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An Interview with Michael Tatarski: Author of 'Vietnam Weekly'
Mike and I discuss the current state of Vietnam, how they've successfully managed COVID, and how they're adapting to their rapid growth.
Michael Tatarski is the author of Vietnam Weekly, a Substack focused on Vietnamese lifestyle and current events. Michael is also the Editor—In Chief at the Saigoneer and co-hosts the Saigoneer Podcast.
I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation!
The Global Capitalist (Tom): Hey Mike
Michael Tatarski: Hey, how’s it going?
TGC: Yeah, pretty good. How was your weekend?
MT: Fine, yeah, it's starting to get hot here. I mean it's always hot but relative to the short winter we have, it’s heating up.
TGC: Of course. Good to get back into the swing of things and all that, especially post-Tet.
TGC: Great, awesome. Again, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to go through this and do this interview with me.
A little background on who I am and what I'm looking to do here: I launched the Global Capitalist in March of last year as a way of providing some perspective on the rest of the world’s economy, not just the US economy. Particularly, I like to highlight how they differ as well as any cool fun facts about them.
Essentially, we’re kind of just explaining to American readers and investors that there are other places in the world besides America. Oftentimes there’s a clear home country bias in the way traditional American media portrays the world. So a lot of the work I like to do is just providing unique insights, perspectives and opinions in countries such as Vietnam that might be classified as an emerging or frontier market.
MT: Sure, that sounds good.
TGC: Alrighty, great. Well, in that case, let's get started. I guess to start off, I’d be curious to know what brought you to Vietnam? Saigon in particular?
MT: Yes. Well, I came in Fall 2010, stayed for three years and returned back to the States for almost a year and then came back. So yeah, in total it's over 10 years now.
When I was in college, I studied Poli-Sci and got interested in working abroad. I took the Foreign Service Test at the state department, but that didn't really go anywhere.
I kind of just kept looking for opportunities abroad and came across English teaching, and I ultimately found a teacher training program that included an option to go to Vietnam.
It was two weeks in Cambodia — Then you could choose either Vietnam, Thailand or stay in Cambodia or a couple of other places. I chose Vietnam basically because I watched Anthony Bourdain's TV shows and I was a big fan of his. He really liked Vietnam, and I had a couple friends who had visited and said good things, but otherwise I didn't really know.
Honestly, I knew very little— You know, beyond seeing Apocalypse Now type movies — which are obviously not representative of Vietnam actually.
TGC: Of course.
MT: So I decided that I’d stay for a year which obviously didn't happen. But yeah, I eventually got into writing. I taught for about a year and a half and then did various forms of writing after that and then, I would say really within the last five years I’ve been doing what I would consider actual journalism. It was really unplanned and just has happened as it's happened.
TGC: Awesome. That's great. Just to be clear, you said you taught in English for about a year and a half and then over the past five years you really dove into journalism?
MT: Yeah, I went from teaching and into— what I guess is more like lifestyle writing. So restaurant reviews, stuff going on in the expat community, and then I gradually transitioned into hard reporting.
I mean as much as you can do here, you know? Reporting on events, especially like environmental issues and societal issues in those sorts of things.
TGC: Interesting. Okay, you mentioned the expat community... How prevalent is the expat community in Vietnam? Then I guess for Saigon in particular, is it pretty multicultural from that standpoint.
MT: Yeah very much. I mean, it's like I mean they're definitely concentrated in Hanoi and Saigon. Although, other major cities like Da Nang all have some semblance of a community but they’re always a bit different. Both Hanoi & Saigon have a lot of teachers but Hanoi also has the Diplomatic community and a lot of NGOs. So like the UN offices and other stuff like that are located there, so there’s much more of a public sector. Whereas here [Saigon] it's a lot of teachers but also a lot more private sector, multinational manufacturing types and then a lot of other areas.
I guess when you think of expat — and maybe it's just me — but you think of Western foreigners. Whereas I think Korean and Japanese are actually the two biggest expat communities here, so they’re really prominent. There are a lot of Japanese restaurants — especially here in Saigon — a lot of Japanese and Korean markets and places to eat.
