Portraits of Vietnamese in 21C

Một góc chung cư quận 7 nơi Mai C. ở. Hình: Mai C.
View of Mai C.’s apartment in District 7 – Photo courtesy of Mai C.

 —– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —–

From Đà Nẵng, Mai C. set foot in Sài Gòn in 1996. Overwhelmed is exactly how she felt. With so many high-rise buildings, Sài Gòn was marvelous and mesmerizing in her eyes. Swamped, a thought sparkled in Mai C.’s mind, “I’ll be working in those buildings someday.” To her, they represented something so beautiful. Throughout the college years, they were her lighthouse.

Fast forward 15 plus years. In 2013, high-rise buildings are no longer the ‘goal’ for Mai C. She is currently a Marketing and Retail Manager for a cell phone company in Sài Gòn. She lives in a luxury apartment in District 7 equipped with a spacious garage. Think about how expensive real estate is in Sài Gòn and you’ll visualize the picture. Out the door, she can leisurely take her daily river walk to enjoy the organized living quarters and clean environment in the area. From the windows of both her office and her apartment, sensational Sài Gòn is within her view.

She gave me a ride around Sài Gòn, not forgetting District 7, in her black Mercedes (the price of a car in Việt Nam is normally three times that in the US). Through the car windows, out there Sài Gòn is passing by, in the heat and the dust. The doors are well insulated, yet an insidiously guilty feeling is creeping in. The image of the shiny Mercedes pulling through the thick dust and heat is piercing its way into my heart. The incredible contrast between a hot Sài Gòn that I saw in front of me and the cool feeling I had inside the air-conditioned car representing two different worlds separated only by a thin door, is all too good-and-bad to bear. Sitting there, I seemed to breathe in and out “secretive” and “prestigious” particles floating in the air. After ten minutes, all I could think of was: “This must be how 007 feels whenever he is inside his own ‘toys.’” Suddenly, clarity came to me in my understanding of my friend. To the young and successful people in Vietnam in the twenty-first century, possession of an expensive car translates to prestigious toys for the privileged. Materials aside, spiritually, many of them work in the communications industry where new creations are made everyday, and we human beings are able to produce whatever we can imagine – they live in a world where the border between reality and imagination seems to have blurred.

Stories about how some of them make and spend money sometimes sound as ‘simple’ and ‘typical’ as “the kids’ stories” from the mouths of adults. But then, they are the 21C kids. Speak their language and listen to them talk. In their own words, they emit deep waves of aspiration and inspiration for a life camouflaged by stages of hi-tech toys that lay the bridge to the next ‘extraterrestrial’ world.

Have your needs changed now that you have a lot of money?

Mai C.: ‘Change’ may not be a precise word. It is only human that the more you have the more you want. Once you have A, you move on to B. Look closely, A is in fact simply a door to reveal what is behind it. The more we can see what is behind A, the more we know how to sharpen what we want. Therefore, if one does not have a chance to pierce A, one does not really know what they want. Many people live their whole life without knowing what they really want. I think I am lucky to ‘see’ a lot and to know well what I want.

So what do you want?

Mai C.: I want to work on different areas in various departments in different companies, so I can learn the most I can. After that, I want to see my role in the company enlarged. Then, of course, the chance to run my own company. By this time, with the experience and maturity from work, plus the established networks, I could ‘see’ the opportunities out there and more importantly, I could seize them. I have to say the best place for one to ‘see’ the opportunities out there is in the corporations. They are the hub of information, the centers of resources, personnel, ideas and new inventions. Access to them means access to opportunities.

Hình: Mai C.
Photo courtesy of Mai C.

Do you aim to make a lot of money?

Mai C.: Who doesn’t want a lot of money! I want to make a lot of money, but that is not my goal. I want to have a career. I believe that promotions in your job equal more money. Still, money is not the destination. In the end, I work because of my passion and beliefs in what I am doing.

What is your goal in the present time?

Mai C.: Advance and Ahead. To catch up with all the new trends. Communications change very quickly. It is digital today, it could be something different tomorrow. If you cannot keep up and update yourself fast enough you become outdated like so many others. Once you choose communications, you cannot stop. To stop means to be backward. The winner in this game is one who can advance and stay ahead, and with good networks.

What is your joy in life?

Mai C.: Achievements in work make me happy. I manage to balance my life and I enjoy life. I refuse a pitiful and lonely life. I like to explore and therefore my life is very interesting.

How about your friends?

Mai C.: To this point, friends are part of the adaptation process. Once you have a new group of friends who fit better with your job, your point of view, your time, your schedule, in other words the culture you are in, the old ones drop out of the scene gradually.

Are passion and ideals important to you?

Mai C.: Passion certainly is. Ideals: they are the ability to carry out the passion, instead of something lofty I used to think about. Ideal is to be able to do what you like that not only can provide for you but also raise you to the first-class citizen. I am not talking about passion like an artist, but passion here is just the ability to do what you want and what you believe in. The most simple ‘want’ for my generation is financial freedom and being updated. Passion in this case leans towards financial calculations therefore it simultaneously brings you a very comfortable life. It is only a means with which once achieved you are financially free and can improve the quality of your life tremendously. If you have to work so hard all day long just to make ends meet, that is miserable.

Is that pragmatic? I’d say practical. These days, to say that you are capable means you can afford a comfortable life. Our society is now pretty fair in terms of how much effort you invest in your job and the results you get from it. It is not like the old days.

With a lot more money, do your values in life change?

Mai C.: Not really. The most important thing to me unchanged over time is still human relations. To care for and love others in life. That is important to me.

The Vietnamese version of this article has been published by the Vien Dong Daily News. Read the Vietnamese version.

–> Back to Portraits of Vietnamese in 21C