FEW other countries can be said to do resilience like Vietnam. And few other countries – with the possible exception of France – can create a more delicious croissant.

We are sitting in a café reflecting on our recent pilgrimage to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh, the father of this extraordinary country – or Uncle Ho as the Vietnamese and our “man from Kirkcaldy”, a professor from Glasgow Caledonian University, like to refer to him.

We stood in a queue for five hours but somehow revelled in it, people-watching, taking in the groups of school children, the families from the villages, jostling and laughing and finally falling silent and respectful. We filed past the casket, ushered on by young soldiers for whom Minh was more myth than man. His face was waxy and peaceful, serene. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so serene if he had known that his dying wish – to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the north, the centre and the south – had been ignored. Sipping coffee under the trees, tearing off another buttery pastry mouthful, it is clear that a lot has changed since he was reluctantly laid to rest, and I wonder how much the words of the song ring true today – “Bác van cùng chúng cháu hành quân” (“You are still marching with us, Uncle Ho”).

By the time I was a teenager and the world became more complex, the Vietnam War had already officially ended, but it dominated my consciousness. I revelled in films like The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now which portrayed the war as something darkly mysterious and morally ambiguous. It resonated with my adolescent view of the world far more than the Second World War’s binary struggle between good and evil. It was less gung-ho and more about an existential crisis, with Martin Sheen laying into a broken mirror, Christopher Walken putting a pistol to his head and Brando – God bless him – reading TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men. Of course, in my ignorant, fictionalised version of the war, the Vietnamese themselves hardly figured. They were the shadowy Other, peeking through the undergrowth, faceless and invincible.

Now, sitting at their table in Thai Nguyen, just north of Hanoi, joining in a new toast as soon as my shot glass has been refilled, I begin to realise how little I understand. I am talking to Tai and Dang about the war. Tai is too young to remember anything, but Dang was a young man at the time. Stupidly, I ask him about the incredible sense of accomplishment they must have felt, to have prevailed against such odds. Dang looks at me and smiles. It is one of those rare deep smiles that bears so much more meaning than happiness. “We felt nothing like pride,” he says. “We had suffered so much. So many of our families had died. We had nothing left. Nothing.”

This was the north of the country, far away from the front, but the carpet bombing of Hanoi and its surroundings ensured that the effects were felt everywhere.

Now, in many ways inevitably, Vietnam bears testament to that war and the tours and museums display their version of what happened, to re-educate naïve tourists like me. Not just the wrecks of B52 bombers shot down, but exhibitions of the victims of Agent Orange, deformed years after it was dropped. It lends a brutal, unambiguous counterpoint to my adolescent fictions of “napalm in the morning”. But most poignant of all is the visit to the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong lived for months on end, underground, venturing out only for sporadic forays against the enemy. Tunnels I could hardly squeeze into, dug over miles; a people driven to extraordinary ingenuity and tenacity by a mixture of propaganda, national pride and ideology … and, of course, Uncle Ho.

But like countries all over the world, Vietnam is also being sucked into global ubiquity. On the backstreets of Ho Chi Minh city, now increasingly referred to again as Saigon, we sit in a sports bar watching the rugby. Our man from Kirkcaldy gives a solo rendition of Flower of Scotland, badly. Staring defeat in the face we move on to a restaurant. The lemon grass, ginger and mint, the bird’s eye chillies and tamarind, combined within spring rolls, stir fries and, of course, the heart-warming Phô, a broth equally soothing for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Unmistakably Vietnam.

AND it’s not just the cuisine that resists new, more benign invasions. Vietnam exudes a quiet confidence in what it’s got. We visit a museum showcasing Vietnam’s 54 indigenous groups. We visit Thai Hai village where the Tay people preserve their customs and traditions. We visit the strangest theme park I have ever experienced where we got to sit on an inflatable tyre and float within an artificial grotto moulded inside Buddha’s belly, filled with illustrations of the terrible retributions bestowed upon sinners.

But as so often, I still find myself worrying about the delicate balance between progress and preservation. We are working with six universities to establish a more effective research and innovation system. They are eager to learn and our man from Kirkcaldy brilliantly takes them through the processes and structures that they will need to put into place if they are going to play a role internationally. But when we chat to Dang and Tai about opportunities for innovation and ask them about the Samsung factory down the road, they just shrug. The company has invested $17.3 billion, turning the country into its largest smart phone production base, resulting in exports of $54bn, but little of the investment has been directed to the universities and their knowledge base. The attraction of Vietnam for the multinationals is cheap labour, on production lines where health and safety and working conditions are too often ignored. Economic growth comes at a cost.

With its extraordinary history of resilience – against the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, the Americans – I wonder how Vietnam will defend itself against the furtive voracity of global capitalism. Not with a bang but a whimper?

Mark Majewsky Anderson is director of research and innovation at Glasgow Caledonian University