Reflections on Vietnam & Cambodia

Peter Cramer

A recent visit to Vietnam that covered South to North and a bit of East to West, then 4 days in Cambodia:

  • Happy people, very friendly and yet many have very little
  • Basically no social security – if you don’t work you don’t eat.
    • Whilst there is a fall-back position – it is at a very basic level, so people understand they have to work – even if that means selling lottery tickets on street corners – in order to get some income.
  • Attractive country in parts – city areas extremely busy! 35 million motor bikes and they all seem to be out at the same time!

The over-riding philosophy – one needs to work to have an income! No one has the attitude: “I deserve” or “I am entitled”

65% of the population are under 35! They are hungry to get ahead – to work hard to get out of low income/poverty. Are becoming ‘Westernised’ – seeing what the world has and want to be part of it.

Many young people leave to go to the US and Australia to get jobs/start a business and then pump money back to home. Their costs in Vietnam are miniscule compared to Western society, so save large amounts. Their social make up dictates that they look after parents and provide them with funds when they work elsewhere.

There are massive infrastructure works being undertaken across Vietnam funded by the Overseas Aid Fund – buildings, freeways, rail etc. Funds are lent from (for example) China, Korea, and Japan and in return companies from those countries get the large construction jobs.

I see Vietnam being a world force in 20 years, as the under 35s grow and get educated, work their backsides off in a fierce desire to achieve and create significant wealth. I worry about Australia in comparison: here we demand everything, think everyone is owed a living but not necessarily work for it and have a high standard of living expectation that others should provide. Also, in 20 years Australia’s population will be mainly over 60 – and that means many less people in the workforce creating activity and less paying taxes! So where will the money come from in Australia….?

It says to me there is a huge requirement for people to provide for their own retirement here – to invest and save and work hard to secure employment or business opportunity – otherwise they will be living the equivalent of what many Vietnamese are now! It is so possible that the wheel may totally turn!

Corruption! I am told it is everywhere. The irony is that it is a Communist Country so that should mean sharing across everyone. The reality is that the ‘Government’ leaders are extremely wealthy and the poor are not assisted as one might like to believe.

Police – corrupt. They take bribes in exchange for traffic offences – and everything is negotiable. (This is the strong impression of the people – nothing from personal experience!)

The best job? – A tax inspector! There is a huge cash economy – everything done in cash! So the Tax inspector comes to visit – if you are dodging tax (almost certainly will be!!) then you have a “discussion” with the Tax Inspector to decide what your business tax liability might be. You agree on a figure with the tax inspector – and in thankfulness buy assets for his wife and family or supply cash – and then he reports a much lower tax position to the authorities.

It is said – if you are a Policeman or a tax Inspector – you must be rich! Apparently this is a truism!

Our time in Cambodia uncovered some amazing sights in the temples at Angkor Wat and some poverty that was hard to comprehend. However – everywhere people were friendly and the children had excited eyes whenever we said hello and waved. Amazing that we would see them as having nothing yet they are happy with what they have – as they don’t know any different.

I took some video of children and then played it back to them – they were so excited to see themselves! In time they may learn what the world has to offer and then be more unaccepting of their position. The phrase that was mentioned to me was – “this is their destiny and they are accepting of it”. One hopes that they can change ‘their destiny’ and get help to improve their lives.

Conclusion: The world is a varied place and we in Australia are incredibly lucky to be here and to have what we have. Let us appreciate what we have and work hard to keep and improve it – and to help others less fortunate whenever we are able.