Vietnamese traders

If you travel to the Czech Republic by car, the first thing that will strike you as soon as you cross the border is the dozens of stands with clothes and electronics, owned by Vietnamese traders. The stands are literally overflowing with heaps of goods, and Czechs who do not have the money to buy exclusively from expensive boutiques quite often get the bargain they are after from the Vietnamese. When asked how much they earn, Vietnamese traders usually say they earn just enough to get by, adding that those who want to be richer must buy goods in ever greater quantities. However, newspapers carry reports every now and then on huge tax evasion carried out by the Vietnamese, who allegedly declare the worth a pair of jeans as 20 crowns but sell them for 400.

Young Vietnamese began to stream into Czechoslovakia during the communist era, mostly to work in factories and hospitals as support staff. Unlike other nationalities who arrived during Communism, very few Vietnamese chose to study here and most remained for no more than a couple of years. Many returned to live permanently after 1989, bringing their relatives and friends. They claim, only a few have enough money to return home for an annual visit. Costs are high -they have to pay for their stand from which they usual ply their wares, for the hostels where they often stay, their goods and of course they spend a lot on petrol when transporting it. Many of them, although looking relatively young, have children whom they have been forced to leave with grandparents in Vietnam.

It is said that in the Czech Republic, the average income of a Vietnamese trader is around 15,000 crowns - nearly 400 dollars - but back in their home country, they say, a computer specialist earns four times less. Many have married Czech girls and do not plan to return home at all. But most of them continue to send money to Vietnam, which their parents save to buy their children a house after they return home.

Statistics have it that in the year 2000 there were some 25,000 Vietnamese in the Czech Republic with a permanent or a long-term residence permit, which is around 11 percent of all foreigners living here. Amongst themselves, competition is high as they struggle for the most convenient locations and for the best storage places. Quite recently, a large warehouse of Vietnamese goods was burnt down completely in the Prague 4 district. The fire was started deliberately but the perpetrator has never been found. The damage amounted to millions of crowns and most probably the livelihood of several families.

Media reports claim that around 5 percent of the Vietnamese minority live on the edge of law. Blackmail, theft, and even the trafficking in people is allegedly practiced. However, the vast majority are decent traders, selling goods and paying taxes. Well, sometimes I, too, buy things from them. Who could resist when it looks good and costs three times less than anywhere else?