What It’s Like Living In Communist Vietnam

Life In A (Slightly) Communist State


July 9, 2014, Hanoi, Vietnam: Living in a communist state has its differences. But modern Vietnam is more capitalist in practice.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

We've been living in Vietnam for several years now. During that time, we have made many close Vietnamese friends and have learned more about the history and rich culture of these people than we ever imagined. We've also been around a lot of foreign tourists, who are generally amazed that a Westerner would choose to live in a communist country.

The truth is that for all practical purposes, living in Vietnam is like living in any country, communist or not. After spending about one minute in Hanoi, anybody can see that this city is first and foremost the epitome of capitalism on steroids. The majority of Vietnamese are self-employed entrepreneurs. They own and operate hotels and restaurants, they sell vegetables and fish at the markets, they fix motorbikes and appliances, they promote their tour companies, shine shoes, and create a never-ending assortment of soups and noodles and rice dishes to sell in their tiny shops or at their pop-up sidewalk restaurants.

Most Vietnamese work from dawn until late in the evening, often seven days a week. Many earn just enough to get by, though a growing percentage of people have enough disposable income to buy some extras and even luxuries. Throughout the years, we've watched as the locals have traded their bicycles for motorbikes and their motorbikes for cars. More people wear eyeglasses now, and more children and young adults are fitted with braces. People keep pets—something that was very unusual just a few years ago. When they take their vacations, they love to travel. Domestic tourism is a rapidly growing industry here.

The difficult days of rationing and shortages are over. Today's Vietnamese shop in traditional markets and glitzy new malls. They take their children to parks, zoos, museums, beaches, giant waterparks, amusement parks, and the aquarium on their school breaks. They buy their own fashionable clothes, choose their own vocations, and love to gossip. In many respects, Vietnam is just like anywhere else. But there are differences, too...

Because it is a socialized country, some businesses are owned, or partly-owned, by the government. You'll see many products that have the word "Vina" in the name: Vinacafe, Vinashipping, Vinatex, Vinataba... These are all enterprises that the government owns either in part or entirely.

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Life Continues As Normal For Expats Through The Thailand Coup

Life In A Coup


July 8, 2014, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Thailand tourism is down following the military coup in May 2014. But for most Thais and expats, life continues as normal

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

On May 22, the army took over the government here in Thailand. I wrote about the coup d'etat at that time, calling it just another coup.

We expats may dislike coups, we're nervous about having fewer rights. But for those of us without a political agenda, most expat life—and Thai life, too—goes on as before.

Those last few days in May and early June were tense. Some protesters and politicians were detained. And although it appears many were let go, we wonder exactly how many. The palace endorsed the coup, giving the army some moral authority. Soon the sporadic protests died down or were further repressed. The army ended the TV blackout at most stations, lifted the curfew, and reduced its public presence.

Coup leaders now promise an interim government by September, and new elections down the road, although without a fixed target date. In the meantime, the media remains censored, with politicians silent.

On June 23, the Bangkok Post reported the results of a Nida poll. Thais polled gave coup leaders an approval rating of 8.82 out of 10, and 73% agreed that "the country has a better atmosphere and is more peaceful." I wonder how many of those polled felt intimidated. Then again, those opinions square with those of Thai friends we've talked to about the coup.

Vicki and I have had long experience with coups. During our first year in Argentina in the 1980s, we lived through five nonviolent coups there. At the time, nearly all countries in Latin America were run by generals.

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Living And Working In The United Arab Emirates--The Luxury...

Luxury Meets Lethargy—Welcome To The Emirates


July 7, 2014, Dubai, United Arab Emirates: The United Arab Emirates offers every kind of luxury. But doing business here is not without its challenges.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Here in Dubai, you can find whatever fits your idea of luxury.

When hunger strikes, you could pop into Bloomsbury's to order the world's most expensive cupcake (US$1,100). Or come face to face with the sharks over a plate of poached oysters at the underwater restaurant in the Burj Al Arab (renowned as the world's most luxury hotel).

The Talise Ottoman Spa offers the world's most luxurious facial—involving a 24-karat gold mask. And, if you need a Lamborghini, you can rent one for US$700 a day.

Want to get anything done here in the United Arab Emirates—especially something involving paperwork? Well, that's a different story...

