Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life in the Country! Part 3

Hello everyone. So let's continue onto my Vietnam adventures.

We got off the boat and onto this clearing. We had reached my father in law's rice patty. Note the plot of land to the left. This is where my wife grew up. When she was young, the family used to have their house here.

It really is nice. There is a cool breeze sweeping through the patties!

Remember the water grass that is used to feed the cows? This local just harvested some and is carrying it on his bicycle.

One of my favorite things to do, when we get to the rice patties, is to roast sweet potatoes. Here is Anne breaking off small pieces of dried wood from a thin branch for kindling.

Some dried leaves and presto, a little fire!

Some dried rice stalks to help with the fire.

The trick is to keep the fire going so the ashes stay hot to cook the sweet potatoes.

And here we are. A little burnt but smelling good!

Peel off the skin and how sweet it is! Something about cooking outdoors, it always taste better.

Some sugar canes to wash down the starch. Nothing gets better!

So while we were busy roasting and eating sweet potatoes, Anne's father showed up on his motorbike. He comes everyday before the sun goes down to herd his ducklings to a shelter. Then in the morning, he comes and lets them loose again to run around in the rice patties for the day. He uses a stick with a rag to herd the ducks. It is really neat, as you don't see the little ducks but you see the rice moving as they start to panic and move toward the shelter.

This is the makeshift shelter for the little guys.

And here they are. These are still young ones. They will change into white color as they get older. My father in law raises these guys partly to feed his pet snake! It looks like a Burmese python and ate five of them in a row at one time. I'll have pictures on my last post from the Vietnam series.

So the little one fell while walking along the rice patty. Anne's brother road with his father to take the nephew back home.

I didn't get to do much fishing, as it was getting dark and we had to get back. But here is the older nephew trying his luck before we left. I did get to do some fishing and will let you know all about it on my final post from the Vietnam series.

Anne's father had planted these banana trees along the rice patty some time ago. Let's just say that we always had fresh babanas to eat everyday!

As were getting to leave, a local lady in a bicycle rode by, telling us that some of the branches of the banana trees had brocken off. I guess the bananas were too heavy.

So we walked up the trail and picked the little green guys. These little green guys turn into yellow guys fast, in the hot weather. Note Anne's brother had returned riding a bicycle.

And here we are, getting to sail off again to go home.

Looking down into the water, this apple snail caught my eye. These guys are a menace to the rice. These feed on young rice shoots and other vegetation. They literally can be seen all over. I remember seeing flyers in the US distributed by the fish and wildlife warning against the importation of these snails. I guess some had hitchhiked onto freshwater plants and somehow they ended up in California waters. They are highly prolific and lay eggs all the time.

The locals really don't eat these. Rather, they are caught and boiled and fed to the fish. Many locals raise fish in their moats. The meat is taken out of the cooked snails and chopped up before being fed to the fish.

Here is what the eggs look like. The bright pink color makes them very conspicuous.

Here is another picture of the eggs clinging onto a water plant.

The sun was setting by this time and we hurried back home. Sorry for the blurred picture, but I took this photo of the local children as the sun was setting. I couldn't help but think to myself, what kind of a future lies for these unpriveledged youngsters.

So we got back just in time for dinner. Afterwards, we roasted some dried squid as a snack. Dip them in tobasco and it's "all good"!

Here is a close up of the dried squid. The smaller ones are more tender and taste better than the larger ones. Funny thing is that I haven't been able to find these here in Indonesia!

Then a couple of rounds of "Uno" helps with family ties! Interesting story, Uno is not available in Vietnam. For those of you that don't know the game, it is a simple but highly addicting card game. You can play with two or more players. Anyways, back in the early days of coming to Vietnam, I brought this game with me. I forgot about it until one evening, when the power went out. Nothing to do, but I remembered the game. So under candle light, I showed everyone how to play Uno. After that, everyone was hooked. We played for hours on end. Then played some more in the morning, and the evening. It was cool, as it got everyone together as a family to play this silly little game. Me and Anne always bring a deck when we fly anywhere, she likes to play on the plane. She likes to play because I let her win:).

