by Nguyen Thanh Ha
Too many Vietnamese are over indulgent, spend too much on expensive cars, gadgets, holidays, wine, beer, karaoke, girlfriends and meals that often cost up to VND2-3 million per head.
They include many businessmen living on borrowed money and borrowed time. But, all-in-all, the "me, me, me" disease also afflicts honest entrepreneurs and their, often, spoiled children. Even the children of the so-called working class love flaunting their VND10-15 million smart phones, fancy i-Pads and clothing bearing illustrious Western names.
This is in direct contrast to the island-state of Singapore, whose Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has called for his people, particularly youngsters, to improve their morals and behaviour and become the nicest people in the world.
The British think-tank New Economics Foundation ranks Vietnamese as playboys because they are the "best" beer drinkers in Southeast Asia – and third in Asia after Japan and China. Despite the economic downturn, Vietnamese drank about three billion litres of beer last year. It was worth about US$3 billion, according to statistics from the Euromonitor International.
It seems that too many Vietnamese are forgetting their glorious but humble heritage and go on a spending spree as soon as they get money.
Stephan Danis, from Germany, who works in Viet Nam for a non-governmental organisation, thought most Vietnamese must be happy and rich because, after working hours, they pour onto the pavements to drink beer until late at night.
Danis said he was surprised to see beer so much beer being served continuously – and he comes from a nation famed for its beer drinking! He wonders why most drinkers do not seem to worry about going home.
"Many sing songs and read poems while drinking. They press each other to drink as much as possible. As a result, many can't stand-up afterwards or later get involved in traffic accidents," he said.
Tran Dang, former director of the Health Ministry's Department for Food Safety and Hygiene, agreed with Danis, saying such immoderate drinking not only made men slovenly, but increased traffic accidents. He said thousands were killed on the roads each year mainly because they had been drinking too much.
Phan Dang Tuat, deputy chairman of the independent Viet Nam Beer and Alcohol Association (VBA), said money spent on beer each year was more than VND60,000 billion ($3 billion). This is double the Government's relief package for the real estate industry. It also equals the amount needed to renovate the education system.
Tuat said that beer was not the only problem with today's generations. He wondered why so many were owners of high-end fashion clothing such as Louis Vuiton, D&G, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Jean Paul Gautier, Emporio and many others.
Andreas Klingler, director of a car firm, said many Vietnamese were prepared to buy a vehicle at any price. Nguyen Manh Hung, general secretary of Association for Standards and Consumer Protection, said even though the per capita income of Vietnamese was very low, dealers had no problems selling cars for three times the price asked in other countries.
For example, Vu Huu Loi, 33, a businessman in the northern province of Tuyen Quang, owns several expensive vehicles including a Bentley Flying Spur, a Rolls-Royce and a Harley Davidson motorbicycle worth a total of several hundred thousand dollars.
And singer Thuy Tien stunned her fans by buying a car said to be worth at least VND16 billion ($800,000).
But for real wealth, look at Pham Dinh Nguyen, general director of the International Distribution and Services Company in HCM City. He has bought a whole town in the United States. The town, known as Buford, cost him nearly $1 million at a recent auction. Nguyen said he is proud to be the first Vietnamese to be able to afford his own American town.
Nguyen Thi Lam, deputy director of the National Nutrition Institute, said many urban Vietnamese were also starting to follow the Western trend of over eating. She said this was alarmingly obvious by looking at overweight adults and the waistlines of their children.
She said Vietnamese today, particularly in big urban areas like Ha Noi and HCM City, ate too much meat and sweets. This had made many of them lazy and overweight.
Lam said that the latest research indicated that a person should eat no more than 84 grams of meat per day, but Hanoians swallowed double that amount.
To sum up this trend towards over indulgence in a once lean and frugal nation of people, we quote an anonymous official from the Ministry of Trade who said Viet Nam had a public debt of more than $70,000 billion.
On top of this there is an incalculable amount of private debt. Look at the money borrowed for private houses, new television sets and expensive gadgets for the children. This makes all Vietnamese debtors to some degree, but no one seems to worry too much.
"In fact, most people, including those working for official agencies, place more importance on collecting their share of the spoils from the incessant beer drinking on the footpaths. This enables them to join in the spree by spending more on wine, beer, music and sex," the offical said.
"No one seems to worry." — VNS