By on March 22, 2012

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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25 Comments on “Not What Marx and Engels Had In Mind: Welcome To Hanoi!...”

  • avatar

    Actually the problem with bikes is not their flaunting ability, but their lack of ability to protect your offspring from being squished the said H2.

    • 0 avatar

      As a dad who drives the kid to daycare a couple of times a week, I must say that this possibility is not limited to Hummers or to the 3rd world.

      I’m going to be adding backup cameras to both cars as soon as I can afford it. It’s not a big deal, UNLESS you go to a daycare parking lot regularly. The parents all work hard keep their kids from running in to the wrong places, but the kids try pretty hard and don’t know to look around.

      A first world problem, to be sure, but a third world problem as well.

      • 0 avatar

        More lunacy of overprotective parents. Just how did kids from my generation manage to survive? I mean, I grew up in a densely populated suburban area. There were just as many cars on the road then as there are now. I was rarely driven to school as a kid. Up to the third grade I walked to school in the company of an adult or older kid. After the 3rd grade, I was expected to walk (or ride my bike) my own self. By the time I was in the 6th grade, I had explored half the county on my bike. I was no child prodigy, but I had enough sense not to leap out in front of a speeding car.

      • 0 avatar

        skor, I’m going to guess that your generation is mine, the boomers. There were a lot of spares, unlike today where one and two kid families are the norm, not even replacement level. Anxiety levels are higher and exacerbated by news media that distort perceptions of risk. Like you, by age 8, I was free to explore my rural environment. While it didn’t take a village to raise a child, the villagers tended to keep watch. When I was 8, my mother was raising a 4 y.o., a 2 y.o. and a newborn. Working a different job would have been much easier. Three steps towards the door and I was free…. But a daycare probably contains a lot more kids younger than 8 but still old enough to walk. Perhaps the answer ought to be a car with more glass than the typical gunslit windows au courant.

      • 0 avatar

        chuckrs, Depending on who you believe, I’m either the last of the Boomers, or the first of the Xers….cut off of 1960 versus 1965 for the Boomers. Actually, I feel more in common with the Xers. By the time I entered my teen years, the late 70’s, things looked pretty bleak.

        I’m astonished how overprotective of their precious little snowflakes people are these days. It was just a given when I was a kid that you were going to take some lumps growing up. Most of us had our share of broken bones or knocked out teeth. I had both a Rupp mini-bike and a Crossman air rifle when I was in grade school. Today’s parents would be arrested for child abuse if they allowed their kid to go near either.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Being on the “leading edge” (i.e. older) of the Boomers, I do have to comment that I was never driven to school. I walked, from kindergarten until high school (when I took a bus or was in a car pool because the school was several miles away). And that was in a variety of urban/suburban environments, including a city in Spain. I did get lost coming home from the school the first day of 2d grade (we had just moved to that neighborhood). But, except in crappy weather, I was expected to get to a from school on my own “steam.”

        Regarding back-up cameras, I’m not going to join the chorus of people deriding them as only “for sissies.” Compared to the cars of the 1950s and 1960s, the view out the rear of modern cars (not just SUVs) is atrocious. I just returned from an out-of-town trip and two days of having a Taurus as a rental (I remember my ’92 SHO fondly and owned it for 10 years; all I can say is “I knew Ford Taurus and this thing is no Ford Taurus.”) I think I’d want a backup camera for that. The vertical height of the rear window is not much more than a gunslit in a pillbox.

        Reversing over somebody’s kid is just too horrible to think about.

      • 0 avatar

        As a dad-to-be at the early end of them millenials (mid 80’s Gen-Y), everyone speaking here is right, in their own way. Car visibility sucks! and many parents are very protective.

        Part of what the differences can be, especially as highlighted by the daycare scenario, is that the kids are being left in day care. In your day (being young in the 50ies, 60ies, and 70ies) you may have had a parent at home, or a friend’s parent at home, meaning your parents didn’t have to juggle multiple jobs (not each, but as a whole set of parents) and children and errands and whatnot. That makes a big difference right there.

