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Investing in Vietnam: An Unhappy Tale

Updated: May 26, 2020

About 20 minutes outside Ho Chi Minh City I find myself on a highway in the midst of rice fields stretched to the horizon. I'm on my way to the Mekong Delta, another hour or so from here, where I will board a boat. The highway is built up several meters above the land out of necessity. The land is wet and soft, perfect for rice. Not so good for building. Anything concrete requires bringing in sand to compact the earth and build it up around the surrounding wet land.

I notice a round, concrete structure in the distance—an odd view to see in a sea of rice fields. My guide John (Americanized version of Drang) tells me it is the remnants of Happy Land, whose most famous investor is Joe Jackson. That's right, Michael's Dad.

I've been here for only two days, but I already know a Happy Land couldn't survive. The Vietnamese people don't have the money for what would have to be a high admission fee. The location, although 20 minutes from HCM City, is not ideal for the Vietnamese either. It's 20 minutes by fast car. I can't imagine putting my family of four on a motor bike and making the trek out here. I don't think the tourists would do it either.

Joe Jackson pulled out shortly after he learned of the bribery structure in Vietnam. Bribes are roughly one-third the cost of the project, and Joe refused. The project went bankrupt. They managed to bring in the sand to build up the land for the park, forever making those hectares unusable for rice farming. And they managed to build the round concrete Epcot-center-wannabe. But that's it.

And so goes the unhappy tale of Happy Land.

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