Archive | October 2011

Why does Vietnam not do well in the visual arts?

From Cristina Nualart’s blog (“Why does Vietnam not do well in the visual arts? (part 2)”), which talks about why historically and possibly today there hasn’t been a strong tradition of visual arts in Vietnam. My comment below:
Great collection of anecdotes and input from various people on the subject. If I can summarize your reasons for why Vietnam is weak in visual arts, it is something like: lack of tradition, lack of patronage, and lack of exposure.Lack of tradition. In other words, there isn’t great visual art today because there wasn’t great visual art a generation ago. Or the best artists from the previous generation are all living overseas now, leaving those in Vietnam disconnected. There’s a bit of chicken-and-egg here, since clearly new arts communities do spring up from time to time in areas where they didn’t already exist. For example, the new music genre called ‘techno’ sprang forth from a small group of black dudes in Detroit, which then grew. It was a new movement with little precedent (besides a storied local musical history).

Lack of patronage. If there was a class of modern day art patrons, then the bits about the unfortunate and limited royal patronage in the past wouldn’t matter. Here, I suppose like in many countries, the newly wealthy are keen to show off wealth publicly… driving the most expensive vehicle they can afford, etc. One question is, if they bought art, how would they show it off, and to whom? The people you’re trying to impress don’t know why an object is significant (and expensive). I think that the number of patrons with more altruistic reasons for supporting art would always be a small subgroup within even that group. The Detroit techno founders didn’t succeed due to local patronage; it was from being discovered in the UK then across Europe.

On a related note, where are the role models in whose footsteps young artists-in-training strive to follow?

Lack of exposure. The internet should be the great equalizer here but unfortunately the Vietnamese-language internet is still tiny and the English-language internet remains inaccessible to most due poor English skills. Again, licensing also plays a role since I’m sure it’s not trivial to publish a magazine even if it doesn’t report on news. In some cases, a lack of mainstream influences mixed with localized, unique influences can result in something new. As you mentioned, even billboard advertising here is rather bland, even if one were to assume that the competition for eyeballs and money would lead to more attractive signs. I think this generally applies to TV as well, outside of something like YAN TV (music).

Another point on tradition. Perhaps it’s wrong to assume that every country should have Western visual arts. Is it fair to criticize Vietnamese people for also not being strong in haiku?

Small point, but when you mention Cham architecture as being a product of Khmer culture, is that right? Khmer and Cham are ethnically and linguistically more different from each other than Khmer and Vietnamese so…

What’s the most efficient spoken language?

Another question on Quora: What’s the most efficient spoken language?

My answer:

There has been some recent research into information density of spoken language coupled with the speed at which the language is spoken. To answer your question, of the studied languages, Vietnamese had the highest density, meaning each syllable conferred the most information. Japanese syllables had the lowest density (considering it generally requires several syllables after a verb root to conjugate it), and so those syllables came out of the mouth the fastest.

The ranking, from highest to lowest density:

In general, it will still take the same amount of time to convey the same amount of information through speech because Japanese will be spoken faster, and Chinese spoken slower.

Ability to synthesize neologisms aside, I think that indigenous languages used by ethnic minorities don’t have the richness of more popular languages, which will have more shorthand vocabulary for talking about all kinds of modern topics.

Link to article

Cost of Living in Vietnam

Tuoi Tre News has republished my post from 2010: Cost-of-Living in Vietnam: It’s Really Cheap


You can read it on the newspapers website here.

One of the main ideas behind writing that post was to show how a “middle class” Vietnamese family could live quite well on just $600 in the big city.  But I think that idea got list in the post, which is more or less targeted towards expats and potential expats to Vietnam.

Vietnam, the V in CIVETS

This is in response to the latest post on An International Educator in Vietnam about Vietnam’s role in the latest post-BRIC acronym, CIVETS (Colombia,  Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa). While I agree with CIVETS as a plan for investors and other people looking beyond BRICs, and also with Vietnam’s inclusion in this bloc, I had a long response to the reasons why Vietnam should be taken seriously.

