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October 02 , 2007

Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer

Toward Understanding the Real Vietnam


When people outside of Vietnam hear the name of this country, they often automatically think of war, politics, and lives lost. Little attention is given to the people who live there and the rich history of the country itself.

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Poultry specialist Robert C. Hargreaves got a firsthand look at the real Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 as an agricultural volunteer with the International Voluntary Services, which was the predecessor to the Peace Corps. He returned to the country several times.

The closest expression that the Vietnamese had for poultry specialist was “chicken engineer,” so everywhere he went, Hargreaves was introduced as “Mr. Bob, the chicken engineer.” The phrase sounds just as funny in Vietnamese as it does in English, and as a result, he was not easily forgotten.

Throughout the countryside, he developed chicken projects and other agricultural endeavors. Selling eggs was big business, and it brought in an important source of income for the Vietnamese people; his help sometimes meant the difference between starvation and survival.

In Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer, Hargreaves reveals close details of that period in Vietnam that are not often heard about in the Western world—beggars in the streets, soldiers giving away their paychecks to help children, the everyday kindness of peasants, and growing anti-American sentiments as the war dragged on.

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