Author of several outstanding articles on Tien Phong newspaper, journalist Nguyen Viet Hung was an outstanding writer. Joining the “International Visitors” program by invitation from the United States Department of State, he travelled across America,. during which he got to observe the life of Americans in both urban and rural areas.

Journalist Nguyen Viet Hung was an long-time collaborator of Vietnam-US Magazine even after he transferred to the Ministry of Education & Training as Deputy Chief. On August, 5th 2020, he passed away due to a sudden illness on a business trip to monitor the preparation process for the 2020 national high school graduation exams and to implement the new educational program and textbooks in Bac Kan Province. 

To honor and commemorate an admirable journalist and a dear friend of the Vietnam – US Magazine, we are proud to re-publish one of his articles about his trip in the U.S. 

Living among nature as a lifestyle

After arriving at Paris, Illinois, I stayed with an American doctor couple, Dr. Reid and Carolyn Sutton. Truthfully speaking, on the first night, I got lost in their beautiful two-floor mansion, which was in a vast forest. I could not find an exit after wandering for a while. 

Their garage has three different cars for each family member: one BMW and one GM for the couple, and an old Toyota for their 89-year-old mother, not to mention the four-wheeled lawn mower. All of their children were living with their own families in other cities across the country. Each has their own job. Reid was off to work at the Paris Community Hospital, while Carolyn visited some families by appointment for healthcare and counselling as she was a social worker at her husband’s hospital, and the old lady drove to a nearby park to exercise and join her elder club’s activities. 

 
 

The concept of “car culture” arose from this country. From past to present, the number of cars per person in America is higher than anywhere else in the world. Just in California, there are approximately 20 million of cars registered. That’s why America is also the leading country in terms of energy consumption per capita. Nevertheless, with a population density of only 27 people per km2  in a country that is 40 times larger than the UK, except for some big cities, parking space is not a problem. 

Dr. Reid explained to me that living among nature while fully equipped with amenities is a popular lifestyle for Americans, especially the middle class, as they hate the grey skyscrapers and noisy oppressive living space in crowded cities. They prefer to move to a refreshing and quiet area near forests that is also only fifteen minutes away from the city center. Up until now, a third of America’s land is woods; in 20 out of 50 states, forests cover more than 50% of the total land. This fact explains the extremely quietness in this Paris area and why I could see several houses having “four fronts” that face only trees and flowers. Deer could sometimes show up in front of cars’ headlights in the evening. 
 
 

Americans tend to live in big houses whose size transcended my imagination as I was living in a small accommodation in Hanoi. Probably thanks to having a vast span of lands and sparsely populated areas. Just Carolyn’s kitchen and dining room was nearly twice as large as my 40m2 house. In addition to the long oval table in the middle of the room, surrounded by all kinds of modern kitchen amenities, used for snacks or buffet, there was also a large dining room next to it. In the garden, there was also a large American-style gas grill and a set of tables and chairs for outdoor meals.

That is not to mention another modest kitchen of about 15-20m2  on the ground floor, which was also enough for the old lady, so she could conveniently prepare her own breakfast before driving to the gym. Reid had a personal library and a private office at home. He enjoyed studying history and geography, and watching television. His library had hundreds of books on history and geography around the world. His hobby of watching television is also American. Oftentimes, he would turn on all of his three 21-inch televisions side by side, two to watch his favorite sports channels, and one to watch CNN news.

During intimate dinners, Reid often asked us about medical services and hospitals in Vietnam. When he learned about overcrowding in hospitals and other non-hospital fees in Vietnam, Reid was surprised and said that in the U.S., most medical bills were paid by insurance companies, so they didn’t have such a situation. 

According to Reid, the hospital where he worked had just been upgraded in 2006 with a budget of 11 million USD including 49 beds. It belonged to a non-profit organization - the Paris Hospital & Health Foundation. Although a small hospital, it had a full range of modern equipment, a testing lab, a family health center with all kinds of at-home health services, and a counseling program called Healthy Choice specializing in helping young families with health care skills. In the events of an emergency, serious illness cases would be promptly transferred upstream by helicopter.

Life of American farmers

During my journey across the U.S., I met American farmers who earned 90,000 USD after tax each year and could comfortably feed their families. As I observed the work and life of the American working class, the image of hard-working farmers at my home country appeared in my mind. The only difference is that the American farmer was far more well-off! From the airport in the capital Indianapolis, Indiana, we drove 200km on the highway, along thousands of trees and ready-for-harvest cornfields. We headed to a city that has the same name as the capital of France - Paris (Illinois).

