Thursday, February 20, 2014

Looks like we may have won the war, after all

There are few American men in my age cohort – which I’ll somewhat arbitrarily define as those born between 1944 and 1954 - whose young lives were not effected by Viet Nam. Whether they volunteered (yes, it actually did happen), were drafted, went to Canada, went to jail, got a note from their doctor, were fortunate enough to have asthma, joined the reserves, or somehow managed through sheer luck or their wits to avoid going into the service entirely, the “boys” I grew up with had the prospect of The War looming over them.

Viet Nam loomed for us “girls,” too, since all the “boys” we knew were impacted.

It factored into conversations, debates, life plans.

Whichever way out attitudes leaned, there was a song for it:

On the left, there was War (War, huh, good God. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.). On the opposite end of the spectrum, I give you Sergeant Barry Sadler’s Ballad of the Green Berets. (Fighting soldiers, from the sky; fearless men, who jump and die.)

We read about it in the papers, we saw it in the movies, we watched it on TV. We fought about it with our fathers. We sat on uncomfortable school buses all the way to Washington, DC to protest against it.

So, yes, although I really don’t imagine I’ll ever get there, Viet Nam is in my consciousness and on my small-b bucket list as a place I’d like to visit.

Sure, it’s too far, too hot, too buggy. Still, I would kinda-sorta like to get there some day.

And if I do ever make it to Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, I would definitely consider stopping at the McDonald’s that just opened there.

I’m actually not sure that having a McDonald’s in your country is a good thing, but there is a weird way in which having American fast food announces to the world that, in a perverse kind of way, you’ve arrived. By the way, Viet Nam is the 120th country that the golden arches have arrived at.

The launch in Ho Chi Minh City marked the fast food giant's 10,000th location in Asia and entry into its 120th country.

"Clearly I think there's pent up demand for McDonald's in Vietnam," CEO Don Thompson told Fortune in a telephone interview from Sochi. "It's been on the company's radar screen for a while." (Source: Fortune/CNN blog)

I don’t imagine that, once you get on McDonald’s radar screen, it’s all that easy for you to fall off of, especially since McDonald’s relies on the Rest of the World for 2/3’s of its revenue. (Up from 50% US – 50% ROW since s000.)

I must confess that I do like to see a McDonald’s when on my travels, and will further confess to having stopped in – for fries, at a minimum – to McD’s in Paris, Dublin, Galway, Berlin, and Cracow.

But McDonald’s certainly isn’t our most illustrious or helpful export, even when the menu’s adapted to the local cuisine. As it is for the Ho Chi Mingh store, which features:

…McPork, a new item tailored to the local market that is made with a pork sausage patty on a sesame bun. "We wanted to introduce a pork product because that is the most commonly consumed protein here," says franchisee Henry Nguyen.

Henry Nguyen is not just any old franchisee. He came to the U.S. as a child, when his parents emigrated, and worked at McDonald’s during high school. About a decade ago, re-patted his way back to Vietnam:

…where he's managing general partner of private equity firm IDG Ventures Vietnam and the son-in-law of Vietnam's prime minister.

Nguyen’s c.v. aside, I was wondering what culinary delights McPork might displace if McDonald’s takes hold. In my quest to figure this out, I came across an interesting article on the local cuisine.

You don't have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk.

In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where'd they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten.

…In Da Nang in January, I saw a street-side merchant with bowls full of dead rats for sale -- their fur removed but otherwise intact -- ready to cook.

Last spring, Conservation International reported that several varieties of Vietnamese gibbon, part of the ape family, "are perilously close to extinction" -- all but a few of them already eaten. (Source: Joel Brinkley, in the Chicago Tribune.)

Well, I wouldn’t mind if the Vietnamese turned to McDonald’s instead of dog, or gibbon, but – let’s face it – fewer rats is a good thing, in my book.  As long as I don’t have to eat any of it.

But what if more of the local favorites make their way onto the Ho Chi Minh City McDonald’s?

McDog? McGibbon? Rat McNuggets?

Maybe I’ll just stay home, after all.

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