory-at-the-time Tet Offensive around the country, but Vietnam 2012 has— in the words of Ice-T— a capitalist migraine.

For most Vietnamese, being on wheels means rolling on two wheels; the bike-centric Top Gear Vietnam Special captured the spirit very well. Those of us in the USA have become accustomed to the idea that you need a full-sized SUV or minivan if you have even one child… but Vietnamese city dwellers know better. Motorbikes can squeeze through tiny 14th-century alleys, they get high-double-digit fuel economy, and they can negotiate your typical no-traffic-signal Saigon intersection without stopping.

The problem with bikes, though, is that they’re quite poor at flaunting your newfound wealth. Oh, sure, you can get a BMW or Hayabusa two-wheeler, but what the up-and-coming Vietnamese businessman really needs is a totally impractical, gas-sucking luxury ride. I saw plenty of Benzes and Porsches and even the occasional Bentley, but this is the king!

You want post-Cold-War irony? This H2 (which probably can’t even fit on 80% of Hanoi’s streets and is lucky to average 3 MPH while trying to force its way through a maelstrom of Super Cubs stacked with 50-kilo sacks of soybeans, pushcarts laden with a half-ton of hog innards, and bewildered cops in Toyota Crowns) was parked in front of a store selling vintage Communist propaganda posters.

I’m sure the grizzled NVA vets who see this thing shake their fists and yell “I lost all my buddies to B-52 strikes at Khe Sanh for this?”, but something like 80% of the Vietnamese population is under 30… and they probably ignore Grandpa and think “I’ll have one of those someday!”

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3 of 25 comments
  • Lokki Lokki on Mar 22, 2012

    What's your point? That Ho Chi Min would have been a different dictator if we'd agree to help him fight the French? He might have used a different flag but it would have been a variation of the same regime. Think about it.

  • Acuraandy Acuraandy on Mar 22, 2012

    I bet US/Canadian/Australian Vietnam 'Conflict' vets are looking at this like I am: Whiskey...Tango...Foxtrot?!?!

    • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater Dr. Kenneth Noisewater on Mar 23, 2012

      It's not nearly as WTFy as Jews driving BMWs, Mercs, VWs, etc. That's about as 'let bygones be bygones' as you can possibly get.

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