I also introduced the game to my Filipno divers back in the Tonga days! Once they learned how to play, it was whole lot of fun. I really miss those guys. They used to call me "boss" and tell me fish stories. Some of them had worked in Saudi Arabia, Pulau, and Vanuatu. One of their cousins had worked as a diver in Vietnam in Nha Trang (my next story) for a company that exported aquarium fish! Once the topic came up while playing Uno, I let the guys use my cell phone to call the cousin in the Philipines to get more information. I needed to know if there were blue tangs there. At the time, this fish became scarce and our customers were scrambling to get some. From Tonga, we were lucky to get a few pieces here and there.

Well it turned out that the diver worked for only six months. The company owners didn't know what they were doing and shut down and he was sent home. But I did learn that they used to go out days at a time catching blue tangs. From their discription, it looked like they used to catch the fish in the gulf of Thailand. Of course my interest in setting up a Vietnam station skyrocketed. All the guys wanted to go to Vietnam and catch fish for me! I already knew Vietnam had nice clams and soft corals. Add to that, that my wife is Vietnamese and her family members can help run the station.

Talking about working fast, in a matter of months, I hooked up with a Vietnamese exporter who was struggling. The facility was right next to the sea and it had huge potential. The idea was to bring in Filipino divers and fish manager/packers to Vietnam. Our divers would work with local Vietnamese divers to catch fish. I also had planned on working with my friend Robert from Aquatic Specialties to bring in Steve Robinson again to train our divers on decompression and to catch fish nondestructively. I had a bunch of used acrylic tanks that I was going to send to Vietnam to set up a fish system. For the corals, to start, we were just going to buy from suppliers and fishermen. I figured that it was just training the local fishermen what we wanted. Of course, corals and fish do come from all over Vietnam, not just from Nha Trang. Also I would bring my brother in law's family to help run the place. And the best part is that I had a financial backer to do this. All was set and I shook hands with the Vietnam exporter and told him I'll be back in a few months to start the project.

Well, it would have worked out fine but my Tonga operation started falling apart. I had to put the Vietnam project on hold. I contacted my wife (still there waiting for her interview), to contact the exporter and let him know that we have to postpone the project. Don't get me wrong, I would never had pursued the Vietnam thing if I didn't get the green light from my partner and my guys in Tonga. Tonga was my priority and I had the full support of my team, or so I thought. It would take me pages to write what happend next, so I'll save that for another time.

In the end, the Vietnam exporter decided to go on his own. Afterall, it was over a year by the time I returned to Vietnam. My financial backer for the operation was also gone. No one could wait for me, but I don't blame them. I had so much opportunities come up during my days in Tonga. All these doors and possibilities were opening up. Here is a few of them that I could have followed up if I didn't get screwed out of Tonga.

1. Tonga - fish and wild corals. Aquacultured clams and corals.
Special aquaculture project aimed at Petco. Robert and I called it the
Petco Project. Basically a set of aquacultured corals that could handle
the lighting and conditions of Petco stores. It would be easy corals
for beginning reefers. All the corals (12 species) would have a separate
mount that would plug into aquacultured liverock. Anthony Calfo came
out to consult me on this special project. This was one of the reasons
why I returned to Tonga after I got shafted by my first partner.
If I could develop it, Robert could sell it. Robert is one of the few Petco
distributors in the US. It was potentially a multimillion dollar deal.

