Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saigon and my AK-47 experience

Last weekend I went on a trip to Vietnam and tried out shooting this AK-47 in the jungle near Ho Chi Minh City.

This was a very exciting experience; mainly because I was aware that the AK is a legendary weapon. This machine gun has transformed the history of many countries; put up & toppled many dictators and has been used in countless revolutions and atrocities throughout the world.

So my hands were shaking with excitement (and respect) the minute I held that gun. The shots were surprisingly loud even though I was wearing ear-protection. But after 2 rounds, I asked the instructor to put it on auto and then fired away a whole clip. Must I say that was probably one of the most exciting 10 seconds of my life.

My trip to Vietnam was also full of other surprises. I didn't expect to see Ho Chi Minh city being cleaner, neater and more pedestrian friendly than Jakarta.

Many luxury cars and 2-door coupes wandered around which kinda reminds you of Singapore. Old cars were very hard to find; perhaps this had something to do with fact that gasoline there was sold at an equivalent of around Rp8,000/liter, which is double Indonesia prices.

Many people say Saigon is "Jakarta in the 1980's". I disagree. Although it has fewer high-rise buildings, it seems much better organized.

Vietnam has a GDP per capita of around $3000 ppp dollars, lower than Indonesia at $4000. However the vibe there feels very different... everybody seems to be busy doing something; whereas in Jakarta u can't help but see many young people hanging around on the street, wasting time doing nothing.

This dichotomy shows up in the statistics; Vietnam's GDP growth can easily exceed 7%; whereas here we only get 6% in the luckiest of years.

Interestingly all the progress in Vietnam is happening despite it still being a communist country. This makes me wonder whether democracy is really a gift or a curse for Indonesia.

Yesterday I returned to Jakarta, and today it's back to the sadness of seeing many stalled reforms. Sadly with Indonesia facing a status quo and acute leadership deficit, it could be a matter of time before the tables turn and the country becomes "Vietnam thirty years ago."

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