Vietnam Thirty Years Later
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IAN WILLIAMS: Even the lawn in this city park has to be just right for the big day. It’s been decked out with posters of a benevolent Ho Chi Minh, after whom the city was renamed when the Communists took power 30 years ago.
The authorities want the hammer and sickle flying high this weekend, even if the scene below bears little relation to Communist orthodoxy, with business booming in a city many still refer to as Saigon.
DAO TIEN HOAN (Translated): My family had always done business in this market, selling shoes and bags. Things are going well now.
IAN WILLIAMS: But it wasn’t always that way; not here in Chinatown. Tien’s father fled Vietnam when she was six, when private business, particularly Chinese, was targeted by the Communists. That was in 1980. Now the family businesses are booming, funded by her father, now a technician with Boeing in Seattle.
He had joined the flood of boat people, tens of thousands of them, mostly ethnic Chinese, who escaped a Communist government that’s now encouraging them and their money to return. Thao was rescued at sea in 1982 by a Danish container ship, and lived in Denmark until returning with his family three years ago, believing the Communists were serious about reform.
THAO HGO: Well, many years ago, the money where the overseas Vietnamese sent back to Vietnam to help the families to survive. Today the money is coming to investment. I’ve seen so much changes. And you look at the city today — motorized cars. Life here in Vietnam is becoming better and better.
IAN WILLIAMS: There will be no shortage of reminders this weekend about the brutality of what they call the American War. But there is today a marked ambivalence about the U.S. That’s on clear display in the Noodle 2000 Restaurant, where Bill Clinton ate in 2000 when he became the first U.S. President to visit since the end of the war. His one-and-a-half-hour meal has become the restaurant’s biggest selling point.
TRUNG THI PHUNG HA (Translated): Bill Clinton was good for my business. People are curious. They want to know where he sat, what he ate. They take photographs standing in front of my pictures of him.
IAN WILLIAMS: The old southern capital is now back in business. The paradox is that the city, which lost the war is again setting the economic pace, thanks in part to those who initially fled.
This is where part of the celebration will take place tomorrow. It won’t only be a display of Communist triumphalism. After all, the majority of Vietnam’s population was born after the end of the war.
On the eve of the celebrations, a rehearsal for a display by 200 models caused a big traffic snarl up in the city center. There will be plenty of Po-faced Communists on the streets tomorrow, but it’s youth and enterprise that now drive the city.