"There used to be crocodiles in the Mekong," our guide, L told us. "The eyes scared them away!"
They have another purpose as well, of course. Each area or village has its own way of painting the eyes, therefore, if you know the 'code' you can tell at a glance where each barge originates. This barge is carrying rice husks from a nearby factory.
The area is thick with fish farms. These are ten metres wide by twenty metres long and six metres deep. Inquiring minds needed to know so here are the stats:
Capital cost to build properly, US$200,000. The fish are under the building and the tank houses 70,000 fish: basa (tilapia) and grouper, predominantly. The fish are bought as fingerling breeding stock and cost US$0.10 each. They are fed for eight months at which point they reach a maximum weight of one to one and a half kilograms. They are fed on a diet of dried fish, tofu, rice and vitamins. By the time they are four months old they are consuming 250 kg of food a day (that's the tankful - not each of them!). If food is bught commercially it costs $US20/ bag. Many farmers choose to make their own food in huge cookers. Most of the fish as sent live to fish factories to be processed for sale at $1.50/ kg to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It's a good living with only 2-3% shrinkage a year unless disease strikes.
Below: It's a feeding frenzy! These fish are about six months old.
Also, it is very important for children to learn how to swim at a very young age. They are left alone while their parents work and if they fall into the river they must know how to save themselves. Besides, the river is used for everything, food, washing (clothes and person), swimming and drinking water (boiled before use). If you catch a dragonfly and it bites you in the navel, the next day you will know how to swim!
"It didn't work for me," said L, "But, it worked for my friend."
You thought I was kidding with the title of this post, didn't you!?!
The houses are on stilts because of tide water, and also to keep goods and animals like pigs and chickens underneath. The government wants to move people inland a bit and raze the houses. The people don't want to move because there is a strong smuggling business going on - in broad daylight.
The Cambodian border is only 30 km away and cigarettes and sugar are much cheaper there. Speedboats travel the Mekong to Cambodia and bring back contraband goods. The police will graciously accept a bribe.
There are two basic types of production here: traditional weaving at the loom and small factory. The woman below works six hours a day, six days a week and can produce 10 metres of fabric a day. The 150 ladies in the factory next door work at sewing machines in a large airy room. They work from 8:00 - 5:00 six days a week and are paid $US 200 per month.
Coming up next: Put Another Brick in the Wall.