Most people in Vietnam do not own cars because they are far too expensive. As one local Vietnamese person told me today, a person can spend his entire life saving to buy a car. But why would he do that if he could use that same money to buy a house? So instead, pretty much everyone in Vietnam owns and rides a motorbike. They are far cheaper and easier to attain, the license is easy to get, and they’re an efficient mode of transportation. And the Vietnamese certainly use them to the max — sometimes, we saw as many as five people, an entire family, on a single motorbike!
The first time I rode on a motorbike was in Qui Nhon, the major seaside city in south-central Vietnam that is closest to my mom’s village where she grew up. We stayed in the city and visited relatives frequently, and when there were times we needed to get from point A to point B, we needed transportation because the distance wasn’t quickly walkable, and thus the only way to get transported was to get on the back of my cousin’s motorbike and hold onto his waist. My mom initially refused, saying she didn’t feel safe, but my cousin insisted, saying there was no other way to get around. So she had to cave in. And so that began a series of motorbiking rides for me. It was certainly fun, even if it resulted in my losing one my favorite cardigans that was tied around my waste, and it was fun this trip to go on a motorbike tour with Chris to see the countryside of Hoi An.
It was just the two of us and our two local Hoi An guides and their bikes. They took us to many little towns and areas outside of Hoi An proper, including a pig farm and a pottery village. With them, we got to have pretty in depth conversations about life for local people and the change in times. One of our guides spoke really great English, and with her, I realized she was probably a bit more well off because she said that she frequently would fly to Hanoi, where her family was, for visits. Pretty much everyone else I asked said they would either take a bus, train, or their own motorbikes to visit family that didn’t live locally. They even laughed when I asked them if they flew. “That costs too much!” one of the guides in Hue said to me yesterday.
With this guide, Trang, I asked her if she had any family in the U.S. This time, she laughed, and she responded, “No! No way. My family is poor, just in Hanoi.” It’s funny that she would respond this way because to my mom and her family in her village in Binh Dinh province, several hours outside of Qui Nhon, they would say that Trang’s family had money given they lived in the “big city” that is Hanoi. City people in general have more money than those in smaller towns and in the countryside. Yet, it’s clear that Trang and her family likely look at any family in Vietnam that has relatives in western countries as “rich.” It just goes to show again that it’s all relative, the statements that we make and the judgments we come to.