TGC: That's awesome. You said you also covered a lot of lifestyle in your writing. From what I understand, would that kind of writing happen to teeter on the side of tourism? I understand that tourism is a crucial part of the Vietnamese economy.
MT: Yeah, a decent amount. I mean some resort reviews or restaurant review type stuff and I mean I pay a fair amount of attention to those sectors because I find it interesting and it's good to be able to recommend places to people and ultimately find new places to go visit. So yeah, I mean, I definitely keep an eye on it.
TGC: Sure, definitely. So I guess a more recent topic would be the Tet holiday, which ended last week. Maybe for some of our readers who aren't familiar with the kind of customs and background behind this holiday, would you provide some perspective on what Tet is and then what the holiday would normally look like in non-COVID times.
MT: Yeah, Tet is the Lunar New Year. Sometimes you'll see it referred to as the Chinese New Year, which is generally inaccurate. I mean certainly in China, it's called that. But, a lot of other countries celebrate generally between the January-February time frame. It’s not always the same thing every year because it depends on the Lunar calendar. Since I'm not Vietnamese, I'm not the best to speak to the exact traditions but basically it’s by far the biggest holiday of the year.
It’s basically New Year's. To Westernize it, it’s almost like Christmas, New Year's, and almost all the major holidays rolled into one. So the country doesn’t totally shut down but definitely slows down a lot for about a week to 10 days. I went back to work that Wednesday of February 16th, but a lot of people were off into the following week.
Generally it's two weeks for the most part and even in those two or three weeks leading up to it, it can be tough if you need to talk to people for work or schedule something because everything just gets pushed until after it's over. It's a little charming but it can also be very frustrating if you need to get stuff done.
Generally, in non-covid times, it's a big family holiday so multiple generations will get together. If some people are working in another city, they’ll go visit their hometown or home province where their parents or grandparents are -- multi-generational families. There's traditions on each given day of the calendar -- like on New Year's Day your family goes to -- and I can't remember if it's the maternal or paternal side of the family -- but there are specific parts of the family you're supposed to go visit first.
There's a day for cleaning the house, there's a day for cooking specific types of food -- all of those sorts of things. It’s just the biggest of the year for families to be able to spend time together and just eat, drink and not have to worry about work.
TGC: Ha! That sounds fun.
MT: Yeah, and generally there's a big exodus, especially from cities like Ho Chi Minh City because it's -- and I'm sure we'll get to this -- not just a huge economy, but by far the biggest city-economy in the country.
There's a lot of Migrant workers, especially in the Mekong Delta. So around Tet, the city kind of empties out, especially around the industrial factory areas because people are going back to their various home provinces.
Normally, Saigon is really busy: Tons of traffic. You know, if you've seen any photos or videos, or have ever been here, you probably already know that. And then for 10 to 14 days, it's really nice and quiet.
TGC: That's awesome. That's good stuff.
I guess, during this time frame, but maybe not this year, would Vietnamese expats located overseas in other parts of Asia or Europe, I assume they’re also coming back?
MT: Yeah. Yeah, well not this year, but normally there's huge crowds at the airport to welcome family members. Entire generations of families will come to the airport to pick people up. There have actually been certain times where they’ve tried to crack down on it before because there'll just be hundreds and hundreds of people outside the gate.
But yeah, this year there were actually photos from one of the local news sources of the international airport being completely empty, which is a strange sight any day but especially around Tet.
TGC: Yeah, definitely definitely. Yeah, so I guess a good opportunity to segue into Vietnam’s overall covid response. At least up until a few weeks back, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but Vietnam had one of the best if not the best response to covid across the world. Something like 35 cases up until February 2021?
MT: Well — 35 deaths but still under 2,000 cases up until this most recent outbreak. I think up until recently that figure -- over half had been imported and quarantined on arrival. Currently, I think it's around 2,500 cases now because of the new outbreak, but of course that's still really really low on a global scale.
TGC: Yeah. Absolutely. So I'm curious to know, in your perspective, what was life like under those conditions? Were you able to go out at all?
