Magazine article Geographical

Take Me to the River

Magazine article Geographical

Take Me to the River

Article excerpt

Vietnam is a country in flux. In the 25 years since what locals call The American war, huge changes have taken place. In 1988, the Government introduced doi moi, a kind of perestroika that encourages free enterprise and a market economy. In the mid-90s the country opened its borders to tourism, and it is now a well-established travel destination. Vietnam's population of 80 million is made up of more than 50 ethnic groups. The Viet, who originated from southern China, make up around 90 per cent of the total. Most of the ethnic minorities, or Montagnards as the French, who ruled Vietnam for nearly 70 years, called them, live in the highlands. Chinese influence is strong, with more than one million Chinese living in Vietnam, mainly in the south and Ho Chi Minh City. Buddhism is the main religion, but there is a sizeable Catholic minority. Unemployment is around 25 per cent, and about half the population live below the national poverty line.

Vietnam lost 200,000 people in the first Indochina war against the French, thousands during the land reforms that followed, and three million in the war with America and its allies. As a result, more than half of Vietnam's population are under 25 years old. The government introduced a two-children-per-family policy in 1988, but it has proved difficult to enforce, particularly in the many rural parts of the country

The Vietnamese rely heavily on the rivers and canals that flow through the southern half of the country. Thousands live on boats along the Perfume River and the Phu Cam and Dong Ba canals in Hue. Many make a living ferrying tourists to and from the imperial cities and pagodas along the waterways. Others catch fish, crabs and shrimps to sell at the markets. The river and canals are also used for washing clothes and bathing

For the many Vietnamese who work outside the major cities or the tourism industry, life is a constant battle. Impromptu markets spring up everywhere as people try to sell their produce or handmade goods

In many parts of Vietnam, agriculture is still the main economic earner. The government introduced privately-owned farms in 1988. Water buffalo and oxen are still used to plough fields, while rice and other agricultural staples are planted and harvested by hand

The imperial city of Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the 19th century. Along with the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple City, several citadels were built. …

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