I’m posting my comment in full here, but please read the original post for context as I am not going to repost that here:

Good introduction, and I’m sure lots more will be written about Vietnam/CIVETS in the years to come. Let me play devil’s advocate (while basically agreeing with Vietnam’s role as the V in civet). I would love to hear any responses.

Rapid growth was not sustainable, which we can see more clearly now. Growth is slow, and still lower than targets which had already been forecasted down. Yet inflation is still there in everybody’s face, and dealing with inflation will (necessarily, I think) lead to even slower growth. Currency instability is generally in favor of Vietnam relative to its competitors in the export market as the dong only gets weaker, meaning commodities, which don’t rely so much on imported costs, are cheaper. Even more so if other developing countries’ currencies appreciate relative to the dollar.

Other exports rely heavily on imported inputs, so Vietnamese companies simply see their costs rising and can either make no money or raise prices accordingly.

Vietnam’s domestic consumption of green technology is quite low. I’m not sure this is one of our strong points. I guess that can be seen as a reason for making Vietnam a destination for outside investors. Investment in the energy sector has been weak due to the price of electricity sold to consumers, which is fixed, and means it’s nearly impossible to make money.

Architecturally, I think Saigon’s new highrises are mostly not pretty, and outside of handful, unnoteworthy. Meanwhile, historically significant architecture is either not properly preserved or torn down outright. I think we can all expect that any further showpiece residential or commercial construction will be put on hold until the currently collapsed high-end residential market is revived, and current prime commercial real estate is absorbed.

E-commerce will grow, but what are the reasons for it being expected to grow at a rapid clip in the next 3 years? E-wallets are still not being adopted (somewhat due to an unlinked banking system), same with credit cards, and mobile providers aren’t pushing mobile payment without taking such a huge cut that merchants are successfully detered.

I may be cynical in thinking that a website created by the government will not have much impact, just as they have not had much success with their social network.

Overseas investment: This is more or less a sign of the willingness of state-owned companies to dabble in neighboring countries, isn’t it?

Finally, some comments about the key data.

Exports were $70b, but imports were $7b (10%) at $77b.

FDI was down 28%. I think that shows that many people were only interested in speculating in real estate.

Internet subscribers at 4.1m while the number of 30 million internet users was mentioned. Perhaps this means almost everybody is using the internet at cafes or on their phones? Are those users going to buy things online?

Is Tagalog a tonal language?

I answered another question on Quora:

A language is tonal if words in that language are always pronounced with the same tones, and pronouncing a word with a different tone means it’s a different word. A language has pitch accent, but is not tonal, if some words, which are otherwise homophones, differ only in pitch. For example, Japanese is not tonal but has pitch accent. Otherwise, pronouncing a word in a phrase/sentence and giving it tonal properties or accent is due to prosody.

Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Satoshi Nakamoto is the man, woman, or team behind Bitcoin. But who exactly? Adam Penenburg at Fast Money tried to find out who and came up with a team of three men on two continents, none of whom are Japanese (whereas Nakamoto is clearly a common Japanese surname). I think there are still plenty of easy avenues to search for the man’s (or team’s) identity. It would only be appropriate to crowdfund a pool of bitcoins for a bounty on discovering Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity.

How do you live comfortably on $10,000/yr in the Philippines (or anywhere in Southeast Asia)?

My answer on Quora to: How do you live comfortably on $10,000/yr in the Philippines?

Cost of living in Manila is similar to that of the large capitol cities of other Southeast Asian countries. While many locals will survive on less than $10k/year, most foreigners will spend much more than that, and if this is retirement or disability income and you don’t have savings or another source of income, you’ll easily be living at the limits of your means for that sum in Manila, without much of a safety net to take care of sudden health-related issues and periodically leaving the country on visa runs.

You can save money by living in unsecured housing in cheaper parts of Metro Manila and not eating out, or by living in smaller cities or even the provinces.

More on the cost of living in Vietnam