MT: So from last February, I mean it started hitting during the last Tet, so February of 2020. It was taken very seriously from the start. You know, the government has taken a swift approach, some people would maybe consider it overly aggressive, but I think the results speak for themselves.
In March and April, over a three or four week span last year, there were a lot of cases in the community. That was when they did the national -- they didn't call it a lockdown but a “social distancing order”. So non-essential businesses closed and domestic travel was cut off. When it started, there were concerns about how much you'll be able to do outside, but I was able to go for runs, walk the dogs, supermarkets were still open and you could go to supermarkets. That was completely fine. In the afternoon, around sunset and when the heat wasn't as bad, there would be a lot of people outside exercising.
There was nothing like what you've heard about in countries like Italy, or places where they had these really hard lockdowns where you're only allowed to go to the store once a day or every other day or something like that and then we came out of that and had about three months with no cases.
I mean, this was when the borders were completely closed and nobody was coming in with any cases or any known cases at least. There was a Danang outbreak in July-August and Danang was actually put under a hard lockdown which was just the city, but we got out of that. Now this most recent outbreak which has been largely concentrated in one Northern Province so bars, karaoke, nightclubs and gyms are closed here in Saigon right now, frustratingly. They've been closed since before Tet but we haven't had any new cases here in Saigon in over two weeks so we're hoping that changes soon. But yeah, by and large other than like whenever there's a new flare up, they'll maybe close some businesses, but otherwise you're still free to move about like we can still fly around the country and that sort of stuff.
So the nationwide social distancing in March and April, that was the only time nationally things were shut down. .
TGC: Okay, gotcha. So would it be fair to say that if haven’t been infected or haven’t been near someone who’s been infected, life is fairly normal?
MT: Yeah, we have some friends who live in apartment buildings who have had to go into quarantine or get tested just because of the cases that popped up in their building. But my fiancee is also American so we live in a house just the two of us and we've never been tested, never have had to be tested. We essentially had no interaction with officialdom in any way.
I mean when you travel now to have to fill out a health declaration form, but those are quite simple. Other than temperature checks or wearing masks. Of course, we've been able to travel domestically pretty freely and went to the movie theater a couple times last year. It’s like in the U.S., there's not much coming out in theaters but we were able to go see the new Christopher Nolan movie. We were going to restaurants, going to bars, when they were open.
Compared to my friends in the States, it’s been shockingly normal at times.
TGC: Okay, that's interesting how you brought up the Christopher Nolan movie. I'm curious to know of the pop culture scene in Vietnam. Is it pretty diverse or is it more centered towards a regional or domestic audience?
MT: American pop culture is huge, as with most places, you know. Music, movies, TV shows -- In normal times, there are always articles and local media coverage about how much money Hollywood movies, you know like a new Fast and Furious or whatever, makes compared to any Vietnamese movie. Granted, there’s a big difference in quality.
Also Kpop is huge. Given the contentious relationship with China, there's some Chinese pop culture, but not very much.
And again there is a domestic movie, music and TV industry and those are all quite popular. Also, I think a lot of younger people really enjoy the domestic stuff but they’ll also gravitate towards Marvel, Taylor Swift or whatever is also popular in the States at the moment.
Definitely. Okay, gotcha. I want to circle back to your comment about Vietnam’s contentious relationship with China. Is that attitude mainly held towards the Chinese government or is a deeper cultural clash?
MT: Yeah, it's pretty deep seated. I mean, it runs back centuries, really. There isn’t blatant discrimination or anything. There are a lot of Chinese investors here, as it's a border country and there's a lot of big economic partnerships.
There were some issues when the pandemic first started. I saw a couple signs on businesses here in Saigon that read “No Chinese” but that kind of stuff faded pretty quickly.
I think if your average Vietnamese person met a Chinese person, they wouldn't be openly hostile but they're quite hostile to the country as a whole. Given the events in the South China Sea, people are just not fans of China at all.
TGC: Yeah, I guess it makes sense in the context of history.