      • 0 avatar

        I walked to school back in the day too and I am 36, so hardly a boomer. My kids don’t. It has nothing to do with being overprotective. It has everything to do with the fact that schools aren’t always local nowadays.

    • 0 avatar

      Squirrel19, My mother worked part time before I was in the forth grade and full time thereafter. At that point I was a “latchkey kid”. I would get home from school around 3pm, my father would leave his job around 4:30 to go pick up my mother….she never did get a DL…..and they’d be home by 5. Food, or money for food, was provided but I was responsible for feeding myself breakfast and lunch. I was responsible for getting myself to school on time. I never got run over by a car. I never burned down the house. I never swallowed rat poison. I was not the only kid in the neighborhood like this. I never felt neglected or abused….it all seemed very normal to me. I understand that some kids could not handle that kind of responsibility, but I bet that the majority could. It’s a big mistake to coddle kids the way some parents do now.

  • avatar

    Put some big yellow stars on the doors and it’s ready to floss, commie style.

  • avatar

    So, if you leave out the 2 wheelers and Hummers, what is the average Hooptie ride in Vietnam?

  • avatar

    This in-your-face auto consumption is a common pattern in former or evolving communist countries. 80% of the cars registered in Albania are Mercedes. Unlike the fun dudes in Albania, I’ll bet the Vietnamese actually paid for most of their bling rides.

  • avatar

    Sorry, having flashback of Clarkson busting his butt on that scooter!

  • avatar

    You could use that H2 to haul at least a dozen folks to the re-education camp.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I could imagine an American Vietnam Vet and an NVA vet sitting down together in a bar, having a drink and surveying the scene and saying to each other “We nearly killed each other for this??!!”

    And yes, these sorts of meetings do happen.

  • avatar

    Ho Chi Minh must be rolling in his grave…

    Not to mention many Americans who gave their life in the country for… what exactly?

    • 0 avatar

      It really does drive home the point that it’s much cheaper to pacify people with a middle-class lifestyle and sense of security than it is with bombs and bullets.

      On that note, hey, let’s see what’s happening to median wage these days…

    • 0 avatar

      A recurring theme for those Americans unfortunately it seems.

  • avatar

    I was crazy enough to rent a moto when I was there a few years ago. No driving conditions in the US can train you for that.

    While European and Australian visitors seem common, the locals told me that American visitors are still relatively rare. I was continually asked about what Americans thought of Vietnam. In detail. I would go back in a second…

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      Backpacked during 2001 in Thiland, Cambodia and Vietnam. Americans were not to be found especially in Vietnam. Most times I spotted one they turned out to be Canadian.

  • avatar

    Ho Chi Minh came to America first. And initially, post-war US policy was to not help restore colonial regimes.

    But then the US wanted France to commit to NATO and the Marshall Plan, so it helped France re-establish its Indochina colonies. Ho turned to the commies. Which made him an enemy, and a domino.

    Hey, at least you got France’s eternal gratitude…

    • 0 avatar

      The French pulled out of NATO, anyway. They also nixed the ’56 elections that would have let the Vietnamese vote on their form of national government and made us back them up on it, which meant that the US had to be officially anti-democracy. We can thank the French for that.

      While Ho Chi Minh did indeed have some idea that the US would make the French ditch their colonies at the end of WW2, he was still a communist from way back. As a rabid Vietnamese nationalist first, he might have made a deal with the US to be a Tito-style pseudo-communist in our camp (if only to have us protect Vietnam from its real enemy, China), but that never would have played on Main Street USA.

      So many “what ifs” in Indochina. I prefer to blame the French for everything bad that happened there. I suppose you could blame Nixon for the several million who died 1969-72 because he didn’t want to be “the first president to lose a war,” but it all goes back to the French.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    I bet US/Canadian/Australian Vietnam ‘Conflict’ vets are looking at this like I am:


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