Since leaving Ireland three years ago, I've been teaching at a number of elementary schools, first in Abu Dhabi and now Dubai. My favorite brush with local administration was in pursuit of police clearance in Abu Dhabi last year.

I needed the clearance to apply for a new teaching job and was relieved to find there's a desk at the Marina Mall where they deal specifically with this process. This, I thought, would save me from hours of polite queuing in a police station, watching local after local jump ahead. (Emiratis are truly skilled in the art of queue skipping.)

I approached the policeman at the desk and enquired about a clearance certificate.

"No, I don't know," came the response, "check the information desk."

I followed his pointing finger and turned 180 degrees to a desk about a meter behind me—the mall information desk.

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Ramadan In Istanbul

Touching Down In Istanbul


July 6, 2014, Panama City, Panama: Kathleen shares some of Istanbul’s culture and history

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

A long trip like the one from Panama City to Istanbul, requiring connecting flights and layovers and taking you across many time zones, is like a system reboot. Arriving at your destination, your mind is fuzzy, muddled. What time is it? What day is it? Should I have something to eat...or maybe take a nap? You can't quite commit to answers to even these basic questions. More substantive decisions are inconceivable. Finally, out of desperation, you give up and give yourself over, simply, to what's in front of you.

So here I sit, on the rooftop terrace of our hotel in Istanbul's Old City, looking out over the Sea of Marmara and at Asia across the way. No sense trying to be productive. Better just to soak it all in.

The sea spread out before me is ink blue. Above it, the sky is clear, the sun hot. A steady breeze and the red clay tiles of the terrace roof keep the temperature comfortable enough, but, without cover to shade you, you know it's summertime. Weather projections we Googled before departing Panama City convinced us to throw sweaters and jackets into our suitcases at the last minute. Just goes to show you can't believe everything you read on the Internet.

"Look at all the traffic out on the water," Kaitlin remarked, taking in the Marmara for the first time. Indeed, the waterways here seem as busy as the Panama Canal. Ferries, cruise ships, sailboats, private cruisers, coming into port and going out, dispersing passengers and taking on new ones.

Istanbul owes its place in world history to these waters, which, since the days of Byzantium, have meant tolls, harbor fees, trade, and prosperity. Today, this metropolis with such a unique and enviable geographic situation is again thriving.

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What The Declaration Of Independence Means In Today’s...

Do Your Own Thing


July 4, 2014, Paris, France: The Declaration of Independence was issued in a time when nothing moved faster than a horse. In today’s world, you have far more opportunity to pursue freedom and happiness.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Thomas Jefferson began his draft of the Declaration of Independence on June 11, 1776. The Continental Congress later "mangled" his words, according to Jefferson, and shortened his draft by 25%. Finally on July 2, 1776, Congress signed off and signed America up for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Americans celebrate July 4 rather than July 2, because the Declaration was announced on the fourth.

Vicki and I have been to one or two Fourth of July parties around the world. But mostly, we skip them. I can do without hotdogs and hamburgers, speeches and oompah, sparklers and fireworks. Rather than soggy hotdogs I prefer to choose, day to day, to live life, enjoy liberty, and continue my pursuit of happiness.

Especially my pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson's world was very different from ours. In those days, nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse. In The Birth of Plenty, William Bernstein writes, "no human being, no manufactured item, no bushel of wheat, no side of beef, no letter, no information, no idea, order or instruction of any kind moved faster [than a horse]. Nothing had moved any faster, and, as far as Jefferson's contemporaries were able to tell, nothing ever would."

So what can we take away today, in the modern world, from a Declaration of Independence that reflected a slower, rural, farm-oriented society? I think we can encompass Jefferson's positive, proactive view of freedom.

Too many of us today think of freedom in negative terms, in the sense that we become free "from" some evil or another. FDR's famous speech on the four freedoms included freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom from religious persecution. My Google search for "freedom from" came up with freedom from torture, hunger, anxiety, depression, and freedom from habitual sins like impurity, over-eating, substance abuse, gambling, smoking, and more. These freedoms all popped up on Google's first page.

Jefferson could have organized the Declaration around freedom from tyranny, freedom from taxation without representation, freedom from the rule of a king who lived in another country. And indeed, he included those freedoms in the body of the text. But right up top he nailed his positive approach to freedom with his focus on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.

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