Xin Chao,

Jellyfish. A subject you probably never think about. Certainly I have never given them much thought.

We headed into Bai Tu Long bay and arrived at a little island. We left Khanh and headed out on our own walking for a couple of hours and wound up on a pristine beach. (not an easy task since good sand is mined for making glass) This was a beach that was part of a place where there were bungalows to stay in that had exactly 4guests. Lots of forest and then this long, long strip of beach.

That was when we noticed the first jellyfishes. Big ones, like what I might have called Portuguese Man o’ War but i really don’t know much about the differences between these odd creatures. But some were the size of laundry baskets. They were dead, washed up on the beach. What was notable was that they were there and I commented that they must be the only thing the Vietnamese don’t eat.

Later on, we rode our bikes with Khanh to the other end of the island to wait for our boat to go to the next island. There was a cement area at this pier and lots of activity. According to Khanh, the Chinese eat jellyfish. Now I am not really sure they eat them, they might use them for medicine or shampoo or hand lotion, I don’t think Khanh really knows either. BUT there were wooden boats with their holds filled with jellyfish. And little row boat style boats filled with jellyfish. And the most efficient processing system we have seen here in Vietnam yet.

The bay was filled with boats, just wandering around with people standing on the bows with big nets. They scoop these things up and dump them in their boats. When they are full, they come to about 15′ from shore. If they are really efficient, they have a small rowboat. Women in tall waders push the little boat to the bigger boat and hold it steady and people with rubber gloves on pick up these huge jellyfish and heave them over the side into the little boat. When it is so full, its sides are level with the water, the woman drags it to the shore. Two more women with waders take plastic laundry baskets and fill them. Each has a rope on it and when it is full, they slip a bamboo pole through the rope and put the pole over a shoulder and 2 women carry it to the cement area. This process happens over and over and there are always 5 or 6 women with waders on and laundry baskets waiting but the boats for more. If the big boat is not affluent enough to own a small boat, the women just take their laundry basket and hold it while the people on the boat heave the jellyfish in it. I bet each jellyfish weighs 20# from the way they were working and a laundry basket is a good tool because when they pick it up out of the water, it drains, giving you only the jelly fish to carry. Each basket holds maybe 6-10 depending on their size. It takes hours to unload a big boat, maybe half an hour to unload a rowboat.

There is a man there with a notebook keeping track of how many jellyfish get unloaded from each boat and he pays the boats as they unload. And he pays the women in the processing area according to how many they process.

Once they get these baskets up to the cement work area, it is dumped into one of the three work areas, each containing about 5 women. One woman cuts out the clear top and bottom, a chunk about as big as a dinner plate. Those go in a basket. When it is full, all that clear stuff goes in a huge heap in one area of the cement floor. Then the legs and other stuff goes into another basket. This gets dumped into cement bathtubs, that are continuously agitated but a motorized stirrer. I have NO idea which part they use or if they use it all. The legs are sandy and the sand is scooped out of these bathtubs periodically. Everyone entering the area walks through water to rinse their feet to minimize the sand entering the area. The glistening clear stuff never appeared to go anywhere, or get processed again. I kind of felt like maybe the legs were what they were after, but I am not sure and Khanh did not know nor was he willing to ask anyone I guess. He believes they eat the jellyfish in China.

I suspect that there are days when the winds wash them in towards shore and that this process doesn’t happen everyday but I really don’t know. We took lots of photos to the utter astonishment of the workers.

The Vietnamese are an industrious people and hard, hard workers. They don’t earn a lot, a teacher in a rural school earns $100 a month. The free enterprise system probably means that people who don’t work for the goverment earn more, but it is hard to say. It costs $25.00 to hire a car and driver for 8 hours and if you need him overnight, it is an additional $5.00 per day. With that $5.00, he will feed himself and find his own accommodations. So really it cost $30.00 per 24 hours for a car and driver.

Internet services are all over the map in terms of cost but ranging from 3000 to 36,000 dong per hour. That is the equivalent of 18 cents to $2.10 per hour. Mostly it costs 3,000-4,000 dong per hour. Only once did we see 36,000 and that was at a hotel.

Other costs: 1.5 liters of water costs 20 cents. A meal at a Vietnamese shop costs $1.00-$2.00 at the most. Even last night, we ate at a French restaurant (salad, sandwish, 3 glasses of wine and 2 desserts) costs $20.00.

Well, more another time.

Love to everyone,