Illegal miners chase dreams of gold in central Vietnam

By Dac Thanh   July 22, 2020 | 04:38 pm GMT+7

In a jungle of Quang Nam, miners crawl through deep tunnels searching for luck before a raid by authorities forces them to run for cover.

In Phuoc Duc Commune of central Quang Nam Province's Phuoc Son District, Tuan, 24, mines gold illegally with a friend, having invested in equipment, hired a few associates, and set up shop in the forest.

The tunnels they dig are mostly supported by bare rock alone, the stifling air inside making it hard to breathe and see despite the availability of flashlights.

Those with experience say gold can usually be found on rocky cliffs, where miners patiently dig and haul soil outside using carts.

A tunnel where gold miners work. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

The narrow and rickety entrance to a mine. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

"Tunnels zigzag up and down deep below ground," Tuan said.

After two hours, miners usually surface for fresh air and a drink of water. They utilize a power generator and crusher to pulverize the excavated stone and soil before filtration, hoping to find some gold.

Tuan, short and dark, from central Nghe An Province, has done many jobs since childhood, previously supplying a gold mining company with firewood.

Having grown up among gold miners, Tuan has earned VND4 million ($172.5) per month. After tyingthe knot, he decided to settle down in central Quang Nam Province.

In 2017, the company's license expired, forcing Tuan to quit and work for several other gold bosses, who all ended up empty handed, and out of pocket.

In 2019, he borrowed money to buy his own power generator and crusher and set up his own dig inside the forest. Over the past 12 months, he has fled several official raids, losing his equipment at one stage. Regardless, Tuan has never given up on his dream.

After hiding for several days, he borrowed more money, bought more gear, and started from scratch.

He knows what he is doing is illegal, but "it is too difficult to make money at home, so I have to stick with this job, to hopefully set myself up in some other trade."

Nearby, Ha is also nursing a golden dream. Having set up a small hut in which to sleep at night, he hired two helpers whom he pays VND6 million ($259.4) per month each. During the day, they continuously dig and crush soil.

Over 25 years ago, Ha left his hometown in central Thua Thien Hue Province for Phuoc Son Dictrict in Quang Ngai to become a gold miner. Years later, the family man has mastered the trade.

The only light source in the deep dark tunnel is their torch. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

A flashlight is the only light source inside the dark tunnel. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Like many other illegal gold miners, Ha runs for cover whenever local authorities execute a raid. All of his machines have been destroyed at some point or another, but without affecting his outlook.

After dozens of years in the jungle, Ha always burns incense and prays for luck before entering the tunnels, where many have lost their lives.

In November 2017, a landslide claimed six miners.

Earlier that year, three men from northern Thai Nguyen Province came to Phuoc Son looking for gold. They worked for a boss in Phuoc Hoa Commune and earned VND5 million ($216.16) per month.

Soon after, their boss quit, prompting the trio to invest in their own equipment and set up their own dig.

Gold miners work under a 30-meter deep well. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Gold miners work as deep as 30 m below ground. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

In October 2017, the three employed 16 men from central Nghe An Province and northern Lai Chau Province, splitting the work into two shifts, one from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., the other from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.

In November, a hurricane hit Quang Nam, causing severe floods. At 11 a.m. on November 5, 2017, trying to rescue their gear, the landslide swept away six of the men.

Another accident occurred last year, in Phuoc Kim Province, killing one miner. Two others were jailed for one year on charges of violating the law on natural resource exploitation.

"This job is dangerous and hard, but gold mining has been with us nearly half our lives, so we can't give it up," Ha confessed.

"I hope luck would smile on me at least once, then I would bid farewell to this job and enjoy old age."

 
 
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