Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City aka “Saigon” (a very interesting historical naming issue for later), is modernizing quickly like most of communist Asia. For me there’s huge irony here as communism’s centralized economies blend with western-style capitalism, but I get the idea that for most of the folks in Vietnam (and also China) this is NOT ironic at all. Rather, those governments are now responding better to the natural forces of economics such as entrepreneurship and free enterprise.
The upside of this are much higher standards of living for many of the folks in Vietnam. The downside as a traveler is that the charming tiny shops and restaurants that line the city streets are giving way to bigger and brighter lights of department stores and massive signs you could find in any western city. As we sat with some of our new table tennis pals at a nice restaurant in downtown Saigon one of them pointed across the street to a huge store with bright lights, proudly showing me the beauty of the new Vietnam. The older generation seems less enthusiastic about the changes sweeping the country, although I think they understand that the rising tide of capitalism is lifting most of the boats here, giving their children opportunities, health, and prosperity they could only have dreamed about only a few decades ago.