Monday, November 12, 2012


Qing Bar in Saigon's District 1, an upscale wine bar that closes on time
In Southeast Asia, pubs and discos are excellent places to meet fascinating people, from a variety of backgrounds. In the bars of Vietnam people of all kinds are generally more friendly, and more open to meet strangers, than they are back in America. This has nothing to do with the hustlers or scammers either. Most Vietnamese are hospitable people, with a friendliness that is infectious.

One night at a bar/restaurant in Pham Ngu Lao, an English friend introduced me to Truong, a young Vietnamese. He was on his way to a disco called Gossip, where he would dance until the wee hours of the morning. Although I’d just met him, Truong invited me to go along.

Feeling tired I declined, but before he left, I asked him, “how can the discos stay open until the morning in the city? I heard there's a law, that bars and discos cannot stay open late.”

“There is a national law, that no bar can stay open past 12 o’clock,” Truong said.  “Everybody know that if bar is open after 12, they are paying the police.”

This corruption of bribes for bars to stay open doesn’t end there either. According to Truong, bar owners had to entertain the police regularly. “They don’t just pay the police,” Truong continued. “They have to take them out to dinner. They have to pay for everything, food and drink.”

Truong had a rather humorous take on the corruption system for bars. “My father is policeman. The bar give money to my father. My father give money to me. I give money back to the bar,” he said smiling. “Recycle. Recycle.”

Corruption is nothing new to Southeast Asia, existing here in one form or another for centuries. With the re-introduction of capitalism to Vietnam in the 80’s, foreign investment money has flowed in. This has brought enormous potential for graft to government officials with low salaries.

Truong proceeded to tell me about a corrupt government official. “Next door, this restaurant is owned by man in prison now. He worked in government petroleum. He in prison for corruption. In prison, he have good life. He pay the prison guards, he have good TV, telephone, nice room. His son and daughter, they go to university in America. In Vietnam, if the father go to prison for corruption, the son has a good life.”

A reputable organization which does surveys on corruption, Transparency International, annually ranks the world’s perceived level of public sector corruption. Their 2011 Corruption Perception Index, ranked 182 of the world’s countries. Vietnam was tied for 120th place, along with Senegal, Kosovo, Moldova, Egypt and Algeria.

Old Ho Chi Minh would be very displeased at the current level of corruption that exists in the 'communist' government that he left behind.


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