Re: In Praise of Communism

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Sun Feb 27 2000 - 01:23:14 PST

Pardon my naive Texan viewpoint, what what-n-the... does any of this
have to do with communism? Sounds like a trip to Laredo to me. Don't
have to go to 'Nam for this kinda deal, just roll down a bit south of
the border from our Great Ole Country and you can experience something
indistinguishable from what's described here. To me, this sounds more
like "Viva Third World" or "Viva Wealth Differential" than "Viva

Just my admittedly late night thoughts on the matter.


John Boyer wrote:

> Rohit,
> Sorry we missed you guys in LA, Maybe next time.
> Having just returned with my family from trip to Vietnam, I find
> before me the task of sorting and commenting on some 1200 photographs
> of our experiences. Since most of these photos are digital I plan on
> eventually publishing them all on the web. Really I'm doing this
> mostly for myself to galvanize my memories. But I do I hope that they
> will be a record for the kids as well as provide some insight to those
> who might consider traveling, or returning, there.
> Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words hasn't seen my
> photography. But, my pictures are worth at least a couple of words
> each. And since those that know me can testify that the sum of those
> comments will reflect negatively on the government of the host
> country, I have decided to begin my task by trying to recall all those
> things that I actually like about Communism, Vietnamese style.
> 1)The place makes me feel not just rich, but dirty stinking rich.
> 2)The place makes me feel divinely blessed.
> 3)If you ignore bribery, pick pocketing, and prostitution, there is
> almost no crime.
> OK, that was easy.
> It's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to try to make a
> living there.
> I don't claim to know a thing about economics, but here are some of my
> observations. In the seven years that have passed since our last
> visit things have greatly improved. I suspect that no small part of
> that is the lifting us the US embargo. The embargo was something that
> I wholeheartedly agreed with in principle but disagreed with in
> practice. What good is an embargo when there is only one participant?
> Can you say Cuba?
> Medium sized businesses are relatively rare. The vast majority of
> large businesses are at least partially government owned. Any small
> business that ekes its way into a modicum of success is quickly taken
> over in a euphemistically phrased "joint -venture". My wife has an
> uncle who had a successful business when the communists took over.
> When they finally released him from "reeducation camp" he was told to
> run his now government owned business for a small salary. He complied,
> and after saving his money for a few years he was given the
> opportunity to buy his business back as part of a government reform
> program. He took the bait and soon his business flourished. He did so
> well that the bureaucrats decided it was time for a "joint venture".
> So now he is an employee again, running a business that he does not
> really own. Well, nobody wants that. Some entrepreneurs choose to walk
> a tightrope of kickbacks and bribery to stay independent as they grow,
> but the vast majority work very hard at doing just enough to get by.
> The result of this is twofold. The wages of the working class are kept
> artificially low. This in turn has an effect of keeping prices of
> consumable goods also very low. So low in fact that, to a foreigner
> like myself, things like food are practically free. For example, since
> we have family in country, most of our outings are done with an
> entourage of, say 25 to 30 people. We can treat them all to a very
> nice meal at a relatively clean restaurant for about $50 US. Or we can
> eat marvelous sandwiches of roasted pork on French bread from a
> curbside stand for just a few dollars.
> Even better for me, the lack of traditional western employment
> opportunities means that most people opt for self-employment in small,
> almost microscopic business ventures. The low-end market is so buyer
> oriented that cab drivers for instance, often work 24 hours a day,
> every day! To take a quick trip across town with a guy surviving on
> catnaps can be quite interesting. When you want a cab, there is not
> one but three eagerly waiting for you. And if I want to pile my
> 200-pound butt into a pedi-cab built for 125 I can find enthusiastic
> takers. Even in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, which is the closest
> thing Vietnam has to a tourist trap, where there is one dealer of
> something as obscure as Soviet night vision equipment there are five
> more within easy walking distance. Once you have engaged in
> conversation with a shopkeeper, the last thing they want to let happen
> is for you to leave without buying something. Bargaining typically
> starts at 1/2 to 1/3 of the asking price. Generally you can buy things
> at 1/2 to 3/4 of the price. However, after sitting down and getting
> to know a few of these vendors we modified our buying strategy to just
> going through the motions and then paying close to the original price.
> It's just that things are so cheap to begin with. My wife and I
> realized that what we were saving by bargaining translated to pocket
> change to us; but to the vendors it translated directly to meat and
> potatoes, uhm fish and rice, to their families.
> Since most people can't afford much, its seems that low pricing has
> "trickled up" in most sectors of the service industry. A three star
> hotel like the historic French colonial Hotel Continental [1] where we
> stayed in HCMC can be had for $65 US. More modest accommodations, but
> still with a real toilet and air conditioning, will set you back a
> whopping $10 US in some places. A nice 15 passenger van with a driver
> costs about $150 US per day. Domestic flights on Vietnam airlines
> are also very reasonable. About $150 US will purchase a round trip
> fare from HCMC to the beautiful central city of Hue. And if one were
> so inclined, a quick inquiry determined that an engagement with a
> practitioner of the world's oldest profession would cost you 100,000
> VND, or about seven bucks.
> But forget the economics for a moment. It is the people that make
> Vietnam so special. Everywhere we went people were friendly. Children
> played with my children as if they were best of friends. Shopkeepers
> would offer me a seat in the shade and then sit and stare and smile,
> because neither they nor I had much of anything to say. Even the "true
> believers" were very hospitable. In the city where my wife was born, I
> had the occasion to play tennis with the local communist party
> president and his deputy. A few days later I drank beer and sang
> Karaoke with the Police chief and his lead detective. As far as I can
> tell, the police and the army are almost indistinguishable one from
> another and they both enjoy immense power. The reason why I became
> involved in the Karaoke and beer drinking episode was that my friend
> the local hotel operator was wining and dining them to keep in good
> favor. He invited my brother-in-law Paul and myself along. We two
> Americans had the advantage of quite a few pounds on the policemen. So
> we proceeded to get them, and eventually us, drunk by continually
> toasting them with "Cham-Cham", which seems to mean, "Bottoms Up". By
> the end of the day Paul and I were singing "Louie Louie" at the top of
> our lungs while the cops were leaping around the room in full uniform
> doing something best described as being like Elaine Bennis doing The
> Macarena and Tai Bo at the same time. Surely a scene I will never
> forget. Unfortunately they insisted that there be no pictures. You
> see, this was an all day affair and they were on duty.
> Johnboy
> "Anyone who cannot tell the difference between authoritarianism and
> totalitarianism could not tell the difference between Saigon and Ho
> Chi Minh City" -- Peter Berger
> "Finally, however tragic the outcome, I will argue to my dying day
> that this was the most idealistic war we have ever fought,
> fundamentally a war for an abstraction: the freedom of a bunch of
> unfamiliar Asians at the end of the world"
> -- Professor John Roche, Advisor to Lyndon Johnson
> [1]

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