Sunday, October 18, 2009

Panning for Fish Eggs

A few of us decided to visit a town where the Saigon River meets the sea this weekend - Can Gio. We heard about this resort:

What we did not hear about, though, was the interesting culture here- in this place that isn't even mentioned in the Lonely Planet.

We arrived around 11 am to see lines of people walking home from a morning out in the water. They carried long poles with nets, but we couldn't see anything in the nets; we thought for sure they should be packed with clams or something.

This morning (Sunday) the tide was way out and we saw hundreds of people standing in the sea, silhouetted against the horizon; the scene reminded me of the gooey duck digging that goes on at dusk at Ocean Shores during the fall. So we went to investigate. This beach walk turned out to be one of the most culturally interesting mornings I have experienced in Vietnam... I guess the element of surprise added a lot to it:

Men and women alike - we figured that every adult from town must have been out there - were dragging these long nets through the sand under the water. Eventually they would stop and put the sifted sand into buckets, then take that sifted sand to a designated expert who would put samples of the sand onto glass plates (pictured here). Once the dirt was on the plate, water was added and contents scrutinized - it seemed that they might be panning for gold. The inspectors would swish it around, sift it some more, and then dump it out. Again, we saw absolutely no seafood. Nothing visible at all. And there was never an indication that they saw what they were looking for.

What were they looking for? Was it some kind of precious metal? We couldn't see a thing.

This friendly guy actually tied the rope around my leg and showed me how to pull the bag behind me for a bit, laughing in a jolly way as I did (his friends enjoyed it, too). In most of Vietnam, people wait until you smile at them to greet you back times ten. But this guy sought us out and showed us around.

After about an hour of walking around watching this activity and wondering what could be going on, a young guy greeted us in English. We asked him what they were looking for and he stumbled for the words, "Fish eggs!"

This made sense to us. On the bus ride out, we saw fish farms - rows and rows of canals built to farm fish. We don't know what kind of fish, but at last we were satisfied with a partial answer. They were panning for fish eggs.

When the tide began to come in, the people started heading in en masse for the inspections, and we saw some monetary exchange taking place. These people of the water were getting between 15 to 20,000 VND (about 90 cents to $1.20) for the contents of their bowls of for a morning's worth of hard work.

I kept thinking of the Zora Neale Hurston novels I've read and thought this is probably not so different from a story set in the 1930's on the Mississippi Delta. Except that people in those stories would not be wearing Versace coats and Be Be sweaters...right? And it was especially hot and muggy this morning, too~

The bus ride back - an hour to the ferry, the ferry ride, and the hour from the ferry back home - cost 7,500 VND = 42 cents. I guess that makes sense when a day's work only nets twice that much.


Brian Bowker said...

If you can't pan for fish eggs in good fashion then you shouldn't pan for fish eggs at all.

Mungolio said...

Is that a pretty standard wage in Viet Nam? I've wondered when everything is so inexpensive how much people must get paid there...