The village stunk. You could smell it as you got near. There were huts laid out about fifteen meters from each other. Some were fairly large. There were people in the village walking around, some were building a pen of some kind. Like the guys had told us, they were either very young or very old. (4.78)
The first Vietnamese village Perry visits is a bit of a shock to him. First, theres's the stink. No getting used to that. Then there's the fact that all the men of fighting age are away at war. It's not exactly painting a picture of harmonious village life.
The people were the same. Small, withered women, skin creased over onto itself; dark, life-weary eyes that had seen everything. (9.34)
This isn't exactly the most flattering picture of Vietnamese women. Why do you think they look that way to Perry? Could it be the lack of medical care they have access to? Or the lack of anti-aging beauty products—like, you know, sunscreen? How about the lack of a calm, comfy lifestyle that isn't shaped by violence, war, and suffering?
That's how we got around, following the hills and streams mostly. That was how we got around, following the hills and streams and paddies. Sometimes there would be a plantation that we would use as a reference, or a field of rice paddies. (9.20)
A few decades ago if you mentioned Vietnam people would immediately think war. Today, your first thought just might be slurping pho noodles. Rice (which pho is made out of) is a big deal in Vietnam: it's the world's second largest exporter of rice. So it makes sense that rice paddies are all over this book. Head over to Images to see what they look like. And then head to a pho restaurant to get your slurp on.
We slept in hooches that were surrounded by sandbags. There were vents on both ends, and sometimes they worked. Usually, though, the hooches were hot as anything. We had put straw and leaves on the roof of our hooch back at the base to keep the sun from baking us, but it didn't help that much. The huts that the Vietnamese lived in were made on bamboo frames and covered with woven bamboo slats and dried flat leaves. The joints weren't nailed. They were notched and tied with either rope or wire. Some of the huts had slats that could be adjusted to let the light in. They were cool enough inside, especially the ones with the high ceilings. (9.53)
In a game of Which Would You Rather, the Vietnamese hut would always win over the American-designed hooch. The huts have centuries of learning how to design for their native climate on their side. Sure, if you throw a luxury condo into the game, it might be a tougher choice between the hut and built-in air-conditioning.
I loaded another clip, and started firing. It was a hamlet, the same thatched roofs, the same smell of burnt bamboo. We fired into the village, trying to chop down anything we could see. (18.160)
It's a little messed up that Perry's platoon once went into hamlets for "pacification" missions, and now they're doing this. They've seen the inside of villages, which makes it feel all the worse when they fire on them. They know that if they hit villagers, they are either young or elderly, and that makes most of them feel pretty bad. The smell of burning bamboo doesn't help either.
The rice paddy seemed forever. The water was up past my ankles, and the stink was something else. (18.74)
Rice paddies: definitely not designed for wartime comfort. But imagine all the pho…
There were stands of trees every hundred yards or so along the rice paddies leading to the hill. We hit the first stand and fought from tree to tree. (18.131)
The trees, on the other hand, make for good cover. Without them, Perry and his fellow soldiers would be easy targets for enemy shooters. Thanks, trees.
Problem. It was nearly dark. The sides of the stream were clear for twenty to forty meters on both sides. On the side of the stream that we were on, away from the ridge, there was a rice paddy that we had to cross. We had passed it coming, but going back was another thing. They knew we were there now, knew we were headed back. If we got Congs on the ridge when we were passing the paddies, it would be hard going. (21.101)
We don't mean to oversell our "Images" section, but you definitely need to get a look at a picture of a rice paddy to understand why it was hard to cross them. Basically, these guys are playing Oregon Trail: Vietnam War edition.
I sucked in the fresh air as hard as I could. The day was clear, the sky brilliant. There were fields of rice paddies before us and in one of them a Vietnamese farmer stood. He turned toward us, still kneeling in the knee-deep water. Maybe it was his son in the hole. He stood and Peewee lifted his rifle. He ducked down into the water again. (22.119)
Hey, notice how it's described as a clear, brilliant day? No rain, for once? Maybe it's a sign of new hope for Perry and Peewee, that they might make it after all. Or maybe it's meant to contrast with the horror of what they just did—strangle an enemy soldier and leave him in a snake hole. Either way, with this scene you almost get a clear view of the openness and warmth of a Vietnamese farmer's life. But of course, as in the rest of the book, the War gets in the way.
"All their men is either in the VIETCONG army or the ARVNs. The ARVNs is the South Vietnamese army, and they suppose to be on our side. The VIETCONG is the enemy. This is like the Civil War," Simpson said. "Sometimes one brother go to the VIETCONG and the other brother go to the ARVN. After a while the brother who fighting with the VIETCONG either gonna get killed or want to leave and join the ARVN." (4.79)
The American Civil War is a pretty good comparison, though it's also a sad one. It shows Perry that the war isn't just tough on the out-of-towners; when the Vietnamese soldiers fight each other, they're sometimes fighting against their own family.