By Keren Raz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Illustration by Mike Padilla
HO CHI MINH CITY - Down a small alley in the poorer part of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), I met an ancient man as he scooped rice from a bucket into his mouth.
After I took his picture, he gave me his one-toothed grin and tried to speak with me in French.
"Merci," he said.
Just two doors away, a wheelchair-bound woman who raises 45 orphans in her small, two-floor home welcomed me to her bedside, showing me pictures and telling me about her kids.
"Come back," she told the translator.
The people in Vietnam have every reason to be hostile towards foreigners.
Until the year 939, the Chinese ruled over the Vietnamese. Then in the late 1800s the French forced the Vietnamese to accept colonial rule until they were defeated in 1954.
Ten years later our country took over where the French left off.
No one in Vietnam has forgotten about our war.
Schoolchildren visit the War Remnants Museum, which devotes itself entirely to recording the atrocities of the war. Orange bottles with fetuses supposedly deformed by Agent Orange and a wall-size photo of the My Lai massacre are only two of the most gut-wrenching displays at the museum.
On Monday, the government-censored newspaper, the Vietnam News, wrote another article, in honor of the anniversary of the reestablishment of U.S.-Vietnam relations, about American responsibility for the tragic effects of Agent Orange.
Yet, despite all this, I feel welcome in this country.
Nobody stares at me as if I were an alien, something I experienced every time I walked outside my hotel in China.
And people always want to talk to me, smiling when they find out I'm American.
My taxi driver the other day told me what he thought of the "friendly" Americans.
"We need them here," he said.
Between 1975 and 1995, when the U.S. reestablished diplomatic relations with Vietnam, he told me that life was terrible.
No one had money, no one visited Vietnam and the government corruption was even worse than it is today, he said.
But thanks to exports (the U.S. being the largest exporter from Vietnam) and the tourism industry, money is speaking louder than memories of the war.
Money is changing how Ho Chi Minh City looks and runs.
Brand new skyscrapers are beginning to pop up along the Mekong River, where men with traditional straw hats man the fishing boats.
Stores filled with purses and shoes line the streets, run by women in traditional Vietnam dress.
Come to Vietnam, and you'll see the benefits of globalization Vietnam is beginning to reap as it becomes an economic hotspot.
An "expat" who works for Nike here told me that Nike is just one of a number of companies looking to move its main operations from China and Thailand and into Vietnam.
Globalization has its critics, but isn't it interesting how the critics aren't the ones eating rice out of buckets?
For the poor people here, globalization does not mean sweatshops, it means much-needed jobs.
The other day I visited a factory that produces handmade lacquered ceramics. The working conditions were deplorable, with intoxicating paint fumes filling the poorly ventilated room. A man worked beside a welding machine without any safety equipment.
But that didn't matter to the workers, who will soon double in number as the factory expands to meet the demands of its largest exporters: Australia, Europe and the United States.
It's true that globalization can create barriers for the poor who are ill-prepared for the demands of the international market.
That's where successful development projects come into play.
Already the International Finance Corporation and nonprofit organizations such as the one I am interning with in Asia are doing what they can to train local companies on how to compete in the globalized economy.
According to the World Bank, the IFC's development facility in Vietnam has trained more than 2,700 Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao bankers in financing small and medium enterprises.
That, in turn, is allowing local companies to access capital to expand production and create more jobs.
Too bad the protesters aren't jumping on to the development bandwagon; their energy is needed.
Keren Raz is a political science and English senior. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.