While touring around Vietnam my wife and I had three different guides taking day trips. The thing that made the biggest impression on us was their expressed political philosophies and in one case the lack thereof.
Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City
In Vietnam the first thing that strikes us is the general attitude towards Americans. I was prepared to go undercover during the trip by putting on a Canadian flag lapel pin. It turns out that wasn’t needed. The official policy of the government is that America is a valued trade partner and the Vietnamese should go out of their way to make Americans welcome in the country. It was amazing how many people wanted to talk to us. As we toured around another thing that struck us was how much the Vietnamese preferred to get paid in American Dollars over the Vietnamese Dong (this was partly due to the monetary crises of the 1990’s) as the Dollar was the favored underground currency.
The three days spent with the guides was an interesting contrast in Vietnamese attitudes. Our first guide was a young man who’s wife had, only days before, given birth to his first son. Guide number two was a school teacher who was a member of “the party” and was from Hanoi. Number three was starting his own business in Saigon (most still refer to it as Saigon rather than Ho Chi Minh City) and worked as a guide to supplement his income.
The new father only had one thing he wanted to talk about – how happy he was to be the father of a son. It seems that in Vietnamese culture your retirement plan is dependent on having a son. As the Vietnamese get old it is the responsibility of the oldest son and his wife to take care of them. While he was thrilled to have a son there was that feeling that he had secured his retirement. He was young and there was no way that we could get him talking about politics. The war to him only existed in history books.
The school teacher lived in Ho Chi Minh City (it was not Saigon) and we quickly learned that he wasn’t fond of Americans. He regaled us with recent incidents where small children were still being killed by unexploded American ordinance. After the third story involving yet another little girl from his neighborhood we started to not believe him. Later we got him to talk about the government’s policies about the United States. He indicated he was a loyal communist party member but believed that Vietnam was allowing America to succeed with dollars what they couldn’t do with their soldiers.
The new business owner actually took his tour guide job very seriously and wanted to keep the conversation focused on Vietnamese history and the sites we would see. He seemed to think that talking about the government was dangerous. Near the end of the day as we were on the way back to Da Nang we convinced him that we weren’t a threat and were really interested in his opinion of the government. After that he opened up and it turned out that he hated the Communist government. It was horribly corrupt, pulled way too much money out of businesses and working peoples pockets and to really succeed in Viet Nam you needed to join the “Party”. Even though the country was now prospering it could grow much bigger, much faster if the communists would put an end to corrupt officials and just get out of the peoples way.
Not a comprehensive poll but an interesting look at the range of opinions in Vietnam regarding politics and life…