IF AMERICAN capitalists want to take a look at what bustling commerce really looks like, they should head to Communist Vietnam.
Imagine the Delaware River with container ships docked from Penn Treaty Park down to the Navy Yard. That's how Haiphong Harbor, which the U.S. once bombed and is now Vietnam's largest port, appears to tourists.
The huge modern cargo cranes that resemble gigantic versions of the red-orange Mark Di Suvero sculpture on the Ben Franklin Parkway disappear into the distance in perfect perspective. They don't seem to be turning any of them into parks or casinos.
The port's hyperactivity was typical of every place my family visited in and around Hanoi on a recent vacation. This is definitely not the Vietnam we geezers remember from watching war footage or from actually slogging through the rice paddies 40 years ago. Most of their 86 million people were born after our military left. For their young, that war is over. WAY over.
Everyone we saw seemed to be busy selling something, transporting something, manufacturing something or cooking and eating something - usually right out on the sidewalks. The streets themselves were abuzz with tides of motorbikes washing through intersections where observance of traffic signals makes Philadelphians seem positively law-abiding. Horns are the navigation instrument of choice.
And if Philadelphia parents wanted to see what urban education looks like where kids come to school on time and pay attention, they, too, should visit third-world Vietnam.
Looking into schoolyards in the early morning, the neatly uniformed children were busy doing exercises (sometimes led by another student), singing or listening to school programs.
Hanoi is built around the 1,000-year-old Temple of Literature and the country's literacy rate is more than 90 percent. Kids who want to get into the few university spots spend Saturdays at special intensive classes to improve their grades in subjects like math and English. According to our guide in a village outside Hanoi, the state doesn't mandate this, their parents do.
Even to a tourist, there are obvious downsides to Vietnam's growth, including pollution, product safety and a one-party political system that, while we were there, handed down a four-year sentence to a journalist for "distorting" the government's carefully-thought-out-and-always-correct policies. Of course, to be fair, no one in Philadelphia seems interested in a two-party political system, either.
Still, Philadelphians should realize how the future is shaping up on the other side of the planet. They are exporting many times more to us than we are exporting to them. It's too late to send our insular City Council over for a reality check, but I'd send as many of our students to visit Asia as we can. They're learning our language, but many of our kids can't even read the labels in their sneakers that say "Made in Vietnam."
The hard work and steady growth of Vietnam will create our children's futures. Our kids might want to prepare for it.