Just back from two weeks in the U.K., where I attended the annual conference of British ambassadors and visited several U.K. cities with the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesperson, Mrs Nga, and three journalists, Linh, Diand Duc
A great experience with lots of cultural insights – from the first moment of struggling with suitcases on the packed, but silent, London tube at rush hour. As one of the journalists commented, such silence would have been unthinkable in Vietnam
Main impressions? That the global economy will be the overriding priority for my work this year. Unsurprising you may think, but promoting commercial opportunities and free trade will be important for both Vietnam and U.K. given that we are both essentially trading nations who depend on open markets for our prosperity.
Much of my time in London, and elsewhere, was spent talking to British business about their current prospects in Vietnam. There was a pleasing amount of interest – as I think most businesses realize the medium and long-term potential here, even if there will be short-term difficulties like most other places, including in the U.K.
And that was my second big impression – that in a globalized world there are interconnections everywhere, irrespective of location. I was a bit surprised, but perhaps should not have been, by the number of academics I met on my trip with an interest in Vietnam. And they had the widest areas of interest – gerontology (ageing apparently), microbiology, agrarian and social science, medicine, law and business studies, as well as a large number with an interest in Southeast Asian studies. This spanned a number of cities – London (where I met a group of lecturers from around the country), Oxford, Sheffield and Grimsby.
In Oxford, a new Vietnam-U.K. academic network was launched – I attended the launch with my counterpart, Ambassador Hoan. One interesting thing was the number of students living in the U.K. who had one or two Vietnamese parents and who are now trying to strengthen their links with Vietnam. In some cases this meant attempting to regain fluency in Vietnamese. We saw also in Hackney (a London borough) how the local Vietnamese community had organized community schools to teach their young children Vietnamese.
And Grimsby, too, was great. Now I guess that anyone who reads this is likely to be an international expatriate who may not have heard of Grimsby. Certainly I was asked by a few people in the U.K. (some of who should have known better) why we were visiting Grimsby.
Grimsby and the surrounding region is one of the most important sites for ports, seafood and food processing in Europe. As such it has much in common with, and much to offer, Vietnam. My colleagues were very impressed with the fishing heritage museum. We were received with typical hospitality by local business and the Humber Seafood Institute. And we even had a fish and chip lunch before watching Grimsby Town (‘the Mariners’) beat Aldershot 1-0. An important step in their battle for football league survival.
I last watched them 27 years ago, standing next to my grandfather when they were on the verge of entering the old First Division (now the Premier League). I was presented with a shirt signed by the team, which I plan to hang next to the team photo in the Embassy. In return we gave them a Vietnam shirt.
And so back to Hanoi to try to put the business cards and leads in order and organize follow ups. I learn that we are likely to have a visit to Vietnam by a Premier League team in May (watch out for more news). And my son is taking plans forward to study at a Vietnamese university here in Hanoi. Globalization isn’t just a one-way street.