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Hardy fisherman challenges the River God

Update: February, 11/2014 - 10:12
Net returns home at sunset after another day fishing on the Huong River in Hue, leaving belief of revenge from river gods behind.­—VNS Photo Phuoc Buu

THUA THIEN, HUE (VNS)— Many South-east Asians, including Vietnamese, are hesitant about trying to rescue people from drowning in case their efforts displease the River God.

Many believe that if they rescue someone, they are taking something belonging to the gods. The displeased deities, it is feared, will spoil fishing for the rescuers - or even take their lives. This often appears to come true as a non-swimmer drowns trying to rescue another.

But Nguyen Van Net, a fisherman in La Y Village in central Thua Thien - Hue Province turns his back on all this superstition. He has saved the lives of many people who would have otherwise drowned in the swift waters of the Huong River.

The 58-year-old but looks much younger, insists that he is not trying to fight the river gods. "But I live by fishing and I believe that I might one day lose my life while rescuing another from the river god," Net said. "However, I would feel guilty ignoring the victims. I don't think much when I find a person about to drown."

Net began rescuing people when he was 17 and although he has never kept a tally, the number could total dozens. They included victims of boat accidents on the river or people who wanted to commit a suicide by jumping from the bridges spanning it.

"I don't worry about the reason for their misery, but behind their depressed thoughts are parents or children who need their care. So saving their lives is something I must to do," said Net.

The fisherman has joined in hundreds of dives seeking the bodies of dead people in the river. "Death means the end and they no longer feel anything. But having the bodies back for a funeral is solace for their families, so I do what I can," he said.

In 1988, the Kho Ren Bridge spanning the An Cuu, a small river in Hue, collapsed, throwing dozens of people into the water. Net and his sons spent hours diving for bodies. A total of 17 were recovered.

One event sticks in Net's mind - the sinking of a small boat with four people on board in 2003. Net joined others in many attempts to retrieve the bodies from the cold water in a dangerous section of the Huong River.

"The water flow was strong and the bodies were stuck in sharp rocks and huge tree roots on the riverbed. The difficulties in retrieving bodies from the dark mysterious water has never left my mind. It was a weird feeling about life and death."

Despite the endless rescues he has taken part in, the dangers and the endless hours spent, Net has never asked for any money. Waterway police are always grateful for his efforts.

Lieutenant Col Tran Ngoc Thanh, head of the Hue Waterway Police, was quoted by Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) newspaper as saying that Net had provided great assistance in helping with water accidents and would-be suicides.

Net's wife, Le, was terrified when she first saw her husband swimming towards the river bank in front of their house carrying a dead man. "I was so scared, but gradually, I became familiar with his efforts," she said.

"I married him because of his tolerance, so I can't blame him for being what he is." Now she sometimes even goes with her husband by boat to try and save people threatening suicide.

The boat is the main source of their income. They use it to fish - and as the fastest means of transport to emergency river sites where people are in danger.

Net did not plan to have his children follow in his footsteps, but his two sons, aged 30 and 16, have been assisting him to try and ease the physical burden on their ageing father.

But the families of those he rescued or retrieved are often less caring. Most do not want to remember the shame of their relative's depression and rarely go out of their way to visit or say thanks. The belief in the river gods is still strong.

Inner turmoils also swirl around Net's mind. That is why he visits a temple twice a month to pray for supernatural protection. — VNS


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