Capitalism is alive and thriving these days in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: A recently lowered luxury tax on foreign imports has brought a flood of high-end vehicles to the country’s streets; Prada, Gucci and Apple retailers, to name a few, can be found in all major urban areas (and even some small towns); while resort hotels and luxury condos have become the new Vietnamese pop-ups. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics never had it so good.
To be clear, all the country’s current development bodes very well for its future. Improved infrastructure projects and a flood of foreign investment, both of which have spiked over the past two years, are just the things Vietnam needs to catch up and join the global market.
The weird thing is that, when it comes to the luxury that surrounds them, most Vietnamese can’t even afford more than a once-a-month movie at the local CGV cinema— much less these $10,000 blue alligator-skin Santoni shoes, which cost more that three times the annual salary of the average Vietnamese. Elsewhere, Ray-Bans and Rolexes sit in glass display cases attended by well-dressed youth who often look too bored to be bothered. No one’s really buying anything, while entire luxury apartment blocks in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7 sit sparsely occupied.
For the people, the thrill hasn’t arrived. For the connected who drive BMWs and Porsches down pot-holed one-lane streets, the thrill’s not going anywhere.
Vietnam’s contradictions are part of what make it so interesting—with this detente between the two sides of the same market coin being the most glaring contradiction of all.