The fresh seafood you get at Vietnamese restaurants starts its journey to your plate very early. Fishermen who spent the night on the lagoon come into the harbor of a small fishing village to sell their wares and swap the latest news. They arrive in small boats, some powered by gasoline engines and some powered by paddles and oars. The harbor channel consists of fish pen fences – bamboo stakes driven into the earth only a few feet below the surface. Each pen has its own little fishing shack, accessible only by boat.
(Be sure to click on each photo to see a larger version of it.)
These are people who spend all of their working day on the water – they have been in boats all their lives. The smallest of children get used to being in a boat at an age when they learn to walk – it’s just the way life is lived. They tag along with Mom as she sells the night’s catch – and most likely, this young boy will be working alongside his mother before too much longer.
And these are poor people. They are far removed from the glitz, glamour and money of the big cities. The lagoon they fish is slowly dying as pollution from nearby shrimp farms and raw waste dumped in the rivers that flow into it kills off the fish. There is a question whether this little girl will be able to earn a livelihood from the lagoon when she grows up.
Nearby, her mother makes a sale to the fish monger who will then take the catch into the city or nearby village markets for sale. If she, like many of the others, has been out on the lagoon during the night, she is probably hungry – so a stop at the local eatery is called for. You won’t find fancy stuff here – just good inexpensive nutritious fare such as soup, rice or noodles. Notice the television antenna – hey, you gotta watch the morning news, right?
Many of the fisher folk on the lagoon are functionally illiterate. It’s a real problem that must be solved if the cycle of poverty is ever going to be broken. Without an education, this young man may not know any way to make a living other than fishing. While many may bemoan the disappearance of the “traditional” Viet Nam, the fact remains that Viet Nam must find ways to spread the wealth from the cities into the countryside. One of those ways is by education. While primary schooling is supposed to be mandatory, the very small tuition is still more than many families can afford. Once he is off the boat, our young man scampers over the little bamboo bridge into the village and on to school.
And the nights catch is on its way to market.
There is a sidebar to this story. As usual, I went out on this shoot with my good friend Mr. Cu – who has forgotten more about photographing people than I will ever know. I got up at 4:30am for the ride to the village. First light was breaking as we checked out the little harbor and I realized the rising sun would be in a place that wouldn’t make for good photos, so I proposed we rent a boat. I’m glad we did – and glad Cu took this shot of me. The next day, he gave me a large print of it – and with a large grin said “Advertising for the new photography tour business we’re going to start.”
Not a bad idea, Cu – not a bad idea.