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Vietnam's Contradictions

Courtesy Reuters

NOT A SYNDROME, BUT A COUNTRY

In November, President Clinton will become the first U.S. president to set foot in a unified Vietnam. His visit will finally draw American attention to a country that is vastly different from the one many remember. Contemporary Vietnam is characterized by paradoxes and contradictions. The bustling streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are packed with youth on Honda Dream motorbikes, weaving between the bicycle-taxis and the many peddlers balancing enormous pyramids of vegetables or other wares. The energy is palpable: 60 percent of Vietnam's population is under 30 years of age, and 85 percent is under 40.

But first impressions are often misleading, and appearances frequently deceive. The vibrant and hard-working younger Vietnamese love to congregate at the many "cybercafes" or more modest street-front computer rental shops. But this country of 80 million people -- the 12th most populous in the world -- still has fewer

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