It was a quiet and peaceful morning. The sun had just begun to rise. There was a slight crispness in the air, but you could tell that as the day approached, it would get warmer. I decided to get up early this one particular morning; before the planned activities of the day were to begin; before all of the other tourist awoke. I wanted to experience the early morning life of the locals; to observe them in their daily activities, living their lives. I wanted to explore life in a floating fishing village.
A floating fishing village is just that:a village of people who fish for a living, with their homes all built on floating wooden planks on the water. This village that I wanted to explore was on Cat Ba Island of Halong Bay, in Vietnam. The population of this village was 1,000. The homes were small on these floating wooden planks – about the size of an average living room, but comprised of a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom for each family. The planks themselves were just wide enough to support the homes, and to allow room for the villagers to walk around. Around the homes, the planks extended out in order to allow fishing nets to drape over rectangular shaped holes in the water where fish were gathered. These holes held a lot of fish.
I wanted to experience this floating fishing village via a boat. Not just any boat, not a motorized boat, not a sail boat, not a yacht; but a tiny wooden boat, powered by oars – the oars powered by a local Vietnamese woman. A small, but strong, woman. She paddled and maneuvered these oars of the wooden boat in between the homes, and around the fishing holes, and through this floating fishing village with ease.
I saw the local people catching fish in this early quiet morning; I saw them feeding larger fish with smaller fish, carrying fish in baskets, cleaning and rinsing fish, transporting the fish via wooden boats, chopping fish, cooking fish, and preparing fish to be sold. I smelled the aroma of the fish being cooked. These activities were done by both men and women, who waived a friendly wave to me as I was being taken around in a woman-powered boat. The children would run out of their homes as I floated by, and in their best English, they would say to me, “Hallo. What is your name?”
The woman taking me on this exquisite private tour would point out things for me to observe. I would smile at her after seeing the sights, in order to thank her, and she would smile back. She had a beautiful smile, warm, friendly, and full of wisdom and strength.
As I was watching the local life, with all the fishing activity, and the other movements of the early morning, I chose not to take any photos, except for one. I just wanted to observe, to sense, to feel what it was all about. It was all about making a living, living life, supporting a family and a community. It was about joy and happiness. It was about peace and harmony.
I was not only intrigued by this floating fishing village, but also by the woman who paddled the wooden boat around for more than an hour. She had something that attracted me to watch her. She seemed strong. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Her physical strength was evident, as she rowed the boat with little effort, using her entire upper body to paddle, bending at the waist, sometimes standing up to get more control when going through a small area that required some maneuvering. Her emotional and spiritual strength showed through her great smile and kind eyes.
When my tour was all over, the woman brought me back to the rocky shore. She took my hand in order support me so that I would not slip as I exited the boat onto the slippery rocks. It was truly then that I felt not only her physical strength through her grip, but her emotional and spiritual strength also radiated through, through that grip and through that smile.
The one and only picture of my whole experience in this floating fishing village was of this woman: It is a picture that I hope reflects the strength of a woman!
The photo of the fishing village itself was taken the previous day.