Paris is a small city in the Central, consisting of only 9,000 citizens, surrounded by vast corn and soybean fields. This place is one of the richest agricultural areas in America. Among the city, besides the popular Wal-Mart and CVS, there was a huge supermarket that specialized in selling goods to farmers. In addition to modern agricultural machinery and technology, there are many other heavy-duty items for professional farmers such as boots, leather gloves, jeans, walkie-talkie, specialized flashlights…

We visited the farm of a real American farmer, Brad Tucker, who was also the 5th generation of the Tucker family in this area. He was a little over 50 years old this year, looking big and muscular like a cowboy from the West. His family (including his gentle wife, Lisa, and their two children: 14-year-old Samantha and 5-year-old Robbie) lived in a big house – which can be described as a mansion – surrounded by a white wooden fence, among green grass and trees. Inside the garage were two new cars. Next to the house were a machine factory and a warehouse, and outside of their house, a field hundreds of acres wide.

 
 

The factory was equipped with all kinds of modern machinery that I had never seen before. Their quantity was enough for a whole commune in our country. The so-called warehouse yet looking like a water tower was made of stainless steel and filled with corn inside. Lisa drove us and the kids to the cornfield where Brad was harvesting. Brad was sitting on a giant combine harvester among corn beds. Each ear of corn was exceptionally big and long. He kept running while continuously ejecting shiny golden corn kernels from its top to the huge truck tank that was running next to it. The land where it ran through remains a flat ground, covered by a layer of corn and corn cobs that have been crushed to make compost for the next season.

I was sitting in the cabin with Tucker, while the machine was running on full speed, swallowing eight rows of corn at the same time. He reached out to push the flat button on the computer attached to the side and showed me the newly printed report, where the number of corn harvested, the moisture of corn kernels and other factors were written. I looked up at the screen, it was showing the exact location of the harvester on a map and which part of the field was harvested.  

 
 

Watching the sharp eight-grove “scythe” crashing through 8 beds of corn, I curiously asked Tucker what if the “scythe” did not fit exactly into 8 corn beds. Tucker laughed and answered: “That is impossible because seeds were sown by the machine too!” After taking a tour with the “farmer,” Tucker sent me back to the ground from the strange, giant, made-in-USA harvester. Standing in the middle of the wide field, under the blue late autumn sky and the yellow sunlight of the beginning of winter, I suddenly thought of the hard-working farmers at home as my heart started to yield restlessly.

About a century ago, American farmers were just as muddy as our people, 70-80% of the population worked in the agriculture sector as we did. Now, it is reduced to only 2%, yet not only are they capable of feeding the remaining 98% out of 302 million Americans, but they have also become the world’s number one exporter of agricultural products. The Obama campaign also included in the clean energy plan a strategy to produce gasoline from corn harvested by farmers like Tucker.

 
Lisa and her children on the newly harvested corn field. Photo: Viet Hung

I was deep in thought when Robbie unexpectedly ran to me, took out a piece of model that looked exactly the same as the combine harvester of his father, pressed it into my hand and said “I give you this!” I looked at the note attached and it read, “Gift from American Farmers Brad & Lisa Tucker.” I also gifted him in return a lacquer painting of the peaceful Vietnamese countryside with farmers who are working hard to cultivate rice.

At the townhall, the mayor passionately introduced to us the history of the ancient and beautiful Paris. It was built in 1816 and officially named the city of Paris in 1869. There were 6,000 residents at the time, and now, the number increased only slightly to 9,000 citizens. Despite being a small town, Paris has 11 parks, several golf courses, one public hospital and 24 doctors and dentists, six primary and secondary schools, one local newspaper and two radio stations. The private daily newspaper, Paris Beacon-News, published 5,000 copies per day, its first issued dated back to 1848.

 
 

Streets in Paris were clean; almost no house was more than three floors high; there was no public transportation since the city was small and each household had multiple cars. Except for offices, schools, supermarkets and banks on main streets, most residents lived amidst the quiet forests. Our homestay in Paris was almost a week, and we truly felt the hospitality and friendliness of this “farming” city. Whenever we went out and met the citizens, they would always greet us warmly. 

Parting with the Tucker family, I asked Robbie whether he would want to be a farmer like his Dad when he grew up. He frowned for a while and replied “Maybe!”