More From Vietnam—Why Is Everyone in Saigon So Young?

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I’m spending most of January in Vietnam, so I’ll be posting from Saigon, Hanoi, the Mekong Delta, and elsewhere. Today’s report is from Saigon.

Having finally settled into the luxurious Caravelle Hotel about midnight, I slept through the humid tropical night and awoke to the sounds of a city already on the move.

Actually, this city of 9,000,000 hardly ever stops moving.

Are they looking at me and thinking, “oh, one of those AMERICANS”? I’m still getting used to that whole thing.

The Caravelle is quite luxurious, so the food, service, and towels are wonderful. Vietnam is one of those countries with far more young people than jobs, so there’s always someone around to do whatever you need. In fact it takes a minute or two to get used to the constant “let me do it for you” attitude.

Are they looking at me and thinking, “oh, one of those AMERICANS”? I’m still getting used to that whole thing.

The streets of the city are filled with motorbikes—maybe 300 for each passenger car. And none of the prissy one-motorbike-to-a-lane custom we have in the U.S.. Instead, the motorbikes take up the width of the street. A narrow street might have 3 or 4 motorbikes abreast. A wide street might have 6 or 8. A grand boulevard like Dong Khoi or Le Loi, 20 or 25. I am NOT making this up.

And unlike India (proud plug—see!), the traffic is fairly quiet. There’s very little honking, no shouting, and no screeching of tires. In Delhi, a similar amount of traffic was deafening. Here, it’s far more benign–although it takes a while to get anywhere, of course.

Everyone is so YOUNG—it’s a demographic phenomenon that’s absolutely unmistakable. Do the math—people in the 1960s and 70s were killed in the American War. People in the 1970s were killed in the war with Cambodia and in the famine created by the Hanoi government. People in the 1970s and 80s left in droves—remember the “boat people”? Result: a nation of 23 year-olds, with a bunch of 65- and 70-year-olds hanging around shaking their heads.

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