Booming Vietnam's nouveaux riches indulge in luxury

Vietnam's older generation, shaped by the hardships of war, finds itself at odds with younger Vietnamese over the new consumerism.

"Now the younger generation in Vietnam is racing for materialistic enjoyment," said Huu Ngoc, a 90-year-old scholar and author. "Individualism is destroying our cultural identity. We may become richer but lose our soul."

The war generation wasted nothing and always saved for the future, convinced that catastrophe lurked around every corner. But opinion surveys show that the 60% of Vietnamese born after 1975 are very optimistic about the future — and determined to enjoy the here and now.

Van, for example, enjoys pampering herself at the salon with massages and manicures. But she lives in fear that her father, a college professor, will learn about her five Louis Vuitton handbags.

"I can't tell him I have these," she said. "And I would never tell him how much they cost. He would think that I was completely irresponsible."

Van's indulgences are modest compared to those of Vietnam's super elite, who tool around in the ultimate status symbols: a shiny BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

And pay cash.

"In America, you pay in installments," said Nguyen Hoang Trieu, luxury car dealer in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. "Here, you pay all at once, in cash. Sometimes people come in here with $400,000 in a suitcase."

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