"I followed Thuy's toothless old father into an unstable three plank boat and sat as low as possible, cradling my cameras and watching a ten-year-old squish mud into the many wormholes that were welling water around our ankles. We poled down a channel barely wide enough for the boat, stopping at intervals to lift narrow walkways aside. At last we broke free and cut across a flooded paddy. Along one edge two men bent over homemade shovels, digging new farmland. It was backbreaking labor, the Herculean task of moving eight vertical feet of clay for every hard-won foot of new paddy.
Not many young men would have the opportunity to carve a place for themselves among the few remaining islands that peppered the endless fields. Firstborn sons inherited their elders' fields, I was told, as well as the task of caring for their parents in their declining years. "Other sons go out and find work," - hiring themselves out as laborers - "one dollar, one day." He paused briefly and fluttered his hands at the horizon, " Or go My Tho city, or Saigon. Never come back." He sadly said the names of the two sons he had lost this way.
Of the ones that stayed, not many escaped the spiraling descent into poverty and multiplying children. Those that struggled upward were often struck down by drought, flood, sickness, or the pleas of their less fortunate relations. The few that made it followed the painstaking road to Delta wealth, which Thuy summed up on twisted, arthritic fingers. "First land", he said, his face lighting up at the thought, "then an engine!" his lips split in a huge grin, and he fell silent for a moment to contemplate such a wondrous thing. "And then a boat - BIG boat..." he slapped the gunwale to show me what he thought of our paltry craft. I prodded him for the next step, but he couldn't seem to imagine luxuries beyond these three. But no - he held up a fourth finger. "An altar." - one grand enough to give proper thanks to the ancestors who had heard his pleas.
Or, if they were truly graced, they might accumulate enough cash to buy a pair of water buffalo to till their fields, or even one of the mechanical plows that could be rented out to others for the princely sum of three dollars a day. Yes, that would be a true miracle, an act of God."
Excerpt from Hitchhiking Vietnam