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Selfishness kills my Vietnamese dream

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I am French and met my Vietnamese wife more than a decade ago and when it became serious between us, we agreed that we would live in Vietnam (without a plan to return to France).

I have lived in many countries and I am aware of the flaws of France, namely French people are very unsatisfied people and complain often. I was also aware of the obvious flaws of Vietnam for having visited it a bit, namely it does not have the same infrastructure or quality items as we have in France. There would be the language barrier and a few other lifestyle changes. But none of that seemed insurmountable. Vietnam also has some interesting advantages such as the ability to get things done quickly, very good food, a fast-paced development, and a good job market.

I settled in Vietnam almost seven years ago with a plan to stay but I now doubt this plan more and more. Why? Because of the utter selfishness that is damaging Vietnam. Let me explain with some common examples.

I often heard that there is rampant corruption in Vietnam but never really believed it. By now I have seen, heard or read about it in many administrations in Vietnam, involving many politicians including the past two chairmen of Hanoi, where I live.

What is corruption? It is putting one’s personal interest before that of others: selfishness. What is its impact? Papers take forever to be delivered, accreditations or authorizations can be arbitrarily denied or revoked, etc. Generally, this puts an unacceptable risk on businesses and people who rely on work from the administration such as for land ownership, tax, or legal matters, or simply residency.

A similar kind of selfishness is often found in businesses and services where employees have absolutely (or almost) no care for the value that they provide to their employers or their customers. I met so many salespeople who knew next to nothing about what they sold. They just cared about selling, their KPI and their salary. Even when doing deals for several hundred thousand dollars, or when working on life critical tasks, you see people just not caring. Within a business you will also often find many people doing just what they are told without thinking further. Their main concern is their position and getting their salary at the end of the month: selfishness. Selfishness really hurts the value of businesses and their competitiveness.

What I find really sad, is that this goes much further. When parents put their kids in front of a screen to shut them up so that the parents can do other things than care about their kids, what do you call that? Even within a family, people are selfish.

Back to my dream. I live in Hanoi and one big problem in Hanoi is transportation. The investments with the most impact on that front have mostly been geared towards cars. There even was talk of banning motorbikes to make space for cars! Motorbikes pollute significantly less than cars – even an electric car will pollute as much as a gas motorbike in Vietnam – and cars take much more road space so they require more expensive infrastructure and this would have very significantly increased traffic jams.

My dream was to help the city with its public transportation planning so that not only would motorbikes be banned but also cars and the main means of transportation would be public transports. This would mean drastically reduced traffic jams and since buses would not need all the roads we have now, the other roads could become pedestrian and turned into mini public gardens by their inhabitants. “Hanoi, the garden city” it has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? For businesses, this would create nice neighborhoods that would draw crowds to visit their street and their shop. For inhabitants, this would create a more peaceful and less polluted environment. The illustration picture provides a good idea of how many Hanoi streets could look like.

Of course, people like their current comfort and have a hard time picturing their future comfort so they will be quick to point out issues. What I would appreciate from you, dear reader, is to take a full minute picturing yourself walking in that street in the picture in the center of Hanoi. And then for another minute to try to figure out how your street could become like that.

My personal take is that people are too selfish to work together to build a better Hanoi, and this is not about decision makers: any group of inhabitants, and businesses could decide to renovate/maintain their building or make their street nicer or simply to preserve resources and use less plastic.

I tried for many years to make Hanoi a better place, when I see that I care about this more than many people here, I ask myself why I should. In the end, I could go to a place where people, as unhappy as they may be, actually care and work together to make their place better. And I would not go there to benefit from anything, I would go there because I have the same mindset.

I still hope that the mindset of people around me gets better over time and I look forward to that day. My advice to get there: better education, especially about ethics. And to all of you who read this: give a little more care to the land and country that shelter you and to the people living in it. At the beginning of any trend, there is always a single gesture, it could be yours.

*Sébastien Eskenazi is an expert in AI and data science. He has been living in Hanoi since 2016. The opinions expressed are his own.

By Sébastien Eskenazi – – October 2, 2023

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