Archive for Saigon Diary

Be Kind. Make Art. Fight the Power…


“Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well”      

– Buddha

I’m trying…

Trying to stand up and rebalance after the political knockdown. Trying to refocus on the positive. Trying to take my cues from Colson Whitehead, this year’s National Book Award winner, who celebrated the redeeming power of art in his acceptance speech last night. His mantra for all of us – “Be kind to everybody, make art, and fight the power.” read more

The Fat Lady is Singing

Three years ago, when East Meets West Foundation asked me to go to Saigon I started this blog. I had written sporadically over the years and always told myself that I would get around to some serious writing when I had more time. The truth is that we never have more time unless we make it a priority. When I took the EMW job I decided to stop using work as an excuse for not writing and this blog became my discipline. I planned to write at least one entry each week. It’s the old writers’ truism – if I just write 500 words a day I’ll have a whole library by the time I’m 75. I don’t have a library of my own work and I didn’t achieve my goal of blog a week but over these past three years I have managed to post over 100 entries about everything from Saigon traffic to old white predators coming to Asia in search of young girls. I did what I set out to do – get started on a writing project. No more procrastination. read more

How Do We Square the Differences?

I saw both of these things in Saigon last week. The first picture is the interior of a Maybach 62S. Nice car I thought. I had never seen or heard of a Maybach but it looked so over the top I had to look it up. I discovered that it is a luxury car built in Germany with a base sticker price of $423,500. The price is double that in Vietnam because of the import tax. Two well dressed older women got in the back seat and drove away. Easy come, easy go.

I took the other picture just outside my office. I had watched this guy for a week or so before figuring out that this was his home. I couldn’t reconcile the two things in my mind – the absolute luxury of the Maybach and the almost unbearable poverty and hardship of the sleeping man’s situation.

We talk a lot about income inequality in the US these days. In fact, Occupy Wall Street has spent a lot of time drawing attention to it, but when you see it in a developing country it’s obscene. The recent scandal in China is drawing attention to it as well. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” I wonder how Marx would react to the abuses of state socialism if he could see the situation in Vietnam and China today? read more

Another Global Encounter

The emblem, flag, and mascot on the left belong to Gamba Osaka an Asian Football League team from Japan. I’d never heard of Gamba until Tuesday morning. It looks like pretty good team from what I can tell, but that’s not where this is going.

On Wednesday morning Marilynn and I were working on our laptops in the airline lounge at the Incheon airport in Korea when a striking looking Japanese businessman approached us. I say striking because, although normal in all other respects this man was wearing a bizarre, royal blue, plastic, stovepipe hat with Gamba Osaka written in large letters above the logo. I can’t do justice to the experience. Here is a nice looking middle aged businessman in a goofy looking hat approaching two American strangers. I only wish I had a picture of Mr. Gamba Osaka. read more

Gordon Gekko Nguyen?

Remember Gordon Gekko, the Michael Douglas character in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street? He’s the one who proclaimed that “greed is good” at a shareholder meeting. Wall Street hasn’t changed much since the 1987 film. Those nice folks who brought you the sub-prime housing crisis, the Great Recession, the too big to fail bailouts, and the obscene bonuses are still bilking all of us. America is still run by the fat cats and special interests. So is Vietnam and cynically “greed is good” could also be the national tagline in Vietnam. The cynical view doesn’t take into account the incredible industry of the people, their positive outlook on life, or their willingness to sacrifice their own welfare for the welfare and education of their children. But, greed and corruption are huge problems in the country and in some ways seem to be driving the culture. It used to be unmentionable but recently it’s more and more a topic of concern and conversation along with the Bo Xilai corruption scandal in China. read more