Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Lure of the iDevice

A Vietnamese boy plays with a passenger's iPhone on the Hai Phong to Hanoi train. He was playing "Angry Birds" and from the sounds coming out of the phone, it was not his first time with an iDevice. 

We took the train from Hanoi to Hai Phong yesterday, had lunch in Hai Phong and then rode back to Hanoi. It was a great little day trip. The train leaves from Long Bien Station in Hanoi, crosses the Long Bien Bridge and then rattles onto Hai Phong. It's called an "express" train and it only makes a couple of stops along the way, but it still takes 2 3/4 hours to go 102 kilometers (about 60 miles). 

The Long Bien Bridge is a remarkable structure. It was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the same architect who designed the tower in Paris. Built at the turn of the 20th Century, for a long time it was the only link between Hanoi, the capital (even during colonial times) and Hai Phong, the principal sea port. The bridge was bombed repeatedly during the American War (what the Vietnamese call the Vietnam War) and rebuilt each time. Several of the original spans were completely destroyed by American bombs, but the bridge still has a certain solid grace. 

The boy on the train was entranced by the passenger's iPhone. He crawled over his seat to get to it and the passenger, a Japanese tourist, was very accommodating, letting the youngster play to his heart's content. 

One of the things that surprised me about Vietnam was the absolute mania that surrounds the iPhone and most things Apple. There are stores (stores plural) selling iPhones on every block in the parts of Hanoi we've explored. Pictures of the late Steve Jobs adorn several store fronts. iPads and MacBooks are also for sale in many outlets. The iPhone is clearly the king but the iPad also sells quite well here. Many of the stores also sell Android devices, but Vietnamese prefer the Apple products. That's astounding when you consider how expensive those devices are here relative to what they cost in the US. 

Per capita income in Vietnam is only about $1,200 (US) per year. An iPhone can cost up to six months salary for the average Vietnamese. An iPad costs nine months salary and a Vietnamese would have to put aside every dong he or she makes for at least a year to buy a MacBook. 

There are more photos of the Hai Phong train in my archive and available from ZUMA Press