Pandemic sees Vietnamese reconsider city living

By Pham Nga   September 28, 2021 | 08:54 pm PT
Viet Anh of HCMC decided to migrate her whole family to Da Lat Town when her businesses closed down last year because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The 34-year-old said: "The pandemic has made me realize that nothing is permanent. The countryside is now an easier place to live than the city."

All five of Anh's clothing stores were shut down in April last year, the time when the whole country entered its first social distancing period, which forced shopping centers, restaurants, eateries and other services in Ho Chi Minh City to temporarily close.

As a result, 10 of her family members, parents, siblings and two employees, packed their belongings and migrated to Central Highlands town Da Lat.

Viet Anh (L) and a family member are harvesting corn on the family farm, June 2021. Photo courtesy of Anh

Viet Anh (L) harvests corn on the family farm, June 2021. Photo courtesy of Anh

Meanwhile in Hanoi, Le Van Thiep, owner of an interior design shop with a monthly income of VND30 million (over $1,300), shared Anh’s view.

After 10 years in the capital, he and his wife had a so-called stable life until Covid-19 first emerged. When his business and two children's school were closed, his 42-square-meter apartment suddenly felt cramped with five family members simultaneously stuck at home.

"I've been wanting to return to my hometown and the epidemic pushed that decision to come sooner," the 31-year-old said.

Fleeing cities for rural life is not a new trend in Vietnam. In previous years, the movement helped quench the thirst for a slower life and greener space among some people. But during the Covid-19 era of the past two years, reappraisal of life in urban centers have taken on a different color.

According to Truong Thanh Hung, vice chairman of National Innovative Startup Advisory Council, as life has grownmore stressful and filled with uncertainties, people tend to move back to the countryside.

"The pandemic has changed people's expectations about urban living and opportunities to make money, so many choose to move to the countryside. People also realize that investing in the countryside is also a way to preserve assets," said Nguyen Cong Chanh, director of a real estate consulting service company in Da Lat.

Over the past year, he has witnessed the number of customers in Lam Dong Province's Di Linh and Da Lat Town looking to buy or rent land or invest in homestays, farms and resorts increase four times compared to 2019.

Khanh Mai, administrator of the Facebook community "Bo Phe Ve Rung" (rough translation, "Leaving City For Rural Life") said the group was established at the end of 2019 with about a thousand members. It now boasts 120,000.

Le Van Thiet is checking for any unusual on his ca cuong that he raised for breeding, July 2021. Photo courtesy of Thiet

Le Van Thiet inspects his ca cuong, July 2021. Photo courtesy of Thiet

"Since I had already left the urban center for a rural life, many people contacted me for advice. This year, as Vietnam deals with its most challenging Covid wave, I often receive dozens of phone calls a day," she said.

"But moving from a city hub to the suburbs to do business is never easy," Viet Anh said.

In the first three months of leaving HCMC, her family had to rent a house. At the time there were many tourists, so no homestay had space for long-term tenants. Everything worked out eventually after Anh and her husband rented two hectares on a hill for a period of 10 years, built a house and started farming.

Their land had only five persimmon trees and was covered with ponytail grass. Since Anh didn't want to use herbicides to avoid polluting the environment, the family hired workers to hoe and weed by hand. But whenever the rural town held special events or ceremonies, these workers took a day off, regardless of work progress. Many times, family members jumped in to do the work themselves.

"My skin got darker because of the sun and my hands turned yellow because of the soil. Our clothes are discolored because of the dirt, and bodies full of insect bites and swelling," Anh said.

But natural disasters are their biggest fear. During rainy nights, hearing the wind whistling outside the door, no one dared to sleep. They also put on conical hats to go outside to support each tree about to uproot. The flood at the end of last year caused 1,000 newly planted trees including rosemary, iridescent, and hydrangea to wash away. In mid-June this year, heavy rain damaged their organic corn field that was about to be harvested.

Since they want the farm to quickly take shape, Viet Anh's family bought more than 50 mature mimosa trees, costing VND500,000-700,000 a piece. But after a while they died. At the time, they learned that amid the natural conditions ofDa Lat, mimosa had to be planted as seedlings.

"Inexperience plus the disadvantage of nature made my family lose a lot of money. Many times I considered giving up and returning to the city, but it would take lot of effort and money for the whole family to move again. We decided to keep on trying," she said.

Many times she woke up in the middle of the night, wondering if she had made a mistake dragging her whole family away from city life.

Thiep also fell into that state of bewilderment. Inexperienced, without professional knowledge, his ca cuong (a giant water bug that some Vietnamese incorporate in their diet) farm repeatedly failed. Three months in a row since returning to his hometown, he has only spent money as Hanoi has reopened.

"But I determined I would live in the countryside for a long time, so I can't give up," he said.

He researched more online, observing the insects to detect any abnormalities. His hardwork eventually paid off. Starting the fourth month, Tiep made a profit. So he invested in building 17 more tanks, spanning about 20-square-meters. Up to now, his average monthly income is about VND20 million and can sometimes hit over VND40 million.

Viet Anh and her son harvest vegetables in their garden, June 2021. Photo courtesy of Anh

Viet Anh and her son harvest vegetables in their garden, June 2021. Photo courtesy of Anh

Meanwhile, Anh's family conducted more research online and applied what they learned to their home farm. She also hired experienced farmers to advise on planting techniques to suit the terrain and weather of Da Lat.

Last Lunar New Year, her farm welcomed its first batch of customers. Being able to breathe fresh air while working on the farm, her husband is no longer suffering from sinusitis. Her 5-year-old son has also gained a vast knowledgeable on many types of plants.

However, Anh said she would not sell or rent her apartment in HCMC since her son is about to enter 1st grade and she wants him to go to a good school in the city.

"When the pandemic is over, we will maintain our city and rural lives by traveling back and forth between both locations," she said.

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