June 18 • 09:16 AM
Idyllic sight of boat building yard along a river during motorbike trip through the Vietnamese countryside. photo by Andrew Wernette.

October 24, 2018
Recently I did something that I actually rarely do: I got on my motorized scooter and drove out of the city in Vietnam I live in into the countryside.

This was a sort of antidote. With my sphere of existence only encompassing workplaces, restaurants, cafes and my boxy apartment in recent months, I just wasn't feeling stimulated. I've also grown alarmed at my increasing laziness and lack of adventurous spirit, which once flowed freely through my veins.

So I went out into the small villages and verdant fields beyond, and this is what I saw:

I saw schoolchildren in their uniforms mingling in and around a rural schoolyard following the end of classes, with one girl chatting to her classmates as she lounged in a colorful hammock.

I passed by a well-built laborer as he strode down the path clutching a heavy load over his shoulder, scrutiny setting into his darkened face as he regarded me.

I saw the ears of a water buffalo flap in pleasure as it wallowed snugly in a mud pit.

I crossed over a nearly-collapsed river bridge, risking life and limb.

I saw two men in business attire chatting with a jolly older fellow in a cap as he sat toting his fishing pole from a bridge.

I heard the rustic putt-putt of a motor in a small boat as it made its way down the river.

I saw many a woman clothed head to toe for sun protection as they drove old motorbikes impossibly outfitted with all sorts of containers—the way things are transported out here.

I heard a group of men laughing boisterously as they drank and slapped down playing cards in one of the village shelters.

I smelled the sweetness of the passing air, and then the odor of dung, and then smoke from a garbage fire.

I saw water, lots of it, flowing lazily in streams or intermingling with the bright green of the rice paddies that are everywhere; water, whose slow waltz through this land sets the pace of life out here.

I'm a product of a typical Almont childhood, but I don't think I nor any of my compatriots could begin to imagine what living a lifetime at the relaxed speed of rural Vietnam is like. The simplicity of living out here is also something we might never grasp.

Of course, there is also the antiquated infrastructure and restricted access to basic public services. One can also feel the lack of opportunity, which drives many young people from the villages toward the nearest cities. There are many reasons I would never want to grow up in this countryside, despite its outward charm.

There are some worlds that we really only ever glimpse at from a distance, merely guessing at their landscapes but never venturing further, whether we wish to or not.

I did feel refreshed, however, on the drive home.

Email Andrew at

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