Ed Driscoll

Bad Motor Scooter

In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger explores Vietnam’s “Motorbike Economy –The Vietnamese are riding into the economic big league, atop millions of motorbikes:”

here are cars and trucks, but they look like whales surrounded by schools of fast fish. Welcome to Vietnam, the motorbike economy—adept, efficient, always in forward gear. The country is run by one of the world’s last Communist parties, which had the sense 20 years ago to open the economy to the world but has a bad habit of degrading the value of Vietnam’s currency. Still, it’s doubtful that even a Bernankian flood of liquidity will crash the motorbike economy for long.

I hadn’t come to Vietnam to see the motorbikes (though one could). It was to visit a symbol of Vietnam’s rise—the new, 500,000-square-foot Intel microchip assembly and test factory on the edge of the city. In five years Intel hopes to hire 5,000 workers. Over a lunch of pho ga (chicken noodle soup) in the cafeteria, I talked with six of them. Naturally, I asked about the motorbikes.

“We now have a motorbike culture,” said Nguyen Thi Bich Lan, who got a masters in industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan. “I can’t wait to get home to ride my bike,” she says.

To where? “We hang out with our friends,” said Do Hoang Tram, a logistics manager. “It’s easy to get around,” she said, “so we ride all over the city, looking for new cafes or the latest good restaurant.”

This is Vietnam’s emerging middle class—in their 20s or 30s, working for a household-name technology company. Two studied outside Vietnam. All spoke English (the country’s literacy rate is over 90%) with such relaxed self-confidence that after about an hour the eerie thought occurred that if these six were sitting in the cafeteria of our building in New York, you’d assume they had been there for years.

And concurrently, as the Vietnamese ride their motorbikes out of the ashes of the nation’s terrifying “Start From Zero” phase during the mid-20th century and attempt to rejoin modernity, Mayor Bloomberg’s bike lane reprimitivization of New York continues apace.

At least for now