Fishing is one of the more popular ways to make a living for the people of Hoi An. And there seem to be a myriad of ways to catch a fish here...fishing traps, cast net fishing and instruments made from bamboo to lift and lower large nets are some of the many solutions. I hired a boat to take me out onto the Cua Dai River at sunrise to witness a little of the traditional fishing life and the natural beauty surrounding the Duy Vinh fishing village.
Easily one of the most spectacular sights to be seen on the river at sunrise are the large fishing nets that are lowered into the water to catch fish. Held in place by bamboo sticks and taut ropes, each fishing net is approximately 10 square metres. By day they remain lifted out of the water to dry out. However from dusk through to dawn, the fishermen lower the nets into the water for one or two hours and then slowly pull on the ropes using foot-powered winches until the whole net is suspended above the water. Then, using small long-tail boats or bamboo basket boats paddled beneath the nets, the fishermen guide the fish to a hole in the middle of the net and spill them directly into their boats. This procedure is repeated again and again until dawn.
The thung chai, or "basket boat" is a novel sight to any newcomer in Vietnam. Woven from bamboo and coated in a waterproof resin made from tar or coconut oil, these small circular boats trace their roots back to the French colonial era. As legend has it, when the French arrived in Vietnam they introduced a tax on the ownership of boats. Of course the local fishermen could not afford to pay and so they made the thung chai, arguing that they were not boats but baskets - therefore avoiding the tax. These vessels have been a feature of the waterways ever since. To me they look very labour intensive to row but locals assure me that the Vietnamese prefer them to a regular boat.
Pulling in to the Duy Vinh fishing port one most certainly gets the feeling that they are being watched. According to Vietnamese folklore tradition, boats are "spiritual creatures" or "animals with souls" and must therefore, like other creatures, have eyes. Painting eyes on a boat is an important local ritual and "opens the eyes" of the vessel, bringing it to life. Another myth is that the eyes strike fear into water demons and keep the vessels safe. A local source told me that the women paint the eyes on the boat so that if their husbands drink too much out at sea or on the river that the boat can lead them safely back home! Whatever their purpose they most certainly add colour and atmosphere to the waterways.
I walk through the Duy Vinh village at around 6.30am and it is abuzz with trading. Fish, squid, eels, octopus, crab, shrimp - you name it. If it smells fishy then it is probably for sale here. Having grown up in Australia, which has strict rules about catch-sizes, it's alarming to see such small fish on offer for sale here. Another eyeopener was the disconnect between their ancient methods of fishing and trading happening in an environment littered with modern waste: plastic bags and other rubbish. That aside, it's certainly a far cry from the environmental woes of Vietnam's north central coast where, in April, millions of dead fish washed up on beaches in Quang Binh province, killed by industrial pollution.
By 7am the sun is starting to beat down hot and the men retreat to a shady spot to play cards. Most of the day's fishing is done and the market is winding down, too . Until now I hadn't noticed how integral the temperature is to daily rhythms here. I realised how well the people here have adapted to their climate - it made me vow to take a leaf out of their book: rise early to work, rest during the day and party through the late afternoon.