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Discovery life of local people in Phu Quoc

Wed, 03 Sep 2014 . Last updated Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:48

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Phu Quoc is an island district in the southern Vietnam. This island appeals a numerous tourists every year by not only stunning beaches and abundant seafood source but also the interesting life of local people here.

I am Timothy Middleton coming from Australia. I have been lived in Vietnam for 3 years and working as an architect for the green projects. Vietnam always brings me amazing experiences. That is reason why I love this country and people here. The destination of my trip this time is Phu Quoc Island.

Phu Quoc is known by nickname “the Paradise Island”, always attracting a large number of domestic and international tourists. However, not many people are able to discover the life of local people lived here from generations. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam, is surrounded by the most beautiful beaches and offers the best seafood resource in the country.

With the area of 574 kilometer square, this heart-shaped island with 22 other islands forms the Phu Quoc Island district, the southern province of Kien Giang. Phu Quoc has the monsoon tropical climate; the average temperature in Phu Quoc is 28 degree Celsius, allowing visitors to enjoy the island beauty at anytime in the year. We are in Phu Quoc, the island in the southern Vietnam.

Besides abundant resources from the sea, Phu Quoc has wonderful soil condition to grow the perennial plants. This island is known as the best pepper in Vietnam. Phu Quoc pepper is high quality. Also people in island is planted cashew trees contributing to the economic development and tourism on this island.

There are two main parts in Phu Quoc: the ocean and the mountain. And I am coming to mountain of Phu Quoc and am going to meet Mrs. Anh. She is a local people been here for a very long time. She is going to show me about the life of people here.

- Have you just arrived?

- How are you?

- I’m fine. And you?

- I’m fine. Are you tired after the long trip?

- No, I’m not.

- Come and collect some coconuts. It will help you refresh.

Born and raised in Phu Quoc, Mrs. Lam Viet Anh is now over 60 years old. This means she has experienced more than 60 years in the rain and sunshine of this island. To me, Mrs. Anh is the truth representative of a generation experiencing difficulties when reclaiming this island.

Explored the natural beauty of this island and the local life of people here, I just realize how rich the land is here, how rich the heritage of the people is here. I discover something that I haven’t known before. It is really excited for me.

My father lived in this land. After 1975, I worked as a government officer for a while. When my first born was 2 years old, I returned here and settled down. It was very hard at that time. There were big trees next to my house which was very small. My husband and I reclaimed this area step by step. We grew sweet potatoes, cassava and rice as well as caught fish in streams and swamps for food.

Her story is sad or funny, it contains her experiences and memories from this island. Water is essential resource for survive. It’s clearly when I ask Mrs. Anh about the old days of this island. She said that this island is really blessed. Fresh water in this island seems to be in everywhere as well as strong enough to dig well. Thanks to abundant supply of fresh water, plants in the island are verdant.

This is the well of Mrs. Anh house. She said it was dug 30 years ago. At that time, this well may support water for the whole village. So even today, despite having the water supply from the water plant, she and her family still use this well for daily activities and watering plants. Mrs. Anh’s life in the old days is hardship, dependent on the forest to live and stamp her family and 5 children. Mrs. Anh told me that the forest gave her everything from food to small tools in her house.  

That time was so hard. We ever had nothing to eat for 8 months. Not a single of grain at all. I had to collect rose myrtle in the forest to sell for rice and affording the schooling of my children. I have 5 children. I collect all kinds of wild fruits which are edible to earn a little money to raise my children.

I really enjoy listening to stories from the past. Even though it is not my story, the story of Mrs. Anh is really special for me. She makes me think about my family about past and some of my ancestors. So that is special connection.

In her story, Mrs. Anh told me about wild fruits which save her family from starvation in the difficult time, particularly the rose myrtle. I am really curious about this fruit. Mrs. Anh gave me a chance to collect rose myrtle and make a unique specialty in Phu Quoc. I am here in countryside of Phu Quoc, one of the oldest villages in Phu Quoc. I am Mrs. Anh are going to the forest to look for rose myrtle. Until now, no one knows why there are abundant rose myrtles in Phu Quoc. To explain the appearance of rose myrtle, people guessed due to the good soil. For rose myrtle tree is usually not tall. But here, the rose myrtle in Phu Quoc has the height of 2 to 3 meters. The rose myrtle forest in the island and people are freely explored if it does not affect on the environment. The rose myrtle has flowers and fruits all year round. The crop having the best quality is spring time from the January to the March lunar calendar. It’s a pity when I come to Phu Quoc is the end of spring, so I am not able to see how vast forest fruit is. Mrs. Anh said that at the best time, every people can collect 5 to 6 kilograms fruits per year.

Look. You’re an unskillful picker. Mrs. Anh and I have collected Sim fruits about one hour, but I have just been got this many. Now this is the end of the season, so it is not easy to find them and we can just pick the ripen fruits like this. If it is in season, there are lots more. I will do my best to collect them in order to make Sim wine. 

She is so friendly and funny. She moves in the forest very quickly. Sometimes I cannot keep up with her. I think she goes to the forest so many times. I did not know how many times, but she is very excited when she finds some small Sim fruit on the tree.  This is all Sim fruits that I and Mrs. Anh get in whole morning. And now we are selecting the fruits not get standard. After this, she will show me how to start processing to make Sim wine. It is not difficult to make sim wine; I think that the secret is not only the taste of fruit but also the industriousness of people here. After hour finding Sim fruits I felling tired but I will try out all process of wine processing.

Firstly, You have to cut the knob of each Sim fruit, because this part make the wine very tart.  

