Multicultural Kids to Build Bridges between Taiwan and Vietnam

Multicultural Kids to Build Bridges between Taiwan and Vietnam
Credit: Depositphotos

What you need to know

A generation of Taiwan-born kids with Vietnamese heritage have the potential to deepen and expand bilateral ties.

It has taken me 44 years to get to Vietnam, but at least I am finally here. I wished I had arrived even sooner to witness its rapid transformation. Taiwan was one of the earliest investors in Vietnam, as early as 1988, and is the country's fourth-largest foreign investor. The cab driver who whisked me to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport told me that I was his fifth consecutive fare heading to Vietnam. Now that I am here, I understand all the hullabaloo.

Vietnam has about 95 million people, with a median age of slightly over 30 and an economic growth rate that tops 6 percent per year. Youthful energy is abundantly visible in the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, where I'm staying for three days. My service apartment is situated inside the centrally situated Saigon Centre. I arrived on a Sunday to check in, and witnessed a fervent scene where teenagers, couples, hipsters, and families in their twenties and thirties came out in their best attire and took turns taking pictures all along the window displays and Christmas decorations at the Takeshimaya Department Store.

Credit: Jay Lin
Frolicking outside the Takeshimaya Department Store in Ho Chi Minh.

I have a habit of visiting bookstores when I go into a city to check people's interests; I saw children’s books and toys as well as learning guides on all subject matters displayed front and center. It is indicative of the demographic focus and upward aspirations of the Vietnamese people.

I met up with some friends to ask them what and how they are doing, and most of them are animated and excited about the abundant opportunities. Every single one of them wore many hats; switching between projects in different sectors. For example, one was building a coffee store franchise, designing a fashion label, hosting a cooking show on Youtube, opening a training school … Yes, all that was just one person. Several others were multitasking to similar levels of intensity and diversity. The fact is Vietnam is booming and every business and cultural sector is craving fresh ideas and new visions to appease the insatiable appetite of its growing middle class.

It is exciting to witness as I see many similarities between Taiwan and Vietnam. Both are Confucian, Buddhist cultures — I see Buddha, Guanyin, and assorted religious statues inside businesses, on people’s necks and on key chains. People look physically similar to many Taiwanese, and the Vietnamese language used Chinese characters before replacing it with phonetics and then adopting the Roman alphabet. Scooters abound, just like in most cities in Taiwan.

There are about 30,000 Taiwanese living in Vietnam, and about 6,000 of those are business people. In Taiwan, there are about 300,000 Vietnamese – the largest overseas population of Vietnamese anywhere in the world, according to Tran Duy Hai, Vietnam Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei Representative. A third of those are married to Taiwanese, 180,000 are workers and 5,000 are students. Of those wedded to Taiwanese, many are arranged marriages that took place in the early to mid-2000s. Assuming that many proved fruitful, we should anticipate hundreds of thousands of children potentially equipped with the linguistic and cultural abilities to build bridges of commerce and culture between these two countries.

I say potentially because the children might be in households where both parents have not been lucky enough to receive a high level of education, and the children might not have a structured environment in which to practice and retain their Vietnamese language, outside of speaking at home.

I urge the government to actively cultivate these kids, most of whom are born and raised in Taiwan, so that they obtain the academic and bilingual abilities to succeed in creating bilateral opportunities.

In conversations friends mentioned that many Vietnamese-Americans are returning to start businesses or join the local white-collar workforce; I hope that this future generation of Vietnamese-Taiwanese can do the same. I urge the Taiwanese government and society to actively cultivate these kids, most of whom are born and raised in Taiwan, so that they obtain the academic and bilingual abilities to succeed in creating bilateral opportunities.

The truth is Taiwan needs them. Taiwan has been suffering from economic malaise for a couple of decades now. Unfortunately, for various diplomatic reasons, Taiwan is not integrated into the regional nor international government/supranational networks such as the United Nations, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Taiwan is isolated and disadvantaged; something that can be changed in the short term. This is why it is even more crucial to focus on these 100,000 or so Vietnamese-Taiwanese children, so that they can become adults who take advantage of Vietnam's boom, before sharing economic benefits back to Taiwan.

The primary purpose of my trip is to explore business opportunities. I am not certain if my company’s services and products would thrive here. It is too early to tell. But I do know that I will keep on striving to understand the local market, studying behaviors of target consumers, and analyzing trends in this booming nation. The current Taiwanese administration is constantly talking about and encouraging the business community and society at large to look towards Southeast Asia as potential partners for economic growth, under the Tsai Ying-wen (蔡英文) administration's New Southbound Policy. Yes, many Taiwanese manufacturing companies are already here (bilateral trade stands at about US$12 billion per year), but it is time to think about other sectors: media, tech, culture, entertainment, academics. Let’s cultivate the Taiwanese with Vietnamese heritage to help us expedite this process and build these bridges into solid two-way superhighways.

TNL editor: Morley J Weston