MT: Yeah and they don’t trust Chinese products or any stuff that's made in China.
TGC: That is a really interesting perspective.
I'm not sure if this is something you’ve come across over the past year or so, but there has been a theme of multinational companies shifting their supply chains out of China into countries like Vietnam. Have you had any first-hand experience in witnessing this transition? Particularly in Saigon?
MT: Yeah, not exactly firsthand but it’s certainly been pretty steadily in the news. American companies like Apple have been shifting production here. I think Google has either produced here already, or has plans to produce more here in the future.
But yeah, Japan and South Korea, who also have their own contentious histories with China, already have big communities, big investment, and they help with a lot of infrastructure. They’re received in a much more positive light than China.
So it kind of works well for all parties. Korea and Japan are happy to come to a country that can absorb more investment and their images are pretty positive so yeah, I think all three parties are happy for that to continue.
TGC: Okay, got it. Now, from what I understand, Vietnam operates under a Communist economic system...
MT: By title, yeah.
TGC: Okay. So yeah, I'm kind of curious to know how Vietnam’s system might influence foreign direct investment through, say, opening up a factory for a multinational corporation.
MT: I can’t speak on specifics but the government is very open to, and they’ve made it very clear, that foreign investment and manufacturing is a major initiative. The government has been championing all of the production shift and is trying to streamline this through red tape and those sorts of things. They’re dead set on keeping the economy [growing]. The economy was actually one of three economies that grew across the free world. That’s all economic expansion and they really want to continue that.
Of course there are questions about the long-term sustainability of manufacturing. We've kind of seen a race to the bottom of various industries and that'll continue as Vietnam kind of gets more expensive to manufacture in. But right now, it’s in a good position. I don’t know if it’d depend on the industry but there is a big focus on high-tech because businesses see that as a way to get a leg up in terms of providing value and also training for their employees.
I don’t know how easy it actually is, but the country is certainly open for investment.
TGC: Sure. Okay, I wanted to dig deeper on the “communist by name only” feature of Vietnam. Have you come across anything in your experience that is starkly unique relative to say, the United States? Perhaps you’ve seen a difference in product selection or friction in commerce?
MT: The experience of course can be different because of a much different culture and country. But, I honestly think that Vietnam is more capitalistic than the States. Maybe not the government, but I think the people are incredibly entrepreneurial. They’re very quick to pick up new trends, new technologies-- It can be quite cutthroat within Southeast Asia. I hope I don't speak out of line here, but I think the Vietnamese now are known for being really business savvy and also quick to take advantage of you if they see an opportunity.
TGC: Ha, of course.
MT: Of course, this is a generalization. But I’d say there is a lot of business savvy and any time there's an opportunity to make money, people will jump on that.
TGC: Got you. In that same vein, I understand there is a little bit of a startup scene in the Ho Chi Minh City area. Could you provide some perspective on some of the hottest startups in Vietnam, specifically in Ho Chi Minh that you think may have some larger impact on countries outside of Vietnam in the future?
MT: That's a real challenge for Vietnam. The government has said how Vietnam doesn't have any unicorns yet and they compare it to Indonesia, Malaysia, and of course Singapore, which is much more advanced. I think all three of those countries have multiple -- at least Indonesia and Singapore do -- have multiple, homegrown unicorns.
Vietnam hasn't even gotten close. Yeah so a lot of startups and I guess this may be gradually transitioning but up until recently a lot of entrepreneurs would come because Vietnam is good at Tech education. There's a lot of good coders and developers so it was almost like a base for affordable back-end development and not so much creating actual products.
That's changing. There are people focusing on that, more Vietnamese getting into it, but in terms of moving outside of the country -- there's probably a couple I’m not thinking of at the moment -- But I don't know of anything that seems like it's really gonna jump out -- even regionally-- like Grab, or Gojek, let alone internationally.
It’s just a young market. They'll probably get there quite fast once it starts happening but it's really only been within, maybe, the last five to eight years that it's started to take off.
TGC: Of course. That makes sense. Has there been any sort of catalyst that has sparked that that boom in startups? Maybe a government-led initiative or has it sort of naturally occurred?
