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Friday, November 8: Day 200 – Fish Farm Friday

We are docked at Binh Long. I started the day with Tai Chi. It really showed me that I need to work on my balance. At the end of each movement, we stood still for one minute. That was the hardest part.

We boarded a Sampan and went down the river. Many floating fish farms appear along the riverbank. There are 6,000 fish per 3,500 cubic feet.

Legend says that a man accidentally discovered the idea of fish farming. He caught too many fish to eat so he put some fish in a cage in the water under his house. When he came back the next day, they were much bigger. The tidal river gives them a chance to exercise.

Barrels are used to weigh down the fish cages. Water hyacinth, a floating aquatic plant, grows on top for shade, food, and protection from predators. It is also used for erosion, better than concrete. However, water hyacinth is a strong invader. Its seeds are viable for 20 years. The plants can block oxygen for the fish.

There are two fish growing seasons. Each plot makes $4,000 per year, and most fish farmers here have at least ten plots.

The fish are fed soya, corn, rice bran, and seashell powder.

Instead of popcorn, the Vietnamese have popped rice. They added some sugar and formed what looked like a Rice Krispy.

After they burn the rice husk for fuel, they use the ash to fertilize the fields.

Wine is made here from rice and sticky rice. Sticky rice is a type of rice, not due to a cooking process. Sticky rice, on the right, makes better, more expensive wine.

The Vietnamese drink rice wine when they are happy. They drink rice wine when they are sad.

First, the rice is cooked. After it cools, yeast is added. Then it is put into a moonshine still. The alcohol content is 40% so the wine is served in a miniature sample cup.

They say that rice wine with cobra or snake is like Viagra. Also, one has more energy and lives longer – supposedly.

The local people cook coconut milk, sesame oil, and rice powder to make coconut candy. A mixture was on the fire. We were told that it must be stirred constantly for 40 minutes!!!

Don’t drink water from a green coconut. It will have green water. It is best to drink coconut water from a mature coconut. Shredded coconut is fed to pigs.

There used to be an army base on Cu Lao Gieng Island. Phi said that he thinks that it should be renamed to Mango Island since many mangos are grown here, and it is shaped like a mango. One hectare of mangos earns $45,000.

Cu Lao Gieng Island is known for shipbuilding. There are 50 families who are shipbuilders on this island. Our shipwright learned from his father. The cost of a boat is $200.

The shipwright builds wooden boats from April to July. Repairs are done in March and April in anticipation of the flood season from May to November. He is busy year-round. It takes him three days to make one boat. We asked him how long it took to learn this skill: three months if you are clever; three years if you are not.

First, he soaks the timber to prevent insects from attacking the wood. Then he cuts and planes. He uses fire to bend. He does this by eye. He does not use measurements.

People who live on the river rely on the boat for everything: a gym, transportation, socializing, etc.

Sometimes people will gather in the
middle of the river and drink and karaoke in a circle.

A boy needs a boat to take a girl to see the fireflies along the river.

Fifty million tons of sand are dredged from the Mekong each year. The sand from the river comes from sediment deposited downstream from Cambodia and Laos like a conveyor belt. An island is a gift from these countries.

One must have a license to dredge. They had been exporting to China but that has stopped, and the sand can only be used within Vietnam.

There are two types of sand: black and yellow. One cubic meter is $9 for black sand and $26 for yellow sand.

Every 10 years the Mekong level falls a little further. This in turn allows sea water to encroach into the land.

The conical bamboo hat is called “Non La”.

It is covered with dried palm leaves that have been ironed.

The form is made with bamboo that has been whittled. There are 16 rims to represent the most beautiful age of a girl. One must have good eyes and patience.

We crossed a wooden bridge and, we’re told no more than two at a time.

We visited a large Catholic Church. It is one year older than the church in Saigon.

In the 16th century Catholic missionaries came from France. Many were converting from Buddhism to Catholicism. The Nguyen dynasty turned to Confusianism which teaches that children obey the parents, the wife obeys the husband, the family obeys the emperor. Customs were starting to change and be challenged. The emperor started to worry.

In 1825 Emperor Minh Mang banned Catholics. All missionaries must leave. However, they stayed and continued to speak of Jesus. To escape persecution they hid here in the middle of an island in the middle of nowhere.

Today the population of Cu Lao Gieng Island is about 50,000. Five thousand are Catholic. Cemeteries are above ground due to floods as evidenced by this photo. It is interesting to note that incense is burned at the grave to memorialize loved ones that have died. This is akin to putting flowers on graves. Incense is part of the culture.

In 1859 the French came to rescue missionaries. Now I understand why the French came all the way to Vietnam from halfway around the world. Once in paradise, they decided to make it a colony.

Khanh’s Story

In 1954 his Catholic parents came from the North to Saigon. His parents were 9 and 16 years old. They met in the south.

His parents told Khanh and his brother to walk through the forest and get onto a boat. They weren’t aware of the dangers. It was like riding on a tiger. Vietnamese will send you back. Cambodians will kill you.

In 1989 Khanh was 15 and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 5½ years. He and his older brother had walked through the jungles of Cambodia in order to spend less time along the sea. They walked until they were met by armed troops.

Khanh’s brother now lives in Raleigh, NC, and raises chickens on a farm. Khanh would like to join him for the future of his children. He has been waiting 8½ years. Khanh was told on average that it takes 13 years.

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