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River bamboo traders face a turbulent ride

Update: March, 27/2015 - 08:32
Ma River. — File Photo

HA NOI (VNS) — The scenic Ma River has inspired many Vietnamese poets and writers over the years, but for those whose livelihood depends on it, the beauty comes packaged with extreme danger.

They say that its name indicates its fast current, which is what residents of the western region of Thanh Hoa Province tackle every day to transport luong (dendrocalamus membranaceus munro - a kind of bamboo).

It is used as scaffolding on construction sites, and for making chopsticks, mats and plywood, not to mention some fine art products for export.

The luong that grows in the region is valued because it is straight and plump, whether it is harvested in the valley or on the mountains. Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has allowed people to plant and harvest it as a poverty alleviation measure.

However, transporting the luong is a very difficult task, but residents have no choice but to take advantage of the current. They have been doing it for many generations now, and the floating of luong rafts on the Ma River has emerged as a stable, if dangerous vocation.

Ha Van Nhung, a resident of Muong Ly Commune in Muong Lat District, is 68 years old, but he is still entrusted with bringing the luong raft down the river.

Nhung has 50 years of experience in luong rafting and his sons are on the job as well.

"All three of my sons are good at swimming," Nhung said to Suc khoe & Doi song (Health and Life) newspaper.

"They were taught how to swim since they were small children. I have heard of stories of people drowning on this river but it hasn't happened in my hamlet. Most of us know how to conquer the river.

"People know the trade is dangerous and sometimes comes with blood and tears, but they still do it for survival," he said, adding they would not know what else they would do.

When the luong matures, people chop them and drop them at the riverside, said Nguoi, another luong raft rider. These are gathered and joined to make a big raft, combining anything between 700 and 2,000 trees. These rafts will be taken to processing companies or sold to traders from the delta region.

Ha Van Phai, Nhung's son, has some unhappy memories of luong rafting. When he was a young man, he was reckless and suffered several accidents.

In 1990, he had to ride the luong raft, and did so despite his father's warning of a storm brewing. He was thrown into the river. Local residents assumed him dead because they couldn't find him after three days of searching. A week later, he was brought back with a lot of injuries from a hamlet about 20 kilometres away.

"I was swept away by the water, and then I was stuck in a bush before I fainted. I am still alive because a fisherman discovered and rescued me," Phai said.

After Phai's accident, Nhung's sons were determined to learn even better to ride the luong raft along the river and across rapids.

They were thrown into the river many times before they were able to navigate the fast current or cross rapids in ways that a normal person would call extraordinary. — VNS

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