Whenever I travel in Southeast Asia, I'm amazed at how much better the countries of this region have managed their resources and populations than India has. Now I'm one day (and 24 hours in airports and hotel day rooms) into a vacation in Vietnam, and the impression is even stronger.
As far as the global press is concerned, Vietnam is a barely-on-the-radar also ran to India -- which does have a much larger population and thus greater potential as a market. But within five minutes of landing at the airport of Ho Chi Minh City (once Saigon), you can tell that this place has already zoomed past India in terms of quality of life. There's no garbage on the street, no stray animals, and no destitute beggars--hair yellowed with malnutrition--rapping on car windows.
Why's that so? The common argument is that India's population is too great to manage, and that India is "too big" to handle the way the governments of smaller Southeast Asian countries have whipped themselves into shape. But I'm not buying it.
According to a recent NYT article on Vietnam's economy, the country faces a lot of the same problems we see in India. But you don't see it on the roads, buildings and bridges. This could be Bangkok, which might as well be Hong Kong -- though inexperienced Asia hands who live there sometimes complain about the traffic. (Once I heard a guy talking about how it was such a relief to visit HK from Bangkok because the civilized folk of HK wore seatbelts. Move to Singapore, my brother!)
I'm still figuring out the deal as far as India's utter failure to clean up. My guess is that it's rooted in some cultural trait of the overseas Chinese (or the Indians). But I'm certain of two things:
1. India's urban planners (heck, the rural guys, too) ought to get out more. Maybe shame at falling behind countries they consider small backwaters would prompt them to accomplish something... and:
2. Folks who dismiss communism out of hand and cheer democracy (I'm one of 'em most of the time) ought to ponder the contrast among China, India and Vietnam. It certainly looks like the leveling of society (violently, yes) has given the Commies-turned-supercapitalists an advantage in some ways.
Updates will be sporadic, folks. I'm on vacation, after all.