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So much has been written about Vietnam that it has a way of leaving one speechless by means of what to contribute. For this reason, I’ll do myself and the reader a favor by skipping over the well known history and being brief.
To anyone who has spent time in the former Eastern Bloc countries, the visible effects of Vietnam’s communist government would seem pale. Indeed, in comparison to its European, Stalinist brothers, Vietnam conducted its modernization and industrialization campaigns with a softer touch. That’s not to say that the mark of socialism isn’t there. The party presence can be seen countrywide, especially in the North, by way of government poster campaigns, revolutionary monuments, and ample space for public life in urban planning – particularly in Hanoi’s government quarter. But this lighter, Vietnamese approach left intact, and in fact encouraged, an agrarian lifestyle in the countryside as well as many of the cities’ traditional neighborhoods. This combined with the still-ruling Socialist Party’s transition to an open, capitalist style economy has had a strange effect. Statues of revolutionary heroes abut high end designer boutiques, and government information campaigns share billboard space with advertisements encouraging conspicuous consumption. The resulting juxtaposition creates a tableaux that is at one time both revealing and absurd. It is, again, for the second time in a half century, a new Vietnam.