VIETNAM FAMILY BUYS LOCAL

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HO CHI MINH CITY-Ho Van Kiet, 40, and his wife Nguyen Ngoc Tho, 39, refused to meet in their home, instead preferring an ice-cream parlor on a Sunday afternoon in this city still commonly called Saigon.

Decades after the Vietnam War, Saigon in many ways still has the feel of a police state: In addition to the public meeing, for example, the Hos refused to disclose where they work.

The otherwise forthcoming couple arrived with their daughter, Truc, 7, and six-month-old son Tam in tow.

Both the Hos (although as a couple they are known as the Hos, in Vietnamese culture her proper surname is Tho and his Kiet) have engineering degrees. Between them they make $150 a month, placing them firmly in the upper middle class-a fairly common class designation in Saigon. Ms. Tho said they save another $100 a month from relatives "living abroad."

The Hos own a small four-room house. Ms. Tho is at the end of a six-month paid maternity leave. After that, their live-in maid will take care of Tam when she goes back to work-six days a week, as does her husband on his second-hand Japanese motorcycle.

While the Hos use U.S. products, which can cost up to 100% more than their local counterparts, Ms. Tho said, "I prefer to buy Vietnamese."

They use a big tube of Colgate toothpaste costing $1.50 for a 160-gram tube and Dial soap at $1 a bar. Mr. Kiet was aware the soap might be a fake product from Thailand-but didn't seem to care.

TV, mainly news programs, is reserved for weekday evenings and Sundays. Commercials are only vaguely noticed.

Their appliances are almost all Japanese: a Toshiba refrigerator, a Panasonic National electric rice cooker, a Sony stereo system, Sharp VCR.

When asked if there was anything in her refrigerator from the U.S., Mrs. Tho said, "A can of Pepsi."

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