— This post (albeit very long) is in reply to a comment left on my post (Life in Tokyo vs. Life in Saigon) on Tokyo Metblogs.
Reply to Carl’s Jr.
Your reply sounds suspiciously like something my dad would say. I’m half tempted to try and trace the post and see if it doesn’t originate from the Buckeye State. You’re suspect!! 🙂
And like many of my dad’s statements yours also gave me something to think about. You are right in that sometimes there is no comparison. But I think that would be a better answer if we were having a chat and comparing cities over coffee with no plans of actually moving to these places. For me, a comparison is necessary (even though my original post was extremely simplified) since it ultimately determines where I will live.
Concerning the “rut.” It is possible to fall into this situation in any city, in any profession. However, I think it is important to ask yourself which location is it easiest to get out of. For example if I was in a town where the industry collapsed due to intl. trade should I stay there and try to get out of the rut or go to where there is work? The older generation was only able to look as far as neighboring towns. Slightly younger to other states. But it is just begining that people are now able to look across the world for adventageous locations,, a concept which the older generations cannot comprehend.
The markets of Europe and America are already established and the competition is extremely difficult. The rich have made their wealth and this structure of wealthy vs. others is for the most part set in place. The business environment is simply booming here (look at China in the past 10 years) and Vietnam, once they join the WTO, will grow dramatically. The country is starting completely over and the market as well as who will grow wealthy and who will not is now being created.
Since this is on Tokyo Metblogs lets use Japan as an example of the wealthy retaining their riches and keeping the middle class “middle class.” The group that now control the wealth of Japan have done so for centuries. Names like Mitsubishi, Asahi, Sumitomo, Fujiwara, ect. are actually families who’s names can be found far back in the history books. Mitsubishi for one built much of the war machinery for Imperial Japan and what happened after American occupation? They simply switched to other industries and continue their huge influence over affairs in Japan. The same goes with America although through new industries and opportunity many more have made mountains of wealth. But the majority of the population simply work for these oligarchs. It’s true that many can become wealthy if they reach the top posts especially in corporations but for the most part, the old families or “old money” still hold incredible sway especially in Japan.
So I asked myself, where in the world is it most probable that I could start my own business if I choose and make contacts with the leaders of tomorrow while still young and not have to scratch and claw my way up until I’m around 45 – 50 years old? The answer lies in which countries have shaken the system and are starting anew. In Vietnam everything is new and if you ask most investment strategists, Vietnam holds very little risk when starting new businesses because there simply isn’t much competition. Also, which economy is most likely to grow by leaps and bounds? Also Vietnam.
I did think much about your comment “the fire to compete.” Well, I asked myself which arena would be the most likely in which I would win and win quickly. So I don’t like to think of it as big pond or small pond but simply in which pond I can catch the most fish. And the Vietnam pond is going to grow tremendously so I’m catching fish while it’s still small in the form of contacts with the future leaders of this place. And if we continue with this metaphor, the fishermen in the States and Japan have huge nets on trawlers while I, still being young, have to make do with a paddleboat and one fishing pole. Much better to compete with others in paddle boats in small pond with a lot of fish and wait until this pond joins all the others through the canal of WTO by which time I will know all the other fishermen in the Vietnam pond. Ok, this has gotten ridiculous.
Further, living here has exposed me to so much I would otherwise not have experienced. Since HCMC is small and I work in an esteemed club I can meet very easily the top heads of many international companies, diplomats and so on. In the west it would just be a hello and then goodbye. Here, I drink beers and dance with these people’s wives. During happy hour or at business events, I learn how these companies actually work, what is going on behind the scenes, and how companies actually do business. I can now answer questions about politics concerning oil reserves in remote islands that affect international affairs. What is meant by treaties concerning “joint exploration” of an oil rich area and what is most likely to happen. I learn how they bend rules and what they actually tell the public. If I decide I want to move to Europe, I can speak directly with Counsel generals and sometimes Ambassadors of various European countries on how to best obtain a visa or passport. Also, if I’m drinking with these people they get to know me and we become like friends since we are all ex-pats in a very tight ex-pat community. Also, the generation gap is not as pronounced as it is in the west so I do not feel it odd to be partying with a 60 year old and look at them just as I would any other peer.
Further, this experience works for me in other ways such as giving me a sense of freedom. I know know how to live, work and adapt (or how to get the info) in any country I choose. Most people are stuck in one location, or country since they simply do not know how to leave if the environment happened to be better somewhere else. It is best not to be bound by national borders, nationality, culture and language. Here I learn how to make contacts, who to talk with to get what I want, and how to navigate bureaucracy. This information is gold.
To illustrate this point, after graduation when I wanted to work abroad I asked three people:
1. The head of a large company.
– I asked how soon could I possibly sent abroad if I worked for them. He said it’s most likely not possible until I learned the business and then maybe after 5 years or so they might send me somewhere.
2. My university study abroad coordinator.
– She said I could apply for a teaching program in another country but it is very competitive.
3. Various contacts
– They simply said it was too difficult.
Yet, I did it by myself without the support of some institution. The knowledge is there and anything can be done, it’s simply finding the door that is key. So if I want to work in some appealing company, I can simply meet the head of the organization here, make friends and find out the shortest path to a possible position.
What really appeals to me here is the contacts I’m making for the future. These people will be the next leaders of Vietnam and have their own business. So in the future if I’m in some other country in a trade related business, I already will have constructed a way in. Also, the experience of having lived here, and having a contact list will be extremely valuable in the very near future. Most people around the world have the wrong image of Vietnam but just give them 5 short years and they will be amazed at what happens to this country and how is grows economically. There already is much hype about China and for good reason. One would also be wise to consider China’s neighbors and most savvy investors adopt the China plus one strategy which is simply to not put all one’s eggs in the China basket.