Cu Lao GiengApril 10, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C
This afternoon we visited another Vietnamese village — Cu Lao Gieng. This village is known for making sampans, which are an essential part of life along the Mekong. Sampans, which are typically made from a few pieces of wood, are relatively small, as they are designed to carry 2-4 people, or to move items. People who live on the Delta generally own a sampan, and have it tied outside their back door, which is usually located on the river. The sampans are all hand made — the wood that is milled by hand, the boards are shaped by hand, and then the entire boat is assembled by hand. A boat usually costs about $300 USD, and lasts for about 10 years. We were told that we could ship one back to the US, but that the cost of shipping would be approximately $2000 USD (which probably still makes it quite a bit cheaper than buying a handmade wooden boat in the US)).
From the moment that you step off the dock into the village, you know that making sampans is the local industry. Virtually every shop that you pass has a sampan that is in the process of being assembled. And, some of the shops have multiple boats being built at the same time. As you peer in to the shops, you feel like you’ve stepped back into time. Most of the techniques that are being used are identical to those that were used 100 years ago. The only nod to modernity is the presence of a few electric tools — a table saw that is set in a wooden table, a very old band saw for making boards, and a hand sander that is used in one shop. But, the boards are still shaped over a blazing fire, but a man who we were told has been doing this work for 40 years.
At the same time as the traditional methods are being used by the boat builders, as we walked through the town we saw young men with mobile phones in hand. And, we saw flat screen televisions hanging on the walls in sparsely furnished houses. The new and the old sit side by side, which is clear metaphor for life throughout Vietnam.
After visiting the village, we went to see the oldest Catholic Church in Vietnam. The church was built by the French in the 1880s, and protecting the Catholics was one of the reasons that the French used to justify the Indochine war. The church still remains standing today, and approximately 20% of the population of South Vietnam is Catholic. The village near the church must have a much higher percentage of Catholics, because almost every house that you look into has a picture of a white Jesus, or a statute of Virgin Mary. We spoke with a local Catholic doctor, who told us that he’d spent much of the last ten years working to cure leprosy on the island. As he talked about his work, everyone in our group looked on in wonder, as leprosy is not something that we ever hear about in our countries. Once again I was reminded that westerners, including myself, live in a very privileged little bubble.Read more