When I returned to Hanoi for the first time in six years back in March, I was extremely surprised to see a red Ferrari cruising around Hoan Kiem lake, the evocative pool of water at the heart of the Vietnamese capital.
But, after overcoming my initial shock, I came to the opinion that such conspicuous consumption was a sign of just how rapidly (if unevenly) Vietnam's economy had been developing.
Matt Steinglass, Hanoi correspondent for German press agency DPA, appears to have taken a rather more sneery view of the growing numbers of wealthy Vietnamese who are opting to purchase a Rolls-Royce or Maserati. He wrote on his blog:
Vietnam is entering that period of its economic development, passed through by most countries on their way to industrialized wealth, in which it destroys everything that used to be valuable about its built environment, makes every possible stupid mistake in failing to adapt its landscape to the coming threat of wealth and modernity despite abundant warning from neighboring countries that have gotten there first, and generally attempts to make itself look like a fat, ignorant, corrupt executive’s conception of Orange County, CA.
In underdeveloped countries, especially a Communist one like Vietnam, the distastefulness of this phenomenon is exacerbated because, lacking any longstanding indigenous wealthy class, the newly fantastically rich take to the phenomenon of wealth as if they had just invented it.
The idea that there might be anything crass or displeasing about gross displays of conspicuous luxury in a country where per capita GDP remains just over $1000 does not seem to enter people’s heads.
Such "gross displays of conspicuous luxury" may offend Steinglass' expat sensibilities but none of the Vietnamese friends I spoke to, most of whom can barely afford a motorbike, were particularly disturbed.
Some joked about how the Communist party probably picked up the tab for the cars in one way or another, while most agreed that such public displays of extreme wealth would drive people to work harder, earn more money and achieve more in life.
Do the people in the photo accompanying this story, courtesy of Flickr user fletchy182, look put out by the sight of a Ferrari in Hanoi or just intrigued?
While I agree that many top-end cars look utterly ridiculous, that's just as true whether they're being driven around Mayfair by a Russian oligarch or through Hanoi's Old Quarter by a Vietnamese entrepreneur.
Steinglass is right to raise concerns about traffic management in Hanoi - with car ownership growing rapidly, there is a real risk that one of Asia's most pleasant cities will end up as just another jam-ridden, pollution choked-den of iniquity a la Jakarta or Manila.
But that, surely, is an issue for the local government, not for those individuals wealthy enough to buy cars.
There are, quite possibly, questions to ask about how the super-rich in Vietnam have generated their wealth. For most, there is a high probability that their ascent up the greasy pole was boosted by some form of cronyism or corruption.
But, the provenance of their wealth notwithstanding, why shouldn't rich Vietnamese buy fancy cars?
Would Steinglass prefer it if they traveled around on bicycles or cyclos instead of Ferraris so that the traditional, colonial charms of Hanoi could be preserved for the enjoyment of well-off Westerners?