Life with a River

We live next to the Saigon River and I mean literally – it is about 10m away and there are panoramic views along about a kilometer of a gradual meander bend (see, Cathie I learned something when I taught Geography for you). Our vista points directly North and hence to the left is West and right East. We don’t see the early morning sun, but the afternoon sun sets behind a row of high rise apartments and produces many a wonderful sunset, shining for only a short time directly on the patio from about 2pm give or take the time of year till about 6pm or so.
The patio is shaded by two palms on either side but otherwise the view of the river is unimpeded. To the West the river bends away a little North before curling back again on its journey to Saigon, to the North-East the river bends past a busy container shipping area, it is this subsequent path of the river we have not seen yet, the other we often see as we catch the boat into town.
The river is wide maybe 200m, I guess I could get exact measurements but exactness is not necessarily always a good measure of the significance of something, so I will try and paint a picture for you. It is a stable river, no waves unless a large boat passes, and flows left and right with the tide, but never at a fast pace, it is clearly powerful but on first glance this is not apparent, it is only so when one hears the motors of the boats straining when running in the opposite direction of the prevailing current. It is not muddy but also not clear, there is quite a bit of sediment but it is home to jumping fish and various other marine creatures, much prized it seems as there are, at low tide, men gathered and diving into the muddy shore line collecting little shell fish, we think.
Rivers in Vietnam have shaped the country, especially in the South around the Mekong Delta. Our stretch of water carries the cargo boats, these move gracefully up and down all day and night, never stopping so it seems. There are large green boats with tall sides and shorter sided boats, and boats that appear almost sunk, these latter boats typically laden with sand, I am told destined for export to places like Singapore. Whilst graceful there is a traditional masculinity about the boats: strong, sturdy, reliable, what you see is what you get, there is no subtly. Many of the boats are homes as well, the washing often prominently displayed, and plant pots and TV aerials can be seen – there are women and children going about the daily tasks, the men can be seen washing the boat will bucks dipped into the river and hauled up – and themselves at times. The captains nearly all have the same pose, it is relaxed, with feet used to steer and resting back – you get the impression sometimes they maybe sleeping.
There is little noise from these boats but the smaller wooden fishing boats can make a putt-putt noise and at night or early evening this can be a little loud. These are small boats about 4 metres long, narrow and fishing boats in the main, but from time you see them burdened down with all manner of cargo. The crowd favorite are the pugnacious tug boats, these are squat, and resemble cartoon depictions of tug boats the type captain Pugwash captained. Their main task is to push against the current and move huge barges about, often empty but often full of sand.
As the boats have a maleness in the traditional sense the river itself is certainly – Mother Nature. There is a dependency on the river it is the giver, not wanting anything in return except some respect and to be treated with fondness. Traditionally this was the case, the rivers were revered and still are but environmental issues are present and growing urbanisation and industrialisation, and farming are starting to cause problems – erosion and pollution being the two main ones, and of course there is the ever present Up Stream damming in other countries.
In the morning the river often welcomes me with a carpet of green and in the so called winter months the green clumps of water hyacinth carry abundant bird life, mainly white storks. The carpet of green drifts with the current up and down and it is not clear where it goes to or where it comes from. Women in small boats drift with the tide collecting bottles and other rubbish that can be sold, this tends to keep the river clean or at least more so that you might expect.
It is a privilege to live so close and to see the goings on, it is truly a life with a river.