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Saturday, November 9: Day 201 – A Different Way of Life

Châu Đốc in Southwest Vietnam is a border city with Cambodia. Phi told us that it has excellent feng shui. Three rivers merge here. Châu Đốc is draped along the banks of the Hau Giang River. We saw Sam Mountain in the background.

Significant Chinese, Cham, and Khmer communities live here. The total population is about 160,000. Primary occupations include farming, fishing, trading, and smuggling.

Along the riverbank we saw industrial fish farms with houses. They are raising mainly tilapia and catfish. Catfish is desirable to export because it can be filleted. Châu Đốc is known across Vietnam as “the kingdom of pickled fish”.

Most houses here are metal sheets on mangrove wood stilts. The stilts are built to the level of past floods. Floods are good for fishing because the fish travel downstream during the periods of the floods. Farmers are happy about floods, too. They bring silt that fertilizes the land.

There are three rice crops per year here. The best crop is right after a flood.

We took a sampan boat down the Vĩnh Tế Canal. This 54-mile-long canal in southern Vietnam is designed to give the territory of Châu Đốc a direct access to the Hà Tiên sea gate, Gulf of Siam. The canal relieved overflooding. It also brought richer soil to the local farming area. The water is brown due to the silt and is even browner during the rainy season.

The canal also became a fence line during times of war.

Canals were built 150 to 200 years ago by ancestors so the Vietnamese people are very thankful. Canals originally used as waterways are now used for irrigation.

Emperor Gia Long of Nguyễn Dynasty ordered the mandarin Nguyễn Văn Thoại to dig the new canal along the Cambodian–Vietnamese border. He named the canal after his daughter, Vĩnh Tế.

They have lots of channels which make hundreds of islands. Roads came later.

There are short seasons, flood seasons and dry seasons. Each season grows a different type of crops.

Vietnam doesn’t have cowboys, but they do have buffalo boys. Water buffalo work in the rice fields with the farmer. The buffalo boy controls the buffaloes.

Phi tried riding a buffalo once. He was thrown to the ground. The buffalo didn’t know him. Phi doesn’t do that anymore.

There is also a duck boy. He wakes up at 5am so he can collect a few hundred duck eggs before the ducks wake up and damage the eggs. Vietnam doesn’t have cowboys.

A small fishing boat was throwing a net into the river. They pulled alongside for a question and answer session. This father and son catches ten fish per day. The fish are becoming smaller and smaller as the river is overfished. The big fish are gone.

Sam Mountain is about 765 feet tall. It looks like a horseshoe from the sky. People found a hollow at the top of the mountain. There is a legend about a 4-foot statue of Lady Xu that was discovered there. It is very heavy. According to legend nine virgins were able to carry the statue to its current location where it became heavy again. A temple was built.

Lady Xu is the goddess of the region. It is disrespectful to take a picture of the goddess.

We visited the most sacred temple in Chào Doc. One’s religion doesn’t matter as all come here to make wishes. If the wish comes true, they will return with a tangible offering.

The most popular offering is a roasted pig because it is a symbol of prosperity and the easy life. The pig is placed belly side down as if bowing to the goddess. When everything has finished in about ten minutes, the pig is turned upside meaning that the offering is accepted.

One can leave the pig, take it home, or divide it in half. What is left behind is given to the poor. Those who don’t have $50-60 to buy a pig can rent a one! Phi doesn’t think they would get their wish because they aren’t sincere enough.

Sometimes they leave other items such as jewels, gold and money. The American $2 bill is lucky in Vietnam because the only survivor in a plane crash had this bill in his wallet.

We saw the only monument in the world to honor catfish and the fish farmer. The lower fish are Minute Carp or Mud Carp. The statue was built in 2003 at a cost of $100,000.

We went to the large traditional market where one can buy food and clothes.

We also went to an island known for scarf weaving. They told us that about 50 families weave there.

This island is long. It is 8 square miles with a population of 22,000. The island is known for fishing and weaving. They used to weave silk, but they are not able to compete with China so now they weave cotton blends.

The island had many mulberry bushes which are the only ones that the silk worm eats.

How silk was invented: Once upon a time in China, a queen sat down under a mulberry tree to drink a cup of tea. A cocoon dropped into hot tea. The cocoon unwrapped and turned into shiny threads. She looked for the source and found a worm whose body was covered like a mummy. They started to weave silk and kept it secret for many years.

Every village has a communal house which becomes a court for the village elder to give his wisdom.

Children shriek and wave when they see us. Since they are learning English in school, they are quick to say hello and want to practice their English.

We met a pharmacist who was a Viet Cong guerilla. The civil war remains controversial as there were brothers fighting against brothers. This 74-year-old man was indoctrinated by the communists’ propaganda that said, “The South was invaded.”

He showed us scars from the war with shrapnel still embedded in his body. He is missing part of his ear due to a bullet coming dangerously close to his head. He can’t hear in that ear very well. No more war. He knows firsthand how bad war is.

He had pictures of communist leaders on his walls. They are his heros. However the war is long over, and he is friendly.

He invited us into his home and introduced us to his family. He hugged us a lot and shook hands with all 40 of us.

He was trained in Cambodia to be a medic. Today he treats people for minor illnesses in the village. When it is serious, an ambulance takes them to the mainland.

During the war he did not have much medical equipment or antiseptic.

The 9th infantry division “old reliable” was charged with securing the Mekong Delta.

“War is over. Our country is a developing economy thanks to the west.” He would like to come to see our country someday.

Phi taught us a lot about Vietnam. He has gone back to Saigon. We will get a new guide in Cambodia. Phi kept us entertained. A parting comment: Someone prayed “god give me a fat bank account and skinny body. Don’t mix it up like last year.”

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