Connecting Flights: Day 6, Six Elephants in an Expanding World

Linh works in urban development sector of the World Bank managing projects primarily in HCMC, Sa Đec, and rural regions. He described his job as bringing a package of improvement methods—fixing streets, improving homes of the poor, building bridges or other infrastructure to cities and they prioritize what they want and need. To me it sounded like playing the role of an angel in a country that desperately needs anything it can get.

I had been connected to him via Amy, who rightly described their group of international development agents as ‘interesting people with a broad view.’ Linh is amazing. Coincidentally he had finished up the canal project in HCMC where I was engaging the solid waste management question. Not only did he finish that project, but he is working on the completion of the outstanding canal. As a city, HCMC suffers from water problems related to the high tide season and rainy flood season. As a result, waste management is a huge issue. The other points covered in their development grant is connecting urban planning projects, such as streets and transportation, and managing how the small portion of the 22% of the GDP of Vietnam that HCMC produces will go back into the investment of the city.

I was curious to know what the time frame for Vietnam to move from the lower middle class socioeconomic level to the upper middle class level. He didn’t have an exact time estimate, but he did fear that, as a country, they might get stuck in the middle class level, which would disqualify them for the concessional grants with very low interest rates.

Linh was very concerned about the holes in the socially oriented market economy of Vietnam because, as he said, it was like building a wall with holes in it. Because of the inefficiency of the publicly controlled consumer economy the full loop of financializing profits falls short. This may become the plateau of the middle level for Vietnam. The current big investors who are complementing the work that the WB is doing in Vietnam are South Korea, Japan and German  as well as private venture by Chinese and other foreign companies. There is so much room for development and the government has been pretty consistent which assures investors, that the WB is happy to have other investors competing for projects.


We escaped the rain by going into the museum of fine arts. I recalled the building as soon as we paid the tickets. Placed inside of a yellow colonial, three-story building, Vietnam’s visual, cultural history makes a bit of a jump from the chronologically placed first floor who showed the archeological and anthropological relics from prehistory to a collection of Buddhist artifacts and then skipped to rural proletariats yearning for revolution, the arrival of Uncle Ho, the war against America, and finally the triumph and eternal happiness of all Vietnamese people. Stylistically, almost every major European movement of the 19th and 20th century were represented in the collection. The last floor had some folk art that I expect was more representative of the art produced throughout the art history of Vietnam but fell outside of the communist narrative.