HO CHI MINH CITY - Singapore's ties with Vietnam are prospering and there are opportunities for Singaporeans here, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (March 21).
And as Singapore undergoes economic transformation, it is crucial to seize opportunities in the region in order to grow, he told some 280 Singaporeans staying in Ho Chi Minh City at a dinner reception.
"If we are to prosper, we have to be able to go overseas and venture and take opportunities and uncertainties," Mr Lee said.
Deepening Singapore's international connections was one of the strategies set out by the Committee on the Future Economy in its report released last month.
Mr Lee added that Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City have progressed since his last visit to the city more than 10 years ago, and he hopes there will be more flights between Vietnam and Singapore.
He arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday morning for a four-day visit, and joined Singaporeans for dinner at the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon hotel, where they tucked into favourites such as nasi lemak, satay and pandan chiffon cake.
There are 937 Singapore projects and over 2,000 Singaporeans working in Ho Chi Minh City. "The fact that you're all here shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and well," said Mr Lee.
A Singaporean pioneer in Vietnam is Mr Low Kok Chiang, 71, who runs an organic produce business with his son Patrick, 28.
They grow some 120 varieties of fruits and vegetables such as cabbages, tomatoes, and kale in Da Lat city in the central highland region of Vietnam, and sell them at their two-year-old outlet called 5th Element in Ho Chi Minh City.
Another outlet is opening this weekend and they hope to have a third by the middle of this year. Their goal is to scale up production eventually so they can export vegetables back to Singapore and open an outlet there.
"We see the Mekong delta as the last frontier for major food sources in Asia... and we want to make safe and healthy vegetables accessible," said the elder Mr Low, who has lived in Vietnam for 31 years and started growing produce in 2003.
Patrick, who moved to Vietnam seven years ago after completing his National Service, said they hope to expand their farm land beyond the current four hectares, which lets them harvest about half a tonne of produce a day.
"It's a challenging business if you talk about profitability, so it comes down to passion," he said.
Passion is also what drove Mr Poh Wei Ye, 33, to start an orphanage in the province of Vung Tau in north-east Vietnam. He grew to love helping street children after spending six months backpacking through the developing countries in South-east Asia seven years ago, after losing his mother to cancer. He and a local nun set up an orphanage, which now shelters 20 children.
"I want to see the kids able to continue to go to school, so that they don't have to work in a coffee shop or a factory and be trapped in the poverty cycle," he said.