If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…

if i were us amb to vn

Here is my latest piece for CounterPunch.  Think of it as a Viet Nam-related sociopolitical fantasy.  A guy can dream, can’t he? 

MAA

 

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R.I.P. Michael Cull: A Life Well-Lived

I received a very sad but not totally unexpected message last night from my friend, Chuck Searcy, informing me and many others that Mike had died at 8:50 EST (8:50 p.m. Viet Nam time) of pancreatic cancer, after slipping into a coma almost four hours earlier.  Here’s what Chuck wrote, which best sums up the kind of person Mike was and what many of us will remember about him:

Mike’s gentle spirit, his kindness that gave way to moments of indignation and anger when he saw injustices, and his good humor and contagious laugh will comfort us as warm memories of a good friend, a Vietnam veteran who gave much back to Viet Nam over the past two decades.

 

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Mike with a young friend at the Friendship Village in Ha Noi, where he worked as a volunteer for many years helping children and veterans who were dealing with medical and other problems believed to be caused by Agent Orange.

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I remember meeting Mike for the first time on a beautiful sunny day in Nha Trang, where he lived and worked.  I was wearing a New York Yankees cap, not because I’m a fan but because I needed a hat.  A New England guy, Mike was a loyal fan of the Boston Red Sox, archrival and mortal enemy of the Yankees.  His first comment after “Hi, great to meet you!” was about my cap.  I assured him that it was only to protect my follicly-challenged head from the tropical sun, not a display of team loyalty.  🙂

I enjoyed hearing and reading, since most of our contact was via email and Facebook, his comments about important issues of the day and from the past.  One of the things we had in common was our love of and respect for Viet Nam.  Another one was what Chuck referred to as kindness giving way to moments of indignation and anger when we saw injustices.  Mike was a soul mate in that respect.  I will miss his passion and honest feedback.

It seems as if many of my US expat friends, few in number, are veterans of the American War in Viet Nam who have returned to Viet Nam to do penance, so to speak.  I counted Mike among them.  Below is a photo taken by Catherine Karnow at General Võ Nguyên Giáp’s state funeral in October 2013.  From left to right:  Mike Cull, Manus Campbell, MAA, and Chuck Searcy.
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Photo by Catherine Karnow
Here is a story in English and Vietnamese entitled The Long Goodbye written by Manus, who spent nearly two months with Mike and his wife, Lan, from the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to the moment he passed away.  

I will miss his playfulness, the sparkle in his eye, and his smile.

Don’t say goodbye.  Say see you again, my brother

-Manus Campbell

Life goes on and people like Mike Cull inspire us to be grateful for each and every day and to keep our eyes on the prize of what’s truly important in this exceedingly short journey we call life. 

 

My heartfelt condolences to Lan, Mike’s Vietnamese and US families, and his many friends in Viet Nam, the US, and around the world. 

 

MAA

Donald Trump & I Agree on Two Things

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President Trump’s limousine rounding the corner on 11 November i on its way to the Metropole Hotel downtown Hanoi

As we ease into the Solar New Year and look ahead with great anticipation to the 2018 Lunar New Year, here are some upbeat thoughts about Donald Trump’s November 2017 visit to Viet Nam.  Let’s start the year off on a happy note!

In the weeks leading up to President Trump’s visit to Viet Nam for the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Danang and the state visit to Hanoi the following day, I was interviewed by several journalists about the education angle of Trump’s visit and some of his (anti-immigration) policies, real or imagined. 

One of my comments, a hope, in fact, was that Donald Trump would say and do the right things, both scripted and unscripted.  In other words, that he would behave himself.  This was for the sake of continued good relations between the two countries and also continued interest in the US as an overseas study destination.

Lo and behold, he did!  Here are two examples, points on which he and I are agreement.  It’s a rare moment so savor it!

Vietnamese students rank among the best students in the world.  This assertion was made in a his speech at the APEC CEO Summit in Danang.  While it was no doubt written by one of his staff with input from the US Mission in Viet Nam, that statement is generally true in terms of academic achievement and reputation at many secondary and postsecondary institutions in the US and other countries.  

Viet Nam is one of the great miracles of the world, a statement he made at a state banquet in Hanoi.  Since this was Trump’s very first trip to Viet Nam, my guess is that his (mis)perceptions about the country and what it would look like and be like clashed with the reality of what he saw from Air Force One and his limousine.  In other words, it blew his mind.  All of the construction, the businesses, the cars, the luxury cars, the motorbikes, etc. 

I agree because I have an inkling, based on what I’ve read, seen, and experienced in my over 12 years of living and working in Viet Nam, of just how much the Vietnamese and their country have overcome since the end of the American War, and how much progress they’ve made. 

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Pew Research Center Spring 2017 Global Attitudes Survey

In a recent Pew Research Center survey, a whopping 88% of Vietnamese said that life is better than it was 50 years ago, the most positive response in the world.  (That percentage is not surprising when you consider that 1967 was approaching the height of the American War in Viet Nam, a war in which 3.8 million Vietnamese ultimately perished, over half of them civilians.) 