MT: Hm... I'm not sure to be honest. There are a fair number of accelerators and incubators, both private and state funded. But I’m not 100 percent sure to be honest, there's a mix of different funding sources.
TGC: Okay gotcha. I assume a lot of these entrepreneurs are coming back to Vietnam as an expat in say, the U.S., or Japan, or China, or Singapore, and then coming home with their technology and saying, “Hey, I want to launch this business in Vietnam specifically.”
MT: Yeah, it's a mix. Some foreigners are moving here to do it. There's a lot of Vietnamese people overseas, especially Vietnamese Americans, who have come back.
There's a lot of a lot of Vietnamese-Americans from California here who work at startups or pursue entrepreneurship. Vietnamese who would go overseas for three or four years to study in the States, Australia or the UK maybe 10-15 years ago would have wanted to stay over there and settle down. But now, with the opportunities they are seeing here, they're coming back and utilizing what they've learned in the West and trying to do stuff here with that.
TGC: Sure, definitely. And you said you arrived in Vietnam in 2010?
TGC: So since you've arrived there, have you seen a serious, tangible difference in the development of Saigon and the surrounding area?
MT: Oh, yeah. Throughout the country certainly, but since I've been here the most, I’ll sometimes go back and look at pictures that I took when I moved here. Granted, I was a crappy photographer back then but sometimes I can't even tell where they were compared to now.
There are a lot of new urban areas, new highways. When I moved here, what was then going to be the tallest skyscraper in the city wasn't finished yet. Now that's obviously been done for years and has been overtaken by another one. That one I think that’s the 14th tallest building in the world.
So purely in skyline changes -- Yeah -- it's crazy how much it's changed and expanded both vertically and horizontally. And then, also, the more cosmopolitan food and beverage scene and all that. So yes, very dramatic changes.
TGC: Sure, definitely, that’s great.
So, to follow up on the food and beverage scene in Saigon: If you were to recommend several good places for people who are looking to visit, what places are on the top of your mind?
MT: Well, I also love street food. Pho is kind of stereotypical but I think my favorite is that Pho Le. I also love a dish called Bún thịt nướng -- it's like vermicelli noodles with grilled pork and herbs and stuff like that. That's there.
There's a place called, I can send you the spelling but, Chi Tuyen in District One. International-- again, the Japanese food here is pretty spectacular. I've only been to Japan once and I guess it's better there, but it's like it's not far off!
There's a Omakase sushi restaurant called something like Sushi Sake Kyoto, that's really really good. It's kind of pricey for here, but I’m sure it would be hundreds of dollars in the US or Japan. Yeah, and it’s, you know, $70 here for the set menu...
I’m leaving off a million places-- but yeah, there’s a lot of good, wide variety of food. The Craft Beer scene has also taken in the last five years, which is interesting. So yeah, a lot going on.
TGC: I think it might’ve been an article you shared but I saw that one of the Vietnamese craft breweries made a line of beers named after the contested islands in the South China Sea.
MT: Yeah they were named after the Vietnamese names for the contested islands claimed by China. To give you a sense for how people feel about China, they were flying off the shelves. It was just purely patriotism, or I guess nationalism if you want to look at it that way, but yeah, those were really popular because they were seen as a dig at China and people wanted to be patriotic about it.
TGC: Haha. That's fun. That’s a cool story.
Recently, I've noticed that you've written a lot about the whole clean energy transition in Vietnam. Vietnam, from our perspective, has moved much slower in terms of transitioning towards the green energy future. I’m curious to know if you wanted to elaborate on Vietnam's progress as well as any major hiccups that have come up along the way.
MT: Yeah. So I think up until a couple years ago, they were definitely lagging and then the government brought in a new feed-in tariff for solar that has just absolutely exploded. It went from -- I don't have the numbers off the top of my head -- but went from very little to what I think is now the largest solar capacity in Southeast Asia.
