Pardon my long silence, but long days and slow internet connections (therefore, no photos) have kept me from my keyboard. I have a little time now, though, and would love to share with you a few impressions I’ve formed based upon eight days in Vietnam and three days in Laos. In other words, these are superficial observations and I welcome corrections.
In no particular order:
Except for the lavish Ho Chi Minh memorial and mausoleum in Hanoi, it’s hard to remember that Vietnam is technically still a communist nation. Mr. Bookworm described it more accurately, echoing both Napolean and Adam Smith, as a “nation of shopkeepers.”
Wherever we looked, people were buying and selling things. Saigon (a name the Vietnamese seem to prefer over “Ho Chi Minh City”) seems to be made entirely of storefronts, with the shops’ owners living above or behind their shop.
I had the dubious pleasure, back in the 1980s, of visiting Prague, when Czechoslovakia was still under Soviet control. It was a grim, unhappy, gray city in which, other than government-approved, overpriced glassware, nothing was for sale except for a nasty kind of ice cream that seemed to be the preferred opiate of the people. Vietnam did not have that feel.
A little confusingly to this Westerner, all the stores sell precisely the same merchandise and are all next door to each other. That is, one entire street might have nothing but stores selling toilets — and they’re all the same toilets (ironically, I saw a lot of “American Standard” brand toilets and baths).
Our guides informed us that the distinction isn’t which store offers cheaper, better, or different goods; it’s whether the customer has a relationship with the seller. That was true whether the product at issue was clothes, appliances, or even food from the endless little kitchens/restaurants set up on sidewalks in every quarter of any town or city we saw.