Averagely, I collect about a tone of rose myrtle to make wine per year, sometimes about 700 – 800 kilos. I also brew rice wine myself to secure the quality of my rose myrtle wine. Do you use rose myrtle to make other dishes?

No, we just can eat this fruit fresh or use it to make wine only. The rose myrtle wine is very good. It helps reduce one’s tiredness. It’s especially good for digestion. When your stomach is upset, drinking rose myrtle wine will help. It is also used to release pains in joins and back. Now we wash the fruits and prepare to grind them. When we wait the Sim fruit to dry, I reward myself a little nap in the special place. Very long time ago, I have the precious chance to like this, a proper nap in an ancient house in the suburbs. In the busy life, moments like this are becoming too rare.

Then you wash the fruit, now it’s time to grind Sim fruit. Finally, when the Sim fruit is pounded and mixed with the sugar with the ratio of 1 kilogram of fruits and 4 ounces of sugar. After some days, the mixture between Sim and sugar is called honey myrtle. After that, people pour wine into the honey myrtle to soak. Sim will be soaked like this until it is turned into a delicious wine

The juice will come out within several days. We can have the rose myrtle wine after 3 months at the quickest. Usually, you should wait for 6 months. I’ll give some of my already wine, so you can taste it.  Today, the rose myrtle wine or Sim wine is known as a unique specialty in Phu Quoc. But to me, after hearing stories of Mrs. Anh it is much more than that it is the tradition hardworking of mothers like Mrs. Anh.

- Is the wine delicious?

- Yes, it is.

- Do you like seafood?

- Sure.

Here. I give you a bottle of the rose myrtle wine. Drink it whenever you have seafood.

We show how people in the mountainous area in Phu Quoc live on. Now I am in beautiful Khem beach, I am going to meet Mr. Ba, a fisherman to learn about how he earn living and goes fishing  on this beautiful beach. Mr. Ba is Quang Ngai person, he has lived in Phu Quoc nearly 30 years old living by fishing on this island. He cannot remember how many times he wants to quit this work because of its difficulty and danger. However, fishing is like a destiny, and thanks to the sea, he is enough for his family and 4 children. Almost 30 years, he set food at comers, beaches on this island.

Mr Ba has promised to take me fishing in the shallow water offshore. Before each fishing trip, He often checks and maintains carefully his boat to ensure everyone safety. It’s time to go fishing; I and local people are really hard to put the boat into the water.

This fish are food for my family. It is so hard to get the boat in the water. Although, the life of a fishermen is so hard and I still cling to it. I‘d never leave the Mr. Ba. This fish are food for my family. If there are lots of them, I can even sell some and earn money. Mr. Ba usually carries “thuyen thung” in each fishing trip. To Phu Quoc people, “thuyen thung” is always the popular means for fishing near the shore.

They have many different sizes. The basket boat is made of bamboo, and then coated plastic or waterproof paint. The boat can carry up one to a lot of people and even fishing equipment. It's hard to control the basket boat. I try many times to control this boat but I am not able to do this. I was not able to do it. Phu Quoc native dogs are very smart and intelligent. They can help to catch fish. They are considered as a close friend in each fishing trip. The beautiful scenery and the fresh sea breath of Phu Quoc have attracted me. To local fishermen in Phu Quoc, it may be the most peaceful moment in each their trip.

We have come to a desert island and Mr. Ba will show me how to catch fishes in the shallow water. And you can see I stand up a “thuyen thung”, traditional Vietnamese boat for fishing. This net on the boat looks messy. I think it is very easy, but when I try it, I see that it is not easy.

Now I come to another beach and Mr. Ba is going to take me to look for oyster and sea urchins. Most fishermen in Khem beach live by fishing offshore and diving. They still do this in the traditional way, fishing and diving without protective gear and oxygen. So this work is quite dangerous but they can earn better living than other jobs. The sea in Phu Quoc is quiet calm, not so rough; the water is beautiful blue color. We are diving to see the beautiful coral reef. It is amazing to see and touch those coral reefs. The fishes themselves like silver sparkling under the sea water. It is so beautiful when contemplating them.

Collecting oysters is popular work of fishermen here. They have to use tools as awl and hammer to move oyster on the rock. In the past, they used to move oyster when they have nothing to eat. Nowadays, oyster is not the main job for the money; they still look for oyster as their other hobby.

Finishing our fishing trip with nearly 10 sea urchins and about 1 kilogram of small fishes, Mr Ba told me that the seafood is just enough for our dinner. After ending the job, we go ashore and prepare for dinner on the beach. I don’t think there are many delicious dishes in a beautiful place like this.

- I’ve got something special for you.

- This is Sim wine.

- Ok, give me a cup.              

Seafood and Sim wine go so well together.

- Do you often eat like we are doing now?

- Always, we eat seafood everyday right on the beach after fishing. Sometimes we have an abundance of it to bring home. It’s so hard during rainy or stormy days. We are happy when the sea is calm and peaceful. On such peaceful days, we can enjoy ourselves as we are doing now.

I feel like people here more calm and peaceful. It is natural about their hospitability. Thought they rarely go out of the island, they are very easy going. When I talk with them, I see their incredibly cheery smile. I wish I knew more Vietnamese to talk more with them.

- You can never have such moments like this in the city. It only happens to fishermen. Here we are! Under the sky and on the sea.

In Vietnam Discovery this time, I have gone to the deep mountain of Phu Quoc got the Sim fruits, made Sim wine, got the see how local people lived in the mountainous area. And now, I get experience the sea life as well. I think the life in Phu Quoc is really a dream life.


Source: VTV4 –VTV-vn

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