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Life among the ducks

No 3, Vol.9 , August  - September 2015


Mr Hung and his ducks at Ben Bao field, Bac Lieu Province.

Misery of the duck farming trade, especially the natural feeding kind. But in the Cuu Long River Delta, many are still earning their living with it, leading a nomadic life.
Early summer, in the Ben Bao fields of Vinh Loc A Commune, Hong Dan District, Bac Lieu Province, are all white with wandering ducks. From time to time, a herdsman waves a bamboo stick with a piece of cloth at the end and shouts ‘ziew, ziew…’ to drive them to a new feeding place.
The farm of Mr Nguyen Van Hung, 57, is at the edge of a new canal. I came to his hut when he was relaxing on a hammock tied to two eucalyptuses on the bank. After a tea in the middle of a deserted field, Mr Hung became nostalgic, ‘My wife and I have been doing this for over 30 years. Moving around is bitter, but it’s fun too. Friends everywhere, that’s what’s good about it. It doesn’t make one rich, just enough to see another day.’
Looking around the field, Mr Hung thought about 28 Tets spent away from home. Every year, on the 28th of the last lunar month, Mr Hung takes a boat home to Vinh Phu commune, Phuoc Long District, Bac Lieu Province. He cleans the family altar, makes a tray of new year sacrificial food and immediately goes back to his ducks. His friends often joke, that ‘Mr Hung has a house but lives in the field, and he has friends but befriends ducks.’
Now he has about 2800 ducks, and every year he goes to Bac Lieu, Ca Mau and then to An Giang, Kien Giang looking for feeding grounds for them. Now he is used to living in the fields with his duck friends and makes friends with people everywhere.
A breeze wandered around Mr Ba Hung’s empty hut. The sounds of duck carkling and frog mating calls mixed with a lone, melancholic lullaby over the Ben Bao fields are truly unforgettable.
Mr Hung joyfully told us he hit good ground this time. His ducks drop over 2500 eggs each night. Where the food is not in abundance, the ducks can’t give as many eggs. The stories of his life and work never stopped fascinating me. They are full of colourful terminology such as ‘curbing the ducks’ with his stick to prevent them from getting lost or mixed with other flocks, ‘thinning feathers’ means to pluck feathers for those ducks which have stopped dropping eggs to help them recover, or ‘basin’ them while looking for a new feeding ground. A field exhausted, Mr Hung hires a ferry to take his ducks to another place, another land with new bonding relationships.
Collecting eggs is not quite an easy job as it may seem. Mr Hung and his son carefully move on their toes around the 100 m2 fenced area to avoid stepping on the eggs. Nearly three thousand eggs littered on the ground could overwhelm any unaccustomed observer. Every evening, coming home from the fields, Mr Cua, Mr Hung’s son has to count the ducks to see if any is missing, while they move in a huge, noisy congregation. But to them, it’s just another day’s work, something elementary that every nomad duck farmer has to get used to doing in order to survive with the ducks.
Mr Hung’s eight children are all matured and well-settled. He still follows his ducks only for the love of the hard work, which is full of fun. He really misses the ducks when they are not around. In a new place, away from home, without new acquaintances, he listens to birds’ night cries and talks to his ducks. To him, every journey is a new one, every place is home, and every field is a life source.
He knows the ducks’ health status by their sound. Hissing means they have flu, a too-long opened mouth means some lung problems, which require medicines. Mr Hung said, due to the government’s vaccination program, the ducks rarely get sick.n

Text and Photo Dang Duy Khoi
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