Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers for whether they believe the phrase bo ao khong lam nen thay tu, or "Clothes do not make the man," is true in Viet Nam and in their countries, given that many Vietnamese people rushed to buy the latest iPhone, even though some of them don't know how to use it. We also asked if such people suffer from commodity fetishism, which, it is argued, comes from a lack of confidence.
Here are some replies we received.
Robert Fries, American, Texas, USA
I believe that the phrase bo ao khong lam nen thay tu applies to everyone. We live in an age of many wonders, like a phone that can do more than even science fiction writers envisioned. Has this made us happier? Are we kinder to one another? Mindless consumerism, or buying things we don't need, is a form of temporary happiness for some. It wears off and we go back to the stores to buy more gadgets, clothes, etc. To meet the demand for goods, corporations destroy and pollute the land to gather resources, and it has affected our climate. In my humble opinion, we need to realize that happiness cannot be bought – it is a state of mind. Man is made by controlling his mind and desires, not by allowing his mind to control him. I learned much from Vietnamese Zen masters about controlling one's mind and how to transform suffering into happiness. Mindless consumption is ruining society and our beautiful planet.
Nguyen Thi Ha, Vietnamese
While a lot of people in remote areas live in poverty, others buy iPhone 6s for the sake of commodity fetishism. This is evidence showing that the distance between the rich and the poor in Viet Nam is increasing even more.
Peter Borchers, Canadian, Canada
The title does not fit the story. Within a week, Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6s. I don't think there is a single category to capture these buyers. For me it shows 10 million people have the need to possess the latest and the best toy the moment it becomes available. They must desire to show off, to brag, to impress, and to satisfy their fragile ego. But there is a benefit to ‘regular' people: The iPhone 5 will instantly become more affordable.
Pham To Thuy Tram, Vietnamese
Some believe that "Clothes do not make a man." But others believe that "Clothes make a man." When you are going out with friends, you might want to be seen as a part of that group by having an iPhone 6 or a Hermes handbag. But those things won't make them like you or think you're rich. It depends how you talk to them. Your appearance is not important. Nowadays, people respect you more for having a good education. They don't care how much money you make, they care about the way that you earned that money (because some people inherit wealth). If you thought appearing high-status could make you confident, I would have to say that your opinion is wrong. Change while you still have time.
Rie Watanabe, Japanese, Ha Noi
I asked my regular xe om (motorbike taxi) driver the same question the other day when he showed me his newly bought smartphone. I asked why he had to spend VND4 million (US$190) – which was somehow equivalent to a monthly income from his driving – to buy that "touch and slide" phone instead of a much cheaper, more functional phone. He replied that he just loved the feeling of touching and sliding the screen. He said he liked when his fellow drivers looked at his phone with admiration. Stories like my driver's are popular. I have seen many people change their lifestyle and appearance to look better even though it is not necessary. I do not think it is because the lack of confidence. I think it comes from peer pressure. They feel they have to change their values and behaviours to suit other people.
Thai Phuong Nghi, Vietnamese
Some people believe that if they have expensive, luxury belongings, they will be more confident. Despite that, in my opinion, "Clothes do not make the man." First of all, owning stuff that costs an arm and a leg doesn't mean you are a fancy person. In some ways, people would think that you're a shallow person who spends all your money on unnecessary things. Secondly, spending all your savings on expensive things is shortsighted, and makes you less confident in the long run because you're not saving any of your money. To sum up, I believe clothes cannot make people feel better or more confident.
John Boag, American, HCM City
As a fashion designer who for many years has sold, promoted and designed clothes, my knee jerk reaction is to state the importance of a well-dressed individual. However, the fact remains that substance and character are built on old-fashioned virtues like honesty and trust.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
Ironically, I am getting a very nice secondhand phone from my Vietnamese teacher friend, because her husband is getting the new Apple phone. What's his job you ask? Well, he's a divorce lawyer. So there's your answer. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Money is the root of all evil. Don't lend money to friends. Be careful what you wish for. Take your pick...
It took a child to expose the ego of an emperor who wore no clothes in Hans Christian Andersen's short story The Emperor's New Clothes. Maxing out your credit card to keep up with fashion and trends is a fool's errand with no future.
Capitalism works because greed is a strong motivator. Who doesn't want to be rich (and famous)? I will trade glamour for health and flashy for long life. Beauty fades, character stays. That's why I wear black; it always comes back in style.
Call me on my (new) secondhand phone and I'll buy you a cheap coffee to tell you all about it. — VNS