Hai Phong Between North And South ~ THE HAIPHONG POST - Breaking News of World

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hai Phong Between North And South

HAIPHONG, VIETNAM -- In Vietnam's continuing north-south rivalry -- which in some ways is similar to the Washington-vs.-New York debate -- the Vietnamese like to say that sleepy northern Hanoi is the center of politics and history, while freewheeling southern Ho Chi Minh City is all about making money.

Haiphong has developed somewhere in between the two.
This brash, working-class port city is northern by geography -- about 65 miles from Hanoi, the capital -- but in many ways is southern by temperament. Its people have a hard, typically northern edge, but they also know how to make -- and spend -- money.

A city far more affluent than Hanoi but not quite so prosperous as Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong's port has allowed greater access and exposure to the outside world than a typical northern Vietnamese city, making the people and the place far less insular.

Hanging in the central marketplace among the colorful stalls of fabrics and fresh fruits and western blue jeans are several huge poster-calendars of nude and bare-chested western women -- a sight that would never be seen in conservative Hanoi but that would not raise an eyebrow in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.

Even the bicycles in Haiphong illustrate the difference. The preferred models here are the sleek new Japanese and French bikes, not the battered old bikes seen on Hanoi's streets.

Only in clothing do Hanoi residents outshine their Haiphong neighbors. Hanoi is becoming more fashion-conscious than in the past, with livelier colors -- yellow pants, pink shirts -- brightening the drab, sleepy streets. Haiphong residents, mostly farmers and workers, still prefer olive green military jackets, pants and pith helmets, giving the city the look of a place frozen in time.

To Americans, Haiphong conjures memories of the Vietnam War. The city was a main target of President Nixon's B52 bombing raids on the north, and in 1972, the Haiphong harbor was mined, fueling domestic American discontent with the war.

Today, 13 years after the end of the war, the damage done by American bombs is barely visible. All of the rubble has been removed. Buildings that were destroyed as well as three bombed bridges have been reconstructed. The only visible signs of the war here are along the road leading to Hanoi, on which a pile of rusted American mines sits as an eerie reminder of the conflict.

Perhaps owing more to its southern temperament than its northern location, Haiphong has become known in Vietnam as a city at the forefront of economic reforms.

City officials boast that Haiphong has provided the model for various Politburo resolutions, including one that allowed factory workers a greater say in picking their own plant managers.

The Haiphong Shipping Company here is experimenting with a project which in socialist Vietnam seems revolutionary -- a public stock plan. According to the director, Bui Tien Duc, private investers and cooperatives are allowed to bid for up to 49 percent of the shipping firm's 4,000-plus shares, at a cost of $1,000 per share. In return, investors receive dividend checks, which this year are expected to reach up to 18 percent of investment.

The shipping firm officials have even added a bonus incentive to their novel stock plan: anyone buying five shares gets the right to fill one company job. Explained Duc, "We have an unemployment problem here." Already, the company has hired two fishermen to be merchant sailors based on the "five-shares, get-a-job" rule.

If Haiphong residents are as innovative at making money as their southern counterparts, they also tend to be as feisty and as willing to challenge government authority. Their independent streak was demonstrated in early July, when fabric vendors at the city's central marketplace shut down their stalls to protest new government taxes, which some said amounted to a 60 percent increase.

City officials tried to dismiss the three-day tax protest. "The revolutionary fight always leads to negative reactions," said city Vice Mayor Trinh Thai Hung. "That is typical."

The protest, however, underscored how Haiphong's strong-minded residents are less willing than others to put up with what they consider a bad deal -- and more willing than most northerners to speak their minds.

"If they raise the taxes again," said one elderly fabric vendor in an outspoken, typically southern manner, "I'll just have to get on a boat and leave."