Example essay

Essay of the Weekend: Money in a Vietnamese Household

Earlier this year, I wrote about the performance of Islamic mutual funds in the third quarter of 2021.

To learn more about this specific investment area, I spoke to TAM Asset Management’s chief investment officer, James Penny, who told me, “Many Muslim investors still invest in real estate, physical gold or off-market assets. It’s what their parents did before them, so they see a certain security in it.

Now, I have no Muslim background, but it felt oddly familiar.

Although my name doesn’t really indicate it (it could hardly sound more French), I was in fact born and raised in a bi-cultural and also bi-racial household by a French father and a Vietnamese mother.

Referring to the Indochina War, a very subtle former colleague in France summed up my situation as being “on both sides of the machine gun”.

My background is important to me, but I rarely talk about it. I just think it’s nobody’s business. It is neither a badge of honor nor a cause of shame.

Moreover, the Vietnamese minority in the UK is very small. Let’s be honest, it’s a negligible amount. It is useless to discuss it.

I’m making an exception today because at some point you’ve run out of ideas for these Weekend Essays.

That’s enough of a digression, let’s talk about money.

The reason why this description of Muslim investors touches us so much is because that is also what Vietnamese immigrants do.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that there have been different waves and different types of Vietnamese immigration.

My experience as a by-product of the wave of political refugees from the defunct Republic of South Vietnam differs from someone’s experience of North Vietnamese immigration to former Warsaw Pact countries for example.

We differ greatly, from how we use money to the flag we use to represent ourselves.

I’ve heard stories about buying physical gold and how it’s the only asset you can trust all my life. There are historical reasons for this.

As the capital of South Vietnam was on the verge of falling to the Communist North, the local currency, the South Vietnamese đồng, collapsed. Gold has become a safe haven currency.

I guess it’s comparable to how people living in countries in the throes of economic collapse buy cryptocurrencies these days.

Moreover, gold found another use in later years.

The American embargo, the strict “communist” management and the third Indochina war which opposes Vietnam to China and Cambodia bring the country to its knees economically.

As everything was rationed, my family told me how gold became currency to buy additional essentials like food on the black market.

Moreover, gold was the means to buy its place on a boat to flee the country.

I guess those are the reasons why my parents’ generation tends to trust gold. He has proven his reliability to them in the past.

Interestingly, gold remains a popular investment in Vietnam even today. In 2015, Vietnam was the seventh country in the world with the highest demand for gold according to the World Gold Council.

When Covid started and an economic collapse seemed likely, gold was the first thing on my mind, not cryptocurrencies or stocks. I then realized that I didn’t have any money to pay either anyway.

This is perhaps one of the traits that has been passed down from one generation to the next.

Physical gold is also tangible. You can see it and touch it. It makes a big difference to a stock or fund investment, which are ultimately just pieces of paper.

As for gold, real estate is a form of investment you can see and touch. While it may not be the asset that will maximize your returns, its physical existence makes it reassuring.

A document written in a language you may not speak well and filled with more technical words is not a very attractive offer.

I came across some Vietnamese immigrants in France who, after having managed to rebuild their lives and get rich, invested in real estate.

Did they own stocks or did they have money in a fund? I don’t know, but if they did, that’s not what they bragged about.

Learning more about Islamic investing, why the concept was created and who it is for, made me realize how increasingly tailored investment proposals are becoming.

In a way, this shows how nimble and adaptable capitalism and the investment industry are.

Although the purpose of investing is to generate returns, we all have causes or problems at heart. The world is full of imperfections that we yearn to correct.

These may be environmental issues, other social causes or good governance practices, for example. ESG has certainly opened Pandora’s box.

I don’t think it’s always possible to reconcile financial returns and solve a problem.

As Charles Bukowski once wrote, “You start saving the world by saving one man at a time; all the rest is grandiose or political romanticism.

But when it is possible to kill two birds with one stone, why not seize this opportunity?

Although I cover funds and the asset management industry, I actually have £0 invested in anything.

But if I were to invest money in a fund to have an impact, I know precisely what my cause would be.

I would like my money to be invested in emerging markets and, more specifically, in Vietnamese companies.

The reason why I would like to support the Vietnamese economy and development is that a strong and resilient economy is the only way to allow everyone to live in decent conditions.

I still think of the 39 stowaways who died in the trailer of an articulated refrigerated lorry in Essex in 2019.

Stories of Vietnamese workers who died at their workplace in Japan are also not uncommon in international media.

No one should have to put their life on the line in the vague hope of a better future in a distant country.

A bitter truth about many foreign-born Vietnamese, myself included, is that you grow up with an inferiority complex towards more developed Asian nations. We don’t play in the same league, and we know it.

Given my (lack of) wealth, my contribution would be just a drop in the ocean.

I’m obviously not going to be the mainstay of what may one day be the Vietnamese equivalents of Japanese keiretsu or South Korean chaebol.

The South Koreans had “the miracle of the Han River” in the second half of the 20and century. If we ever have a miracle on the Red River, I hope I have contributed, however modestly.

If you look hard, you will always find a weak point to entice someone to invest their money.


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