Viet bling

30 07 2016

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Vietnam is still a poor country – but with one of the world’s fastest growing economies for over two decades, it is no longer a country without rich people. Indeed, the city seemed much richer than it had been on my last visit ten years before. In the backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao I noticed that many of the clubs and cafes were full of (presumably, middle class) locals. At night the Turtle Lake, a small pond in a traffic island, had turned into a mini-version of Bangkok’s Victory Monument, with milling crowds of young people meeting at barbecue restaurants and glued to their iPhones. Luxury condos were going up by the river. I was intrigued by this new wealth – who were these people, I wondered?

I had read that Vietnamese tourists were now the biggest spenders per capita in Tokyo, and that demand for rhino horn from wealthy Vietnamese is the engine driving the animal to extinction. President Obama had recently been in town spruiking American products to a newly affluent market, the city’s most upmarket shopping street, Dong Khoi, was lined with boutiques for Hermes and Chanel and during my visit the city was just about to open its new Takashimaya department store (before Bangkok got theirs).

Those Vietnamese who did have money, I noticed, liked to flaunt it. They were outblinging  the mainlanders, shopping at stores like Runway with its over-the-top interior of plaster bas relief tigers and disembodied legs and and arms protruding from the walls, and hanging out at hotels like the Reverie, which boasted a vulgarly opulent lobby of hanging crystals and a five metre-long purple ostrich leather recliner.

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