Also, in Tonga, the possibility of setting up an eco-tourism. We had the
perfect aquaculture facility, we would work with local dive outfits, have
a lesson in catching fish with nets, plant corals back in the reefs, etc.. I
had all sorts of good ideas. I saw the potential right away and I did
invest some money into bringing some people to evaluate the
eco-tourism idea. The prospects looked good. I talked to a few
government people about it and they were really excited. Tourists bring
money to the economy. And here is the best part, I already had clients
that was interested. These were my maintenance customers, really
wealthy people! But, along with all the other good ideas that I
had, it all washed away when I got screwed. But I try not to look back,
rather see the glass half full instead of half empty. Afterall, there is
something I didn't loose and actually gained - experience.

Oh did I mention that I did develop the aquacultured corals for Petco:)

2. Vietnam - you know the story.
3. Vanuatu- someone with a new license asked us to join them. Fish and
aquaculture were the possibilities.
4. Samoa - we had a way in through a special connection. Many people
have tried but failed. Samoa is similar to Fiji, the village chief also
is in charge of the reefs, gets tricky. Did I mention there are flame
angels and lots of blue tangs? Aquaculture? Me and Robert had big
5. Philippines- through the network of my Filipino divers in Tonga, I was
eyeing Cebu in the future. Cebu is known for their high quality fish and
huge diversity in inverts. My divers have family there that can help with
everything. For about $10,000 US dollars, I can purchase an existing
facility and be in business in no time. My divers network would play a
6. Hawaii - this would be cake since it is the US and I can speak the
language! From here, I can have access to the Christmas and Marshall
Island fish. The idea was to set up a tranship station there. I would
bring in fish from Tonga and Samoa and other places and re-export
along with local fish. Imagine, having all the different types of fish
available on the stocklist. The idea was that if a customer can get all the
different types of fish from one supplier, they would! In the aquarium
fish world, there are three fish that I consider to be most valuable. This
is the flame angel, the yellow tang, and the blue tang. All are in limited
numbers and thus high priced. As a supplier, if you have these three fish
at all times in good quantities, you will rule! You simply leverage these
three to sell all of the other fish.

The best thing of course is that I had customers already globally. In the US, I had my friend Robert to distribute my stuff. Indonesia was not on my list of places to setup, but here I am writing this blog from Jakarta! I do have plans to implement some of my ideas here in Indo.

One of them is eco-tourism. Since islands like Bali is already a tourist trap, it would be easy to network through them. Of course, my idea would be geared towards the reefers. I'm thinking after some days of having fun with coral stuff, go island hopping! Imagine flying to Komodo Island to check out the dragons. Then spend the night and the next day, fly to Kalimantan (Borneo) to spend a day or two working with orangutans and taking a hike through the jungles. Afterwards, fly out to Irian Jaya to dive and check out the reefs! These are just a few of my cool ideas. We can talk more once I make some money:)!

Ok, what happened here. I totally lost track of time and got off the subject. It really is funny. I didn't plan on writing all of this on this post but one thing led to another and here we are. So let's finish up this post.

After some rounds of Uno, everyone goes to sleep. The sleeping time is around eight or eight thirty. I can't sleep this early, so me and the brother stay up and watch a movie. Anne tries to watch too but gets too sleepy and heads for the bed. I can't blame her as she wakes up around 6 am. Here are some of the "boot legged" video cd's that we bought before. I like the old Hong Kong movies when the actors like Jackie Chan and Jet Li were young.
Here are some of the American movies. Each video cd cost between $.40 to $.60, a bit expensive considering you can get a copied dvd for low as $.75 here in Indo.


Ok guys, that is it. So after the movie, I usually end up going to sleep, or try to. If I have my computer (remember the keyboard went out and took forever to get it fixed), then I'll do some work for a while, but my eyes get tired. As a matter of fact, it is 3 am right now and my eyes are drooping!

But before signing off, here is what is coming up next. This is an entrance to an aquarium on an island off of Nha Trang. This beautiful seaside city was made famous recently because Miss Universe pagent was held here not too long ago. Remember our beloved US representative tripping and getting disqualified? Nha Trang has beautiful beaches and has coral reefs. We took a tour around the islands and I have lots to share. Coming up, "Nha Trang - Vietnam"


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