Flags, parades, and fireworks – what’s not to like? If you don’t know what’s going on then I suggest you see an optometrist immediately. Those aren’t alien space ships you’re seeing. No, it’s a National Day weekend!
I love it! It’s great to see kids and parents heading to the beach or hanging out at home. University students often head to the coast during the holiday for beach clean-ups or pay a visit to the countryside. It’s a chance to head out of the city and visit relatives in far away hometowns. One local joked to me that the National Day holiday is ‘baby-making weekend’ because married couples finally get some time off work!
Independence in Vietnam is not seen from the ‘do anything you want’ viewpoint of the West. Instead, many Vietnamese consider freedom as the embodiment of ‘getting what you want’ and enjoying the fruits of hard labor. To locals, the holiday is less about politics and more about unity – a situation still quite new to older generations who remember Vietnam’s tragic, divided past.
On the eve of this National Day weekend, it’s illuminating to see how far the country has come. Although it took 30 years before Ho Chi Minh’s 1945 Independence Speech became a reality, the country’s rapid development in its thirty-odd years since reunification in 1975 reveals a lot about Vietnam’s energy, ambition, and success.
Jaded, old expats like me complain a lot on Facebook that the Vietnamese build too many resorts, pollute everything, don’t think enough about the future, and hardly seem able to stay on a par with the supposed sophistication of Western development. But I guess it really depends on how you look at it, right?
Westerners in Vietnam often make assumptions about the country based on sweeping generalizations and a fragmented view of Vietnamese progress, problems, and projects. We tend to have a subconscious ‘superiority’ bias that many foreigners tap into, believing that Westerners do things better. Maybe that’s true… but perhaps it’s really just Vietnam choosing to do things a little differently and at its own pace.
This is now the second generation of Vietnamese not to experience war, occupation, or starvation. The nation has reached ‘middle income’ status, meaning Vietnam is half way towards the strangely named ‘developed country’ label (whatever that means in the world’s currently ambiguous economic and political climate).
Poverty, education, and consequences from rapid urban growth are still glaring national issues. Yet still, it’s impossible to ignore how far this country has come.
As much as we all hate Vietnam’s traffic, national road-building is bridging previously inaccessible western mountain areas with the economic coastal boom, expanding tourism westwards, and opening up new eastern markets for products from western Vietnam. Just a few decades ago it was not uncommon for communities situated just miles apart to barely communicate with each other or interact economically.
In terms of education, twenty million students in Vietnam attend school and university graduate rates are increasing each year. In turn, the country’s industrial and technology sectors are booming. Yes, kids in the poor rural south, west, and far north still trudge to school on mountain paths and over-hazardous river crossings, but rising income means that children are also able to attend school at earlier ages. That has to be a good thing, right?
The tourist industry, Vietnam’s cash cow, is now welcoming millions of visitors each year. As much as foreigners want to decry the destruction of the environment, without development, I wonder how Vietnam could fuel its meteoric employment demands…and golf courses.
The northern and southern metropolises are soon to get their first major urban transport rail systems. All that construction and commercial development is taking a toll on each city’s infrastructure, however, as the younger generation moves into government, management, and administration, the nation is beginning to be aware of the environmental costs of development as well as the benefits of imposing regulations on critical areas for tourism, river ways, and coastlines. Da Nang, for example, is finally re-considering development on the fragile Son Tra peninsula.
Just a few years ago, food safety was hardly a consideration. Now, laws are changing and standards are starting to be enforced. When I first got here, ten years ago, helmets were an optional extra. Now they’re the norm. Even police are employing technological solutions for controlling traffic and monitoring social order. All these and more are just a few examples of Vietnam shedding its “old ways” and adapting to the needs of the modern world.
While it doesn’t help that Vietnam is still a fiercely competitive and loosely organized collection of provinces and urban cities all vying for their share of the economic pie – improving effective coordination of transport routes, law enforcement (particularly border smuggling and human trafficking) and joint economic ventures are producing good outcomes.
One good example is the emerging coordination of tourism between Hue, Dong Hoi, and Phong Nha Park. Even Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has spoken of the need to be environmentally cautious about the proposed cable car project within the national park.
So, all in all, it’s a great time to be alive and making cash in Vietnam! So kick back this weekend and enjoy the fact that Vietnam is…well… independent! Happy National Day, everyone!