Wind has grown pretty quickly as well, but this has created problems because they haven't upgraded the grid at the same time, and I’m talking to you from Texas --
TGC: Haha, yeah. I’ve heard far too much about power grids in the last few weeks.
MT: So yeah, a lot of solar has been installed in just a couple of provinces on the South Central Coast that get a ton of sun, so that’s very advantageous. But the technology is, A) A employee's ability to handle all their capacity when it's going at midday and has also shifted to Hanoi up North or even down here in Saigon which is not all that far.
There's been stories recently about EVN, the State electricity monopoly, who is going to cut solar production pretty substantially this year because the grids just can't handle all of it. So, the producers are going to lose money and that may dissuade potential investors, but we’ll see how it plays out.
There's a lot of wind in the pipeline as well. But, it’s kind of a similar problem. It works really well when it's windy, but they don't have a way to store it or transmit it away from the wind farms. Frustratingly, I see more talk about trying to build more thermal power plants instead of investing in upgrading the grid. I know it's expensive and I'm sure there are technical parts of it which are hard, but I’m sure if they upgraded the grid and worked on storage, that would facilitate more investment.
From my understanding is that the existing thermal and hydropower they have in place, and what's coming in terms of solar and wind, they basically have what they need in terms of the power that could be there. It’s just a matter of being able to properly use it.
There was a story last week, I think another Province approved like a $2 billion thermal power plant to be completed in 2028 but a lot of other thermal project projects are very delayed. European financiers are pulling out, some Korean, Japanese financiers are pulling out, leaving just some Chinese companies that are still willing to do it. Even then, they are running into problems.
There are environmental NGOs here that are really against any further coal development, I think, for good reason.
There’s a pretty big debate going on about what to do about power over the next decade because it's going to be a pretty pivotal period. If they really really go in on more thermal, then that is going to be really bad for their emissions pledges. A lot of international investors are committed to their own emissions pledges so yeah, if Vietnam doesn't go greener than that could be an issue as well.
TGC: For sure. Yeah, especially because I've been noticing a lot of your tweets about the air quality in certain cities like Hanoi and it's probably in the best interests of legislators to clear up the air.
MT: That’s an interesting one because the government has been reluctant to blame that on thermal power. I'm not saying that's the only thing causing it, there are certainly vehicle emissions and stuff like that, but they've been really hesitant to put even any of the blame on power generation, which is interesting.
TGC: Yeah, for sure, for sure. You mentioned the state media and I'm kind of curious to know or hear more of your perspective on the state in Vietnam and how it intertwines with business and independent journalism, things along those lines.
I understand that they recently held the National Congress at the beginning of last month. What do you think this means for the future of Vietnam? What changes might the new administration bring in?
MT: I actually found that whole thing to be quite boring. But I mean, that’s kind of by design. A lot of it is predetermined and nobody has any say in it. Generally, there is of course, jockeying for position, but by and large there might be some differences but we basically have a sense of what direction things are going to go in.
It’s obviously unlike the States where the difference between a Trump Administration and a Biden Administration is massive.
Of course. It's important who's in charge, but given what we've seen the last five years, I would expect to, by and large, continue. You know, welcoming foreign investment, trying to push more Vietnamese manufacturing and products. Homegrown stuff to go abroad, a general sense of foreign policy -- Of course there can be some changes of some sort but I think the overarching trend we've seen in the last few years will more or less continue.
TGC: To continue on that, I was reading sometime last Fall about Facebook’s role in the Vietnamese economy. I recall a large debate about how the Vietnamese government threatened to ban the platform. I’d be curious to know what you think this demonstrates about Vietnam’s business environment, particularly in a sector such as media.
MT: In terms of the threat to ban it, I understand why they may say that. But I don’t think they ever admitted to threatening a ban. If that were to happen, I would be really shocked. It would be devastating to a lot of small businesses here.
A lot of places basically or almost operate solely through Facebook or Instagram. A lot of places don't have brick and mortar, and even if they do, that may be the main way they operate or communicate with customers
It's certainly a big topic of debate because people in theory can say whatever they want, and the government is not always happy about that. That’ll certainly be one interesting thing to see what the new leadership does with how they interact with Facebook moving forward and YouTube as well. We've already seen plenty of reporting that Facebook has agreed to censor more stuff. They’ve obviously been criticized for this, but we’ll see where else the line is drawn.
