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Countries where anything can be possible

The eyes of our guide in Vietnam glittered with hope when he talked about a high-speed train, which will materialise soon in his country. In contrast, a troupe of Thai reporters joining a vocational field trip listened quietly. They knew that high-speed train projects in Thailand could go down the drain along with the Pheu Thai-led government.

If such infrastructure is an indicator of the wealth of a country, it was a big embarrassment given that Vietnam's per-capita income is just about one-third of Thailand's, at US$1,755 (Bt57,160) against $5,480 in 2012, according to World Bank data.

I was among the Thai reporters heading for Danang, the main destination of our field trip, when we met the guide.

It was beyond my imagination how the city had changed in the past decade. The coastal province now boasts a new reclaimed land area, the location for industrial plants and luxury residences.

Its shipbuilding industry is clearly expanding, with contributions from Russia. Luxury hotels have gone up in this Vietnamese city too.

With a population of just a little over 700,000, Danang is now looking toward the future. Three bridges are under construction. Its newly refurbished airport, which has the country's first Burger King, offers flights to major destinations in the region like Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Vietnamese population is about 90 million. Danang is just one of the future-oriented Vietnamese cites. Development efforts have gone ahead at full steam. In 2005, a new tunnel was opened to provide a convenient link between Danang and Hue, a World Heritage zone. The Hai Van Tunnel is the longest in Southeast Asia, stretching 6.28km.

The tunnel makes it convenient for us to head to the Quang Tri Vocational Secondary School in Quang Tri Province. This school is just about one hour from Hue.

While Quang Tri is even smaller than Danang and Hue, it has developed an efficient human-resource development plan for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) era.

Guided by the Quang Tri City Council's vision, the plan has awarded scholarships to vocational students who from 2004 have had the opportunity to study in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Our group came to Quang Tri to witness the joint development of vocational courses on mechanics and electricity between this Vietnamese city and Thailand. Vietnamese students were clearly keen to take a 75-hour Thai-language course because they believed a good command of Thai would boost their career opportunities, given that a number of Thai investors have already headed to Vietnam.

When the AEC materialises in 2015, their Thai-language knowledge may even pave the way for them to secure a job in Thailand, where wages are higher than those in their homeland.

Their Thai-language skills will also be useful in Laos, where it is widely spoken. Laos has now seriously pursued industrial development and jobs will be ample.

Asked if they wanted to get work in Thailand, all students in the class raised their hands. Well, that's understandable given that a bachelor's degree can help them generate some Bt4,000 in Vietnam but over Bt10,000 here. It was also noticeable that all the students were optimistic about their future and were ready to fight for it. I wish that all Thai students and others in Thailand shared the same hope.


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