Ate bun bo nam bo for dinner tonight–just a bowl of rice noodles with bits of beef & vegetables & a few cilantro-like herbs, but what of bowl of noodles! The food stall, long & narrow like many Hanoi shops, is right next door to the hotel & has been there as long as I’ve been coming to Hanoi. Good food and a good place for observing the local scene–couples, young families, & tonight a gangster & his flunky. I knew he was a gangster because of the shiny black scoop-neck tee-shirt and the big scar across his cheek. Apparently, the semiotic signs that spell “gangster” are cross-cultural. The flunky did not eat & I swear he was there to carry the gangster’s cigarettes. When the gangster left the young father sitting a little further up the long table said something disparaging to his wife and caught my eye. We shook our heads ruefully. What is the world coming to? The girls who wait tables–I think all the daughters of the family that owns the place–could teach those slackers at the Moca a thing or two.
Just got back from lunch out on West Lake with my friends Long & Giang & their little boy. We got to talking about property values & Long told me that the land we were sitting on, right on the lake shore, goes for $250,000 per square meter. Families of modest means who happened to own property along the lake — often for several generations — have overnight become millionaires. And when Giang’s grandparents died a few years ago they left their small (by US standards) apartment in the Old Quarter to her father & uncle: at about 350 square meters, it is valued at around one million US dollars.
Over the last twenty-five years Vietnam has gone from being one of the poorest countries in the world to a point where it is poised to move into the middle tier, according to IMF & UN statistics. Among the reasons for this have been prudent economic policies by the government that have focused on stability, as well as a literate and socially cohesive workforce. But one wonders what such huge infusions of wealth are going to do to a society that retains many traditional elements. I haven’t looked up the numbers on income disparity, but I know there is a lot of distance between urban and rural populations. So far, in the cities, it seems that the wealth is being spread around sufficiently that the social structure has been able to absorb the shock. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next decade.
Took a walk around the Old Quarter yesterday evening. Lots of dogs, as I noted earlier, but this one struck me by his self-possession. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but he’s sitting in a narrow alley where motorbikes regularly whizzed by six inches from his nose while he practiced a Buddhist sort of equanimity. Perhaps some old bodhisattva radiating peace & quite in a noisy city.