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We ended our day by going to a Vietnamese karaoke bar. There are no such bars in India though I hear that of late someone has started one, just one, in New Delhi. Karaoke bars have existed in many parts of the world for decades but I had never visited one before. I had to come to Hanoi to see one. There was a Japanese karaoke bar in my hotel, but since it was Japan specific I wasn’t so interested in going there. The bar Amy took me to was a typical Vietnamese affair with a great selection of Vietnamese, English and Korean songs. Vietnamese don’t understand the Korean language but love the music. Amy explained to the manager that we didn’t actually want to book a room; it was just for me to get a feel of it
The staff managed to find English songs we were looking for. I started to understand why karaoke worked, and was so popular all over the region. During my travels in Cambodia I saw a proliferation of karaoke bars there as well. It’s hugely popular in Japan. I read once about a Japanese billionaire who insisted all his employees came to his house over the weekend to do karaoke.
When you rent a couple of hours in a Karaoke bar, you get a microphone and the illusion that you are singing in a professional manner. You have all your friends with you in a private room, and you are all each other’s audience. Sure, the entire thing can be done in someone’s house, but most people don’t have the money and space inside their residence to put up a big screen and get so much music. Here, it is the staff at the bar brings out the drinks and the snacks. No one person at the party is bothered. There are some rich people who can have a karaoke bar in their house, but those are exceptional cases. Certainly it would be outside the budget of most students. They can do their own thing this way – and not disturb the rest of the family.
Amy sang: ‘It’s so hard to be sorry...’
There is common ground in the problems that India and Vietnam face currently even though their political systems are so very different. Both countries face huge problems with corruption. In India we have had problems of governance for many years now. In Hanoi too, among the local population you hear frequent comments about how the government did not spend wisely. So much was being spent on the upcoming Tet festivities; it was pointed out to me, by more than one Vietnamese and comparatively less on education and hospitals. In Hanoi students told me about how they fear the policeman, even the traffic policeman. In India too the policemen is not as yet a figure that inspires confidence or trust.
Relative to India there is far greater fear of the government and its instrumentalities, particularly the army and the police in Vietnam. During the time I was in Hanoi, I did see at least one peaceful demonstration, this from a group mostly of women claiming that they had not received enough compensation for land which the government had acquired. Protests are common in India, but in Vietnam this is a rare event. Social media is freeing up the minds of young people and one never knows what the future holds. It needs sagacious leadership to steer Vietnam in the direction of growth and better governance.
Seen from a foreign policy perspective, there are good reasons for India to be friendly with Vietnam. If China can make overtures of friendship to India’s immediate neighbours, there is absolutely no reason why we should not do the same. In any case
India should have a friendly attitude towards other Asian countries generally speaking. It is also in Vietnam’s interest to cultivate friendship with India as an important power in Asia and if coupled with Japan as some kind of a collective counterweight to China. As a matter of fact as far back as 1954, when an international agreement was signed between France and the People’s Army of Vietnam on the cessation of hostilities, it was India that became the the consensus candidate to chair the International Commission that would monitor the cease fire.