Friday, January 28, 2011

The lively faces of poverty

At the risk of sounding like Tom Friedman, the most striking thing about Saigon was the bustling, crowded buzz of the place -- the way every square inch of public space was somehow occupied by a person, streets completely filled with Vespas and every sidewalk a public market.

The average Vietnamese lives on about $3,100 per annum, less than half what her counterpart in China makes, so we're talking about a very poor country.  But that poverty doesn't manifest itself as obvious misery--not where we visited, at least.  Instead, you see this:
This Hanoi street is lined by key-cutting carts, as could be found on every other street corner in Saigon.  These are industrious, hard-working people, but in the US, copying keys must occupy 30 minutes out of the day of a Home Depot employee; the rest of the time, he's off stocking shelves while the machine rests in the corner.  American labor is simply too expensive to waste waiting for customers; instead, each worker has a whole stock of capital goods (the key-cutting machine, a forklift, etc) at his command, keeping him occupied each and every minute.

In Saigon, you can find any food or service you need, right there on the sidewalk, because in Saigon, you can make a living cutting keys for one blocks-worth of people.  It's actually kinda nice if you don't mind crowds ...

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