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TimePosted 07/06/2008 05:29:00

Spend an evening with John and Jane

“That’s where John McCain was shot down in 1967”, my taxi driver said rather nonchalantly as we weaved our way through Hanoi’s heavy traffic back to the airport. I looked over at the city park and the placid lake into which the next presidential hopeful had plunged in his Skyhawk plane during his 23rd bombing mission over Vietnam. “A large crowd pulled him out and attacked him” the driver continued “and he then spent a month in a local hospital recovering from his wounds before we put him in the Hanoi Hilton for the next five years. Not a good Hilton to choose he added with a grin.”
        I subsequently learned that my driver, now busy avoiding some of the two million motorbikes that clutter Hanoi’s streets, had been a boy scout in the early stages of the Vietnam war, and had seen his leader Ho Chi Minh in the same city, before being conscripted into the Viet Cong army – the VC as he called it – and heading south to fight. He seemed quite proud of his youthful exploits.
      The previous night, I had apparently chosen the same hotel that Jane Fonda, the film actress had used when she came to Hanoi, albeit rather briefly in 1972, to conduct her own personal media campaign to end the Vietnam War.  She may well have done some good, although many years later she apologised on national TV for her naivety in having gone there. I doubt also whether John McCain imprisoned nearby would have agreed with her visit. He was tortured repeatedly throughout his captivity, put in solitary confinement for two years and barely survived.
       Times change of course, and today Ms Fonda now uses her fame and still attractive features to win consumer hearts and minds, selling beauty products on TV, while the slightly older, perhaps more care-worn McCain aims for higher office.
       Back at my chosen hotel, the Metropole, I could, for an extra supplement, have chosen Ms Fonda’s own room, or even John McCain’s suite (he revisited Hanoi as a VIP in the 1990s) but I declined, settling instead for a good meal in the elegant hotel restaurant, surrounded by retired Americans, all elderly prosperous-looking men and their lively talkative wives on a regional Asian tour. Perhaps some of them had also been in Vietnam many years before on military service.

        “Not a lot to do with cement” I hear you say. “If I wanted a travel report, I would have bought the ‘Rough Guide to Vietnam’ or something similar.” But, rest assured, dear reader, I was there for cement research purposes, and for those still with me, I did get to meet up with various local industry specialists, to hear that domestic production was still trying to keep pace with what appears to be an insatiable demand for cement. Furthermore, they stressed, new capacity was still being added as quickly as possible. And better still, the government was at long-last facing up to solving the distribution and logistical problems of moving huge quantities of cement, produced in the limestone rich north, to the big demand centres in the south of the country.
       Because of this long-standing imbalance, clinker imports into southern markets are still unavoidable and amount to around four million tonnes per year, most of which is sourced from neighbouring Thailand and shipped in by relatively small-sized tonnage into Vietnam’s southern ports.
       But with recent inflationary pressures pushing up the imported cost of clinker by over US$10 per tonne over the past twelve months, and with regional prices still moving up quite quickly, plus the fact that the Vietnamese government is clearly becoming paranoid about double figure domestic inflation, there could be trouble ahead for local producers.
      Such developments have at last focused government attention on the urgent necessity to build a dedicated deepwater distribution terminal in the north which will be used to ship down cement to the south, and by doing so eliminate the need for any more expensive clinker imports. Improving logistics and keeping costs down as much as possible is becoming the new watchword for the cement sector.

      But enough, if you want the full story on the Vietnam cement sector, come and join us on the 22-25th June at the Pan Pacific hotel, Singapore, where the first Cemtech Asia conference takes place. Lots of stimulating Asian-focused presentations, good industry debate and even a night out at the legendary Raffles Hotel where the famous writer, Somerset Maugham, stayed and put pen to paper.

     And finally, for those of you with a more adventurous spirit, why not, when the conference ends, make your own trip to nearby Vietnam, then travel north to Hanoi and sample the McCain-Fonda tour. The country has lots to recommend it. But remember, when booking rooms, the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ is no more, and if you still hanker after Barbarella, I believe Jane’s bed at the Metropole will set you back an extra US$100 per night. The John McCain suite at this same hotel? Well go and find out for yourself. You wont regret it.

For Cemtech Asia conference details look for more information on this same website.


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