Floating existence keeps Saigon couple on even keel

By Quynh Tran   April 9, 2019 | 06:00 pm GMT+7

For more than 40 years, a small boat anchored in a Saigon mangrove forest has been home for a content couple.

Couple lives off the grid in Saigons mangrove forest

On the Ba Giong River in the Can Gio mangrove forest is this small boat, the home of Dang Van Trieu, 70, and his wife Nguyen Thi Ngoc Van, 68.

Couple lives off the grid in Saigons mangrove forest - 1

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975 Trieu and his wife left the rural district of Can Duoc in Long An Province in the Mekong Delta and moved to Can Gio District to start a new life.

"I left my hometown because I could not catch much fish there," Trieu says. "Since my ancestors spent their lives on the river, living with the water is a part of my life no matter where I go."

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After nearly half a century of living in the forest, the couple's life has not changed much. The firewood stove in the rear of the boat is where meals, mainly comprising shrimp and fish, are cooked.

Van explains: "It takes nearly half an hour to get here from shore. But there is only plant and no residential area on land, so gas and electric cookers are inconvenient.

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"Nearly 30 years ago this area had plenty of shrimp and fish that I couldn't trade for rice. There was a day I had to find wild vegetables in the forest and cook it with congee for the family.

"Now, we are comfortable with just two meals a day."

All five of their children are married. Only the couple still live on the boat.

Couple lives off the grid in Saigons mangrove forest - 4

As Van takes care of the cooking, Trieu rows into the mangrove forest to collect wood or set traps to catch crabs.

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For nearly half a century the family has swam in this river every day.

Trieu says: "For freshwater, I ask forest rangers or passing boats to buy some for us. The water is used for cooking and making tea. We use river water to wash clothes and use fresh water for the final rinse."

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While most of their children have moved elsewhere, one of their sons got a house nearby. He visits his parents whenever he does not go fishing.

Dang Thanh Phat, 38, says: "I tried but couldn't persuade my parents to move and live on shore. They go to shore for important occasions and then rush back to the boat. Even during Tet (Lunar New Year), they just want to stay in the forest."

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They used to use oil lamps, then switched to battery lamps and then to electricity from solar panels on top of the boat.

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For years now the radio has been their only link with the outside world. Trieu listens to the news while Van likes to hear music, cai luong (Vietnamese folk opera) and late-night stories.

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At night, they pull up the net they cast earlier in the day to check.

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Inside are some squid, shrimp and small fish.

Trieu says: "In the past there were lots of fish here, but lately it is getting less. The catch is better during the rainy season. If we are lucky and have a great catch, we will sell it off to earn some money. But we do not overharvest."

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They feel anything but lonely. In fact, they find life peaceful without neighbors or the bustle of the city.

Trieu says: "I am glad we are able to live a happy and healthy life at this age. I've never needed to visit a hospital.

"Our children are not wealthy, but they have a stable life and still remember and visit us when they can. That is enough for us."

 
 
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