Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hanoi Grudgingly Opens Market to the Pursuit of Happiness the French Are Again Lounging at the Metropole, Remembering the Old Days - a Letter from Hanoi

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hanoi Grudgingly Opens Market to the Pursuit of Happiness the French Are Again Lounging at the Metropole, Remembering the Old Days - a Letter from Hanoi

Article excerpt

VLADIMIR ILYICH LENIN still commands enough official respect in Vietnam that his picture is placed on the front pages of newspapers whenever his birthday rolls around.

And in downtown Hanoi, a statue of Lenin commands a central spot in a city whose common citizens have embraced free markets day by day ever since 1986, when Communist leaders of Vietnam grudgingly began to undo the command economy.

The pace toward free markets quickened in 1991 when Moscow cut off aid to Vietnam. Now, workers who ride bicycles to factories and peasants who bring bullock carts to the city must compete on Hanoi's streets with Toyota cars, buses full of foreign tourists, and the vehicles of international courier services.

In city shops, children of merchants no longer talk of escaping on leaky wooden boats across tossing seas to find a better life. Instead, their parents now earn enough mo)D:zBzzzB+Zton," a POW prison where Americans were held until 1973. Officials are debating, however, whether the run-down prison, which fills an entire block, might earn more as an attraction for American tourists, who have yet to come in significant numbers.

Another old landmark, the classic Metropole Hotel, once the center of French colonial life in Hanoi, has been restored to grandeur from its shabby, socialist interlude. Its restaurant, which used to serve sulfurous bottled water from Russia, now charges Paris prices for Perrier. French tourists say they love the charm of being served by former colonial subjects.

The Russians, who until 1991 were the bulk of foreigners in Hanoi, are largely gone, except in name. The Vietnamese referred to Soviet citizens as lien xo. The term is now used to shoo away street beggars, of which there are many.

Gone, too, are giant posters extolling the people to follow the advice of Ho Chi Minh and Lenin (in that order). A visitor to this colonial-era city with its old, mustard-colored villas and big overhanging trees is now confronted with billboards for Sony, Daewoo, and Philips (in that order). …

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