This is a big ad market for them, even though they don’t have an office here. Social media and where Vietnamese people are able to express themselves moving forward will continue to be a really interesting topic to follow.
TGC: Yeah, definitely. In terms of the general Vietnamese business environment, I understand that VIN Group is kind of like an omnipresent conglomerate. I’d be curious to know from a local’s perspective, how prevalent are they really and what kind of role do they serve in the Vietnamese economy?
MT: They’re a fascinating corporation. At this point, it’s private but it's clear at this point that they are boosted by the government regularly. When they launched their car factory a couple of years ago, the prime minister went to the factory opening.
They're clearly being pushed as Vietnam’s “Samsung” or something like that. Kind of like Vietnam’s first, world-class, multi-industry corporation. They already sell smartphones overseas, but now they want to sell cars overseas as well. They're pretty omnipresent, certainly in a big city. That huge skyscraper I mentioned a few minutes ago, they built that near a few housing developments. Their buildings are all over the place, they have convenience stores. Their cars and motorbikes are becoming more prominent.
I think they're building TVs as well. I haven't really seen those but I'm assuming they're being sold in some numbers. They have huge resorts, tourism properties. They used to be just real estate, but they’re pivoting more into high-tech and Manufacturing. They’re big and they just keep growing.
TGC: Does that trickle down to a lot of employment? Have you come across a lot of people who are employed by VinGroup?
MT: Well, that's what I've joked with some friends -- like this company is everywhere and I've never met a single person who works for them. They exist, of course, but I don’t really know where they are.
TGC: Haha, I guess they're pretty domestic in that sense. You did mention they were looking to expand internationally, but they seem domestic as their operations primarily serve the Vietnamese people.
MT: So yeah, the two international facing ones are VinFast, the car/motor bike company who hired, I think, a former executive of GM or Ford -- One of the big American companies. They brought in a lot of international expertise for that.
Then there’s VinSmart, the smartphone, TV and other electronics company. Those are the two businesses with the most International focused and moving fast. They're really really pushing to sell electric cars in the States and Europe within maybe the next year? Year and a half? Maybe they’ll make it happen? I’m really interested to see how because they’re pretty dominant here. But they’re also pretty connected so they can kind of do what they want. Whereas it's going to be a lot different when they try going into a market like the US with a really highly developed car market.
TGC: Yeah, for sure for sure. No, it's interesting. I guess there's no better time than now to capitalize upon the electric car movement though, right?
MT: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I just have no idea how they're going to be received. I know when Hyundai and Kia went to the States, it took them quite a while to catch on and not be seen as just some cheap economy car. So we'll see what people think of the cars from Vietnam.
TGC: Of course, that makes a ton of sense. That’s about it for me on questions.
Again, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to speak with me and walk us through your Vietnamese experience. Is there anything that you're working on now that you’d like to share with my audience if they want to keep following your work?
MT: I've got a few stories in progress. I don't know when they'll come out.
I guess the main regular thing is my newsletter: Vietnam Weekly. It’s on Substack, which, if you follow media, you’ve probably heard a lot about recently.
So https://vietnamweekly.substack.com/. There's a free version that goes out every Friday.
Then there's a paid version for $5/month where I send out a couple full articles a month. I’m also hoping to launch some more interviews with that soon as well.
So again the main thing I can plug is Vietnam Weekly. I cover the big stories such as covid and also then try to do some more under the radar stuff that, I suppose if you're overseas, you might you might miss just because it's not getting covered as much.
TGC: There are great dog photos as well. I've been loving all the dogs.
MT: Yeah. Everyone likes that.
TGC: What's the name of your dog?
MT: Her name is Nusha
TGC: Nusha. Okay. That's a beautiful dog.
Well unless there’s anything else you want to share, thank you again for your time and I look forward to following more of your work!
MT: Thanks Tom.