Mekong. Floating Markets | Culture – Planet Doc Full Documentaries


Our journey along the Mekong is coming to an end. Before flowing into the China Sea, in Vietnam, the river forms an extensive and complex delta, known as The Nine Dragons. A network of 5,000 kilometres of natural and artificial canals carries the waters to the rice fields. Rice is the most important crop in Vietnam, and provides a living for 70% of the population. Each hectare of land produces 8 tonnes of rice a year. All land belongs to the government, which leases it to the peasants, who work it. In exchange, they have to give 10% of the harvest. The success of the harvest depends on the summer monsoons. If these do not come, the level of the river falls so much that the seawater invades the rice fields, destroying the crop and causing starvation. Cantho is the largest city in the delta. It’s small in size, but with a large population. It’s five in the morning, and in one corner of the market, the Lee family runs a flourishing fish business. Hue is thirty years old, and she is responsible for organising the sale of the merchandise every morning. Her biggest customer is the government itself, which in turn, sells to the restaurants and the workers in the state factories. Along with her, another fifteen members of the family help to unload, classify and clean the fish. The market in Cantho is an example of the rich gastronomy of Vietnam. Over five hundred different dishes, but all of them served with rice. The Vietnamese boast that they eat everything that flies, except the airplanes, everything that swims, except the boats, and everything with legs, except the tables. And they’re not far wrong some market stalls sell delicacies which would turn the stomach of most westerners. Vietnamese markets are also a good place to witness the ingenious ways in which people earn a living, and the ear cleaners, a job with a long, venerable tradition, is a good example. Eight o’clock in the morning, and the Lee’s are still busy at work. They transport the fish in primitive fish-farming boats. One of the Hue brothers, and his eldest son, Dhan, who’s twelve years old, are responsible for unloading. All types of boats come to the market to buy and sell many different things in the numerous floating markets around the delta. Most people live in small villages, and never very far from the water, which is their only means of transport. There are some roads in the delta, built by the French when they colonised this country, and the Americans during the war. Most road transport depends on the ferries, but travelling this way is not easy. Because of lack of space, the farmers lay out the rice to dry along the roads, making it very difficult for traffic. So, the Mekong has become the only real way to transport goods. The small boats, in turn, supply the much larger ones, which travel to the most remote villages of the delta. It’s nine o’clock in the morning, and in the floating market of Phong Dien, a few kilometres to the south of Cantho, it’s almost impossible to move. At times, it’s difficult to know where the land ends and the water begins. The delta was, until the eighteenth century, part of the Khmer Kingdom of neighbouring Cambodia, and was the last region to be annexed by Vietnam. The Cambodians have not forgotten this territory, which still today they call Lower Cambodia. It is one more reason for the mutual hatred between the two countries. Like the river, the streets of Cantho are bustling with people. We mustn’t forget that 77 million people live in Vietnam, with a population density of 230 inhabitants per square kilometre. Around ten o’clock in the morning, the Lee family gets ready to return home. Today they have sold fish worth ,405$ an absolute fortune if we consider that the average salary of a civil servant is not even 30$ a month. They are a typical upper middle class family, with annual net income of almost a 5400$. The Lees live quarter of an hour from the market, on the other side of the main branch of the Mekong, in a group of floating houses. Their life revolves around the water and fishing so much so that Tuang, the grandfather, spends his spare time trying to catch the odd little fish. As soon as they get back, the women have to take care of the children, while the men prepare the fish for the next day. The technique they use to breed and store the fish is very simple, but very effective. The fish are kept inside cages underneath the houses, and all they have to do to catch them is lift the trap doors in the floor, and put down a net. The current of the river constantly renews the water inside the cages. Then, the fish are taken to the fish–farming boat, where they are sorted by size. The smallest are returned to the cages. In another room, Na Trang prepares the food for the fish, a paste made with flour and dried fish. ThenuDanh, Hue’s son, and his cousin distribute it through the cages. As soon as they have finished feeding the fish, Danh goes off to school. At twelve o’clock, all activity stops. It’s time for lunch. Normally, the women and children eat first, in a separate room. For the Lee family, lunch is almost a sacred ceremony, especially for the men. This is the only time in the day they can relax and chat. Surrounded by a delicious variety of dishes of rice, vegetables and fish, they start eating, all the time laughing and discussing their favourite subject, the family business, the atmosphere helped by the rice liquor. The women, in the background, make sure they have everything they need. Soon, it will be night again, and little by little the inhabitants of the Mekong delta return to their homes. Danh and his friends spend the last hours of the day watching television. Tomorrow, they will again have to get up at four o’clock in the morning to help their mother in the market, then return home to feed the fish, before rushing off to school. But Danh doesn’t mind, he well knows that, in a few years this flourishing business will be his.

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