Then there is Viet Nam’s tiger economy, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, which has improved the standard of living and the quality of life for most Vietnamese.  That explains the high level of economic confidence.  (US Americans, by contrast, said that life is worse now than it was 50 years ago by a margin of 41% to 37%.)  91% said the economic conditions are good.  Even if you’re only in Viet Nam for a few days on your first visit, you will sense this optimism, dynamism, and forward momentum. 

MAA

Postscript: I would describe President’s Trump’s reception on the streets of Hanoi as lukewarm.  There was some polite applause as his limousine drove by.  (Those applauding included tourists.)  The level of excitement didn’t compare to that of Barack Obama’s visit in May 2016 or Bill Clinton’s trip in November 2000.  It was more on par with George W. Bush’s visit to Hanoi in 2006 for APEC. 

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Viet Nam Ranks Among Top 10 Foreign Residential Property Buyers in the US

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Source: 2017 Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate, NAR

Yes, I know this is old news from the summer of 2017 but it’s related to some other recent posts and perhaps not so old for some of you with an interest in these issues and trends.  It’s also related to one of my favorite topics, young Vietnamese studying in the USA. 

According to the 2017 Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate (PDF download), compiled by the National Association of (US) Realtors (NAR), Viet Nam ranked 9th in 2016-17, to be precise, after Germany with Japan rounding out the top 10.  Between April 2016 and March 2017, Vietnamese purchased about 5,689 residential properties in the US, double the number of transactions in the previous year. 

The total amount was an estimated $3 billion out of $153 billion worth of US residential property acquired by foreign investors during the same period.  (Non-resident foreign
buyers purchased $78.1 billion of property, while resident foreign buyers purchased $74.9 billion worth.)  Not surprisingly, based on where most Vietnamese-Americans live and other reasons, Vietnamese investors preferred California, Florida, and Texas. 

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Vietnam’s population of ultra-high-net-worth individuals has the highest growth rate in the world. Source: Knight Frank

Reasons include the following:

  • one of the fastest-growing economies in the world
  • the fastest-growing percentage of ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the world between now and 2026, according to the The Wealth Report 2017 by Knight Frank
  • the Vietnamese tendency to hedge their bets in the face of perceived or actual instability
  • the high number of Vietnamese young people studying in the US and the desire of many parents of means to buy a place for them to stay and as an investment
  • the relatively high number of EB-5 cases (related to the above)

MAA

 

Education in Vietnam (WES)

WENR-1117-Country-Profile-Vietnam

This November 2017 report from World Education Services (WES) provides an excellent overview of education in Viet Nam, including  structure, issues, and trends.  Here are some of its shortcomings.

Given that it was probably completed in October, the author could have updated most, if not all, all of the statistics.  One had the feeling that the report had been collecting dust for a while.  For example, the he uses UNESCO Institute of Statistics data in the section on outward student mobility stating that Between 1999 and 2016, the number of outbound Vietnamese degree students exploded by fully 680 percent, from 8,169 to 63,703 students.  In fact, there are more than 120,000 students in the top five host countries alone:  Japan, USA, Australia, China, and the UK.

There are also some hot issues that are not included such as foreign investment in education and the current shift taking place among young Vietnamese studying overseas.

It would have made for a better report if the author had shared a draft with various Viet Nam education experts, both Vietnamese and expat, to ensure accuracy.  For example, his statement that Fulbright University Viet Nam (FUV) is a “non-profit university recently set up by Harvard University,” is not entirely correct.  It is in fact a binational university build on the foundation of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP), which is a Harvard initiative.  (FUV actually deserved its own paragraph, including a few sentences about the misguided appointment of Bob Kerrey, self-confessed war criminal, as chairman of its board of trustees.)

Finally, the author uses mostly (exclusively?) English language sources, which necessarily limits the perspective and scope of the report.  It would have been better if he had teamed up with a Vietnamese colleague.

MAA

Season’s Greetings from Viet Nam!

2017 holiday message

After yet another year of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue, I would like to take a moment to wish you, dear reader, and your family a peaceful holiday season full of joy and cheer, and a Happy, Healthy, & Fulfilling Solar New Year! 

giang sinh 2017

While we may have different backgrounds and work in different fields and sectors, we are united by our interest in Viet Nam and our hope for its continued progress on the path to sustainable development.  

MAA

 

Recent Discussion with US Students – United by Viet Nam!

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Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.

They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies

While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program.  Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.  

As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students.  (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.)  My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion. 

I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination.  In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan.  (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.)  There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs.  To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016.  One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.  I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.

I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future.  There are usually two or three who fall into this category.  Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them.  Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi

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First Days of Hanoi

November 15, 2017

Amy Tournas

After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!

We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.

Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.

The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.

MAA