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The second time you fish for squid

Vietnam Heritage, June-July 2011 -- At Cua Lo beach, in Vietnam’s central-region province of Nghe An, about half-a-kilometre offshore lanterns of fishing boats flickered light off the surface. A man said to me, ‘Would you like to go out there to fish for squid? You should try it. It is safe, interesting and available here only.’ I got into the man’s boat, a coracle.
The man was over 30, and looked poor and disadvantaged. A Vietnamese coracle is made of bamboo and has a diameter of about 2 m. We had some difficulty negotiating continual waves on the way out. It took 20 minutes to the fishing spot. A lot of other fishing boats were there.
After carefully dropping anchor, the boat-owner turned up the light and pulled two fishing rods and some nets from under his seat. He said there were different ways of fishing for squid, including rod or a net. He threw his line a few metres away and pulled on it gently once in a while. I tried to do the same.
The man’s name was Hung. He lived in Nghi Loc District. His whole family made their living by fishing. He had used to go fishing a long distance from land for many days at a time. Now, tourist services were growing at Cua Lo and he had changed to providing fun fishing. ‘It is easier now and I don’t have to go far away and float on the sea for many days. I just need to serve three or four tourists per evening . . .’
Each person in Hung’s family, old or young, had a coracle to make money in the tourist season. Hung had done the job for five years. ‘At the beginning of the season, many tourists used the service, but the number dropped after a big wave killed two people on the beach. Squid at Cua Lo are delicious, but the sea can be very fierce here sometimes.’
The manchon (French-style incandescent gas light) lit a small area on the surface of clear water. A school of about a dozen squid was swimming by. Hung quickly rowed toward them. ‘I know’ he said ‘The weather is changing and lots of squid go to look for food. You are going fishing for the first time and have a good chance. You’re lucky.’ He pulled his line in and asked me to grab a net. He put it in the water.
He caught three squid. He left the paddle to pump the piston of the manchon, making it shine more brightly. Choosing the biggest squid, Hung placed it on top of the light. The squid was cooking, sizzling, producing a nice smell. The skin of the squid swelled. A moment later the squid turned brown and the smell was extremely tempting.
Hung said, ‘Enjoy it. Only squid at this spot are this delicious.’ After nearly an hour, we had caught almost a kilo. I suggested returning. Hung agreed and weighed anchor. The coracle rocked gently while drifting in.
It was after 10 pm. Many boats had returned but some were still going out. ‘Early in the evening, it costs VND100,000 ($5) an hour,’ Hung said. The customers get all the squid caught. Later at night, the price is VND150,000 ($7.70) an hour, because only the hard-working boat-owners provide the service while other owners all go home. However, the price is negotiable sometimes. Some boats carry five or six tourists and the price is higher.’
The sea got calmer as it drew toward midnight. There were till a lot of boats in a line awaiting customers. A young man with his hair dyed green and yellow came up and said, ‘Want a girl to go fishing with? Give it a try for fun.’
I was surprised, and the young man sneered, saying, ‘Well, guy. You’d regret it all your life if you’d come here and not tried it. At night and with small waves all around, wouldn’t it be better to have someone to have fun with than stay alone in hotel?’
Seeing I was curious, the ‘broker’ ran to get a boat-owner to deal with me while he disappeared into the darkness of the night to get a ‘fishing girl’. The boat-owner came running to me and said, ‘Don’t worry. You will be happy with a young, beautiful girl. The brokers here know how to supply customers with good girls. He will surely find a good one for you so that he can get some money, too. He has never returned empty-handed. It’s always worth every penny of it. On average, it is VND150,000 ($7.70). A girl with a nice complexion is VND200,000 ($10). The boat rent is VND50,000 ($2.50) per hour. This kind of service is new, interesting but cheap and absolutely safe.’
So, I went to sea again. There was me, a boatman and a young woman who said she was Lan Anh. The boat was about 2m across and 0.7m deep. Two small bamboo beds side by side were tied tight to the bottom of the boat.
There were also fishing rods, nets and other things necessary to fishing for squid. As before, the boatman dripped with sweat trying to get the boat to the ‘safe place’. When we were about 500 metres out, the sea was flat as a lake. The boatman dropped anchor and quickly got on the ‘pilot’ boat, at anchor nearby, leaving the girl and me.
Countless lights flickered all round a vast area. The young woman reached out to turn the light down,  saying, ‘Now, you can “fish” to your heart’s content.’ She was from the highland district of Que Phong and had come to the seaside to make a living. She said there were many young women like her. They finished high school but found no work, so they went together to make money as call girls.
Lan Anh said the service might be new and strange to tourists, but it was not strange to the locals there. Lan Anh had worked at Cua Lo for three years. ‘How many “fishing boats” like this are there in this area every night?’ I asked. ‘All the lights on the water surface, except the pilot boat’s,’ was Lan Anh’s answer.

By Thuy Quang
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