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The tamarind picker of Saigon

By Quynh Tran   May 19, 2017 | 03:02 pm GMT+7

For a 40-year-old migrant, the ubiquitous trees that line up Saigon streets provide the fruit to his labor.

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Phan Hoa Tiep, 40, from the Mekong Delta’s Tra Vinh Province, walks Ho Chi Minh City streets every day looking for tamarind trees. He started picking the sour fruit, widely used in Vietnamese cuisine, three years ago. “I used to be a porter but I had to quit after a leg injury."

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He works from 10 a.m. until late afternoon every day, picking around 60 kilograms of tamarind a day or 50 kilograms after peeling, which sells for VND700,000 ($31). He shares some of the money with those who help him.. “The money is enough, if spent carefully,” Tiep said.

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His main tool is three bamboo poles tied together that can reach a height of 15 meters.

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The job is simple but it needs a lot of strength, Tiep said. “The stick alone is 20 kilograms and it’s hard enough just to raise it to the top of the tree and keep it from swinging. Then you have to pull the branch as hard as you can for the pods to drop. "

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Two other people in his team help him gather the tamarind. "We stay away from crowded streets."

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Tiep said the tamarinds on Saigon streets are small and sour.

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Tiep said his wife and children help peel the tamarinds before selling them at a wholesale market for VND17,000 or 75 cents a kilogram. Sometimes he meets random buyers on the street. He often gets yelled at by people for picking tamarinds in front of their houses or blocking the street.