January 26, 2007

Styrofoam Floats (11/18/06)

Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons.

In Ha Long Bay off the eastern coast of Vietnam, an entire village floats on water. One room wooden houses sit atop a framework of 2X4s tied together with rope, all kept afloat by big blocks of styrofoam wrapped in blue tarp. Children run along the planks as sure as if they were in their backyard, while dogs patrol their houses, barking at intruders. Laundry hangs on neat lines strung between posts, while small rowboats tied to the edge of the planks float lazily awaiting passengers.

These permanent dwellings are a result of a people who were driven from their land by a combination of bad land management, bad weather and unfriendly governement policies. What happens when you shoo farmers onto water? You make them… fish farmers!

With support from the Vietnamese government, the villagers have been sucessful in making a living with no land at all. In between the homes where a lawn might be are fish farms. A large net hanging below the surface keeps the fish from escaping. Touring the village in a kayak, I watched as men simply threw a spear downward into the pool and came up with a fish that was HUGE – almost a foot and half long.

Instead of convenience stores, small row boats laden with fruit and vegetables from the mainland paddle their wares around. From the rowboats that hovered around our big tourist boat, we could even buy beer, Oreos and Mars bars.

And this seemed to be but one example of preserverence, of survival and of the optimism of the Vietnamese. The sense of a better and brighter future was projected in all the people we met. We were told, over and over again, how Vietnam had just surpassed the US to become the world’s second largest rice producer. This is even more incredible when I realized that it is all using manual labor, with no machines.

Now, perhaps the next step would to open some “row through” fried fish restaurants…:)

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