VIETNAM



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The Next Generation

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A lone figure rows a small boat in a lake as the sun sets. 

A mural on a wall depicts five young Vietnamese against a backdrop of buildings and Vietnamese and Communist flags.

The stories of Vietnam’s young generation reflect the shifting realities of Vietnam itself, from rural flight and the growth of urban centers to entrepreneurial success and the struggle to rebuild a nation—even decades after the end of “the American war.” Find out what members of this next generation have to say about Vietnam today.

Two men converse at an office table, in front of a laptop computer and piles of paper.

Economic transition

Vietnam is in transition, stitching together two systems: communism and capitalism. Vietnamese American businessman Henry Nguyen talks about living and working in this unique historic and economic moment:

We as Americans tend to fear anything labeled “communist” because it really opposes some of our basic fundamental ideals of freedom and individualism. And here of course it’s still a socialist state: you can still see the banners and you can hear the announcements over the loudspeakers on the streets. And it’s something that if you observe carefully, the bikes pass right under the signs. Nobody looks up.

Construction workers on the side of a newly paved road, next to dirt and bricks.

The educated class

Vietnam’s economic boom has also produced an educated middle class, with an influx of professionals such as engineer Le Viet Tien, who is working on building the Ho Chi Minh Highway. But his job requires long hours far away from home, and he is virtually a stranger to his new wife and child:

I was single when I started working on the Ho Chi Minh road. My wife and I were just falling in love. And of course we are still falling in love with each other now. When we were dating... we stayed in touch by phone and letters. We spent a lot of time writing letters. Now I only have this photo taken before we were married. I haven’t taken any new photos since our marriage because we have spent so little time together.

A young girl wearing a baseball cap hands a slip of paper to a man on a crowded city street.

Children and the workforce

Pham Van Vinh and his sister Loan took a 12-hour bus ride from their rural village to the Ho Chi Minh City, where they joined thousands of street kids living and working far from home. Each day, they roam the city streets, selling lottery tickets for pennies. Pham Van Vinh explains why he came to the city:

My mom is over 55 years old now. She is old and often sick. There is no work for me in the countryside. So I followed my friends to the city.

A woman in a sun hat bends over vegetation in a field with farming tools in her hands.

Rural economies

Economic prosperity has been slow to come to rural areas of Vietnam, where farmers like Le Thi Phuong eke out a living while dodging the thousands of unexploded landmines still hidden in the country’s farmlands. Le reveals the difficulties of faming in a rapidly developing economy:

My parents are war invalids. They are old now and no longer have the physical strength to do the work such as farming. So I have to shoulder much of the hard work. I work to support the family and to afford my brothers' schooling and upbringing. Even though we work very hard we struggle to make ends meet.

A woman sits alone at a desk holding a piece of paper, surrounded by elegantly designed furniture and vases.

Concerns for the future

Young people such as entrepreneur A Lan Duong, who lived through the aftermath of war, are cautiously optimistic regarding the future. Duong discusses her return to Vietnam after years in a Hong Kong detention center, and the Vietnamese government’s attitudes towards emerging capitalism:

When I came back from Hong Kong, I saw things had changed—that there were more cars and motorbikes and shops. I tried to study and I tried to work hard. And I’m trying to make the best out of it.

Many years ago, [the government] called us capitalists because we had our own business. But now the government realizes that people like us, people who have their own businesses, are the people who will make the country grow and make us stronger.

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