HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - Chau Linh Uyen was playing in front of her primary school in Ho Chi Minh City two months ago when she touched a cash machine a few feet from the front gate.
In a flash, as more than 100 volts coursed through her small body, the 10-year-old fourth grader foamed at the mouth and lost consciousness. She died within minutes.
The accident, caused by a state bank's ATM that wasn't properly grounded, was hardly a fluke. An investigation a few days later found that 121 of the city's 866 cash machines were leaking electricity through their keyboards and other surfaces, many at potentially fatal levels.
As communist Vietnam embraces consumerism and the middle-class dream, more citizens are questioning the shoddy construction and slapdash power system accompanying its headlong rush into the future and lamenting a lost sense of integrity.
"If you bring me these new gadgets related to modern life, that's supposed to mean everything is safe," said Chi Mai, a writer. "No one thought ATM machines would kill people. Suddenly you feel, 'Oh, my God, this could happen to me.' "
The girl's death is the latest in a string of fatal accidents. In April 2009, a woman was sitting in traffic in Ho Chi Minh City when a power line fell on her. She died instantly.
In August, a 13-year-old boy rode his bike through a puddle after a heavy rain and was electrocuted by a faulty lamppost. And a month later, a 10-year-old boy was electrocuted while playing soccer in the rain near faulty underground power lines.
The government has promised to beef up safety standards in an effort to reduce what the Ministry of Industry and Trade estimates are 450 to 500 electrocutions each year.
However, the deadly shocks don't seem to be diminishing the appetite for modern appliances.
At the mammoth Nguyen Kim Electronics Superstore in the city center, electronics pulsate behind several giant "money god" statues on three floors as a legion of blue-vested clerks stalks customers. Nguyen Van Toan, 56, a garment factory engineer, stopped for a rest near the escalator, briefly stalled by sensory overload during his search for a 37-inch TV.
"I've got a 29-inch model but need something bigger," he said. "Sure, I'm concerned about the electricity and the ATM case. But our house hasn't had any shocks yet, so basically life is pretty good."
Part of this willingness to accept the bad with the good may reflect the lightning pace of change, social observers say. For a nation that barely had electricity two decades ago, a relatively low number of deaths may be an acceptable price for such progress.
Over the last 10 years, Vietnam's average economic growth has topped 7 percent annually, while the proportion of those living in poverty has fallen to 11 percent of the nation's 86 million people last year from 58 percent in 1993. Per capita yearly income is about $1,000, up from $400 in 2000.
"Things are moving so fast, the sociologists can't keep up," journalist Lan Anh Nguyen said.
Phan An is a case in point. The 26-year-old freelance IT consultant and five siblings grew up in Danang without electricity or running water, took baths in flooded rice fields, and read by oil lamp, sleeping with the rest of the family in a single room and walking three miles to school.
Nowadays Phan sits at his computer listening to digital music files in a building on land that was a field a few years back. The two-room apartment he shares with a friend is stuffed with a fan, a washing machine, a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, and an electric guitar.
The way Phan sees it, the ATM electrocution is a tragedy, but the real problem runs deeper: a corrupt system that isn't safeguarding its citizens or giving them enough voice in how society should be organized.
"The ATM death, the boy in the puddle, these are symptoms of a system that isn't working," he said.