One of many great meals in Bien Hoa - fresh greens are essential to Vietnamese  cooking and eating.

One of many great meals in Bien Hoa – fresh greens are essential to Vietnamese cooking and eating.

We sit in a shady, spacious sidewalk café on the corner of two streets in a low rise residential neighborhood of Bien Hoa, the industrial zone half an hour north of Saigon.  An important river port and the home to hundreds of manufacturers – many of overseas brands – it is one of Vietnam’s most prosperous cities.

Our friend Bao is one of the prosperous.  He owns land and houses in Bien Hoa and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  We are staying in his house opposite this café.  His black Mercedes is parked in the street level garage, flanked by four motorcycles along the wall.  As we sit here, Bao can survey the business in his gold and jewelry store via his android phone, which lives streams eight channels of video cam in the store.

We come here to enjoy his company and the great food, also to rest.  We can spend most of the day here in the café, reading or catching up on e-mail.  The café offers one of many wireless networks in the neighborhood.  In the morning, 100 people sit around small plastic tables enjoying coffee, tea, checkers and conversation.  Most of them are men.  Many, I’m told, make money in smuggling and the black market – common businesses in port cities all over the world.

Development in Vietnam has come at a stunning pace.  Sometimes it is ugly.  Certainly it has come at a high price for those who have lost their land, and to the land itself.  We are now enjoying its most pleasant side, a prosperous and peaceful neighborhood built 8 years ago on rice fields.

I realize that one of the most pleasant sides of this brief interlude is that we are the only non-Vietnamese in this neighborhood, and the only ones I see in the town.  Tourists must not come to Bien Hoa.  Everything that is here is made for the Vietnamese who live here.

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