(illustration by Cristina Nualart)

In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond tries to explain why some civilizations were able to develop faster and more successfully than others. He pays particular attention to the domestication of large animals.

He writes: “The transformation of warfare by horses began with their domestication around 4,000 B.C., in the steppes north of the Black Sea. Horses permitted people possessing them to cover far greater distances than was possible on foot, to attack by surprise, and to flee before a superior defending force could be gathered.”


To provide proof of his theory, he recounts the story of how the Spanish conquistador, Pizarro, with only 62 soldiers mounted on horses, along with 106 foot soldiers, managed to defeat the Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, and his army of 80,000.


Galloping Forward


The Year of the Horse means that according to astrology, the next 12 months will mirror the characteristics of the horse. One of the 12 con giap, or animal signs that symbolise each passing year in Vietnam, the horse is considered fortunate and the bringer of good luck. The Year of the Horse is also a time of fast victories, unexpected travel and surprising romance.


The predictions go on. If you take decisive action and don’t procrastinate, claim the astrologers, you will be successful. But if you’re not 100 percent sure about a decision, then don’t take it. Events move so quickly in a Horse year that you don’t want to gallop off in the wrong direction. All meaning, look before you leap. But if you do leap, make sure you clear the fence.


The Future’s Bright


2012 and 2013 have been difficult years. Large numbers of businesses have been in survival mode and many haven’t made it. Yet, with the upturn in Europe and North America and the continuing strength of East and South Asia, the coming 12 months should be more fruitful. As one real estate professional puts it, “Many of the big companies here, both foreign and Vietnamese, are in planning mode. With rents low, and the market bottomed out, they are now looking to expand. It will take time to filter through, but by the second half of 2014, we will see the benefits.”


It suggests that confidence, both of businesses and consumers, is starting to return.


A recent conversation with a Vietnam-based diplomat places it in another context. When he arrived in Vietnam in early 2012, there was little confidence. But now he can see the change. When I explained my own personal concerns he gave me a reply that spoke a wisdom that was refreshing to hear.


“Rather than seeing the coming year as a year of challenges,” he explained, “see it as a year of opportunities.”


That is exactly how the horse riders and owners of yesteryear would have viewed it when they foresaw the advantages of having a trusty steed. According to astrologers, the horse is heroic and strong. In the mythology of both East and West, it can also fly. Let’s hope that’s exactly what it does. — Nick Ross

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