Wednesday 23 November 2011

Vietnam Day 4 - Wednesday

In the morning Phuc and I were picked up and we were taken back to the parents place. I had expected another breakfast out but we ate at the house. A simple meal of rice, fish and some vegetable. The fish are small and have many bones, everyone eats it with gusto and the occasional spitting out of the larger pieces of backbone. I am a bit fussy and ended up finding the best way was to suck the fish off the bones. Not very elegant but it got the job done. I kept thinking of Bear Grylls. He still wins hands down.
This was dinner, but you get the idea of eating arrangements.
The family are fish breeders and the fish we were eating is bought in bulk, I assume at a nearby market, maybe 10 - 15 Kg at a time. This fish is de finned, gutted, heads removed and split in half.
Cleaning the Fish
Larger fish are dried, the dried fish is lovely. Other fish is reserved for that days meals and the rest is fed to the developing fish. The other bits i.e heads fins etc are ground up into fish paste. This is fed to the hatch lings which are kept in a nearby enclosure. The fish are fed 3 times a day. It is hard work, done by the women. I never saw the males do much work other than fish feeding. The fish that they grow reach reach about 70 - 80 cm long and are then sold in the markets. I could not determine the breed, they are a fresh water fish.
Fish feeding time, the nets keep the fish from swimming off.
For most of the day I was left to my own devices. I was not sure if I could leave and go for a walk or was going to be dragged off at any second. No books to read, no music to listen to, just lie in a hammock and try to pass the time. Phuc disappeared with family and it was only the children that had any interaction with me. The kids were a mixed blessing, the younger ones wanted to crawl all over me and by the end of the day I was filthy from the dirt off their feet and food and drink particles that they managed to drop on me. On the other hand they at least tried to communicate and the older ones tried to teach me some Vietnamese. However they were painful, when I took out a notebook and pencil they ripped it off me and wanted to play with them. They were not malicious, but I decided to leave the Tablet in my bag where it would not attract their attention.
I missed out on lunch that day, I don't think it was deliberate just that everyone ate privately and forgot about me.
In the early afternoon Phuc loaded me up onto a motorbike and we went to the nearby town of Ba Chuc. Once again no explanation just "later". Our first stop was a Pagoda built on a jumble of rocks overlooking the flood plains. Quite pretty and we could see back towards the nearby hills. It was a nice spot but I was not allowed to linger.
Phuc with the Delta in the background
We next went to a park of remembrance, actually a War Remnants Museum. Once again with no explanation of what or why. I managed to piece together that this was a memorial to the local Vietnamese who had been butchered by the Khmer Rouge. I have mentioned that this area is close to the Cambodian border and during the height of their power, in 1978, the Khmer Rouge crossed the border in force and continued their butchery on the Vietnamese locals. In total over 3000 people were killed. This page may help if it translates into English.  The Stupa held masses of skulls and bones that had been recovered. Some of the skulls were cracked or had holes in them, evidence of the brutal way that the people were killed. From what I could piece together no one was spared, the old and the young, men and women and infants. Those that ran away and hid were tracked down and killed also. This Stupa while not on the same scale was every bit as emotional as visiting the Killing Fields memorial near Phnom Penh. These incursions contributed to the Vietnamese finally invading Cambodia and putting an end to the Khmer Rouge.
The Stupa. Bones and skulls behind the golden posts inside the glass case.
We returned home and I returned to boredom. But only briefly.
A little later Phuc came to me and informed me that she needed a lot of money to buy her parents a house. She had promised to buy a house for her parents and needed to make a down payment on Friday (today was Wednesday) and a final payment within 30 days. I was astonished as it was clear that I was meant to dig her out of the financial hole. By that time I was surrounded by family members and it was difficult to give a straight out "no". I did not feel threatened but I was uncomfortably aware that I was in the middle of nowhere heavily reliant on these people to get around and that I could not even find a bus to get me back to civilisation.
I was trapped. If this was by design it was a very neatly executed trap. If it was by accident, they had managed to happen on a clever way of seperating me from any support. I feigned a lack of understanding and suggested that we needed an interpreter. She managed to get a commitment out of me to assist. It would be easy to say yes now and renege on the deal when I was safe! I took the safest course.
I was left alone again with my thoughts in turmoil. This place is really remote, no one speaks English, and as I later discovered I could not have arranged to catch a bus out on my own. It only occurred to me much later that I could probably have gone to the Police, but I already knew that they did not speak English. I didn't want to escalate that far as it would be easier for the family to accuse me of some mis-demeanour than I could defend myself.
Late in the afternoon I took a walk, I ended up taking a couple of the children with me. I managed to buy some beers and some drinks for the children with me. I made a faux pas as I overlooked buying Phuc a drink. She asked me if I had bought her one and made me feel guilty that I had not. She had a point, it was not very thoughtful of me. However it is not every day that you are dragooned into buying someone's parents a house.
Beer and fish with the neighbours.
On the positive side I now had beers so that at least I could have a drink and while away the hours. As it happened though, in the early evening, a couple of neighbours came over and I shared the beers with them. They contributed some nuts and dried fish, which was very nice and tasted like Kippers and it looked like we were about to start a jolly party. Just then I was dragged off back to the hotel.
I was informed that we were off to Long Xuyen in the morning to "get married". That scared me. I had by now got serious doubts about maintaining a relationship.
Serious doubts! I was trying to work out the quickest way of leaving. I was never on my own long enough to make a run for it and being the only Westerner for miles, I would be quickly found if I did make a run. I had another sleepless night.
As it happened nocturnal activities were cut off that night with no explanation. Adding it all up I think that my usefulness was almost at an end. The marriage bit worried me, but I knew that Vietnamese buraucracy would not allow that to happen the next day.
The Bludger was putting on a poker face and dreading putting up a front for the next couple of days.

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