In January 2009 I went to Vietnam for a holiday. Fresh off the plane, I was sitting in a small noodle shop opposite the Ben Thanh Markets in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) when a framed photograph on the wall caught my eye. The fading, but proudly displayed photo was of Bill Clinton, former President of the United States posing with the man who had just dished up my phở bò. It was taken in 2000 when Clinton had stopped in for a tasty meal on his second visit to Vietnam, having already visited in 1995 when he successfully negotiated normalised relations between Vietnam and the US, twenty years after the end of the war.
As the Associated Press reported, Clinton was back in Vietnam last year (another twenty years on from his initial visit) to ‘commemorate his largely forgotten breakthrough’ of normalisation which he himself considers to be ‘one of the most important achievements’ of his presidency, and that ‘it helped lift the burden that had been weighing down the American spirit since the Vietnam War’.
Normalisation of relations between the two countries paved the way for American companies to succeed in Vietnam and, for better or worse, a Big Mac or a Starbucks is becoming increasingly easy to find in Vietnam. The flow of investment is not all one-way either, and increasingly, Vietnamese businesses are expanding their operations internationally. Vietnam is now preparing for another visit from a US president, the first since Clinton, as Obama is coming in May.
When I sat in that phở shop in 2009, calculating the degrees of separation between myself and Bill Clinton, I had no idea that six years later Vietnam would be my second home. I’ve succumbed to the vibrancy, the charm and the business opportunities that present themselves in this wonderful country.
This post was first published on LinkedIn.