Nghi Son – an island commune on Bien Son Island in Tinh Gia district, Thanh Hoa province. Apart from potential for sea-based economic development, it also boasts strengths for tourism development.
Although we stayed at the Nghi Son hotel while living in Vietnam, I think technically we were not in Nghi Son the town. I think the area where we stayed is in unincorporated Tinh Gia, but I’m not sure. Anyway, Nghi Son island is where our favorite beach, Bai Dong beach, is located. There is also a small fishing town built on the northeast side of the island, and from the shore of the beach by our hotel, it looks positively Mediterranean with multi-colored homes all piled next to each other and reaching up a hillside. Last time we lived in Vietnam, I ran over to the town to check it out. It was more built up than the area around our hotel, but I didn’t find anything that would warrant repeating the 2.5 mile run to get there. During this stay in Vietnam, I wanted to visit the town again, but it was WAY too hot to attempt the crossing most days. Finally, we had a pleasant and overcast day and I decided that we would try to make it to the town. That involved walking south along our beach to the bridge linking the mainland to the island, and then walking/running along the north side of the island, past the hotels pictured, and around to the city. On our way, we passed several colorful fishing boats. The tide was in pretty far, so the boats were floating and flags waving. I love the colorful fishing boats of SE Asia!
The road to the city is narrow and deeply rutted in places and dead ends in the city, so there is only local traffic. The road goes up a steep hill, plateaus, and then descends down to the level of the town on the other side. Our first stop this time was to the harbor, to check out all the boats.
Immediately, Landon was intrigued by a few boys near the cement pier. They were floating in the harbor on a makeshift raft made of styrofoam and a tarp, paddling with a stick. They had made a small fishing net out of a broken piece of a larger net and tied little pieces of styrofoam to either end so it would float. They were trying to catch fish with this contraption. I did not witness them successfully catch anything while we were there.
After the boys made their way to shore, Landon followed them over to another group of boys that had a crate full of fishing net, with fish caught in it. Next to the crate bowl for the fish, and two boys were picking small fish out of the net and putting them in the crate. Landon and Owen were entertained for quite awhile just watching them. I noticed that several times, they were poked or scratched by the fish’s sharp fins. They would cry out, suck on their finger for a second, and then keep on picking fish out of the net. I’m assuming that these fish were for bait, because after they were done, they loaded the crate onto their styrofoam raft and paddled out to one of the fishing boats.
It’s really hard to tell ages of children in Vietnam. The kids are typically very small, and my boys are large even for the U.S., and so often they think Landon is several years older than he really is. The boys on the dock were completely unsupervised by adults, and I’m guessing their age range was 8-14. In Vietnam, the older siblings are often seen caring for younger siblings while the parents work outside the home, or nearby. It’s so culturally different from the United States, where if I let my 8-year-old go down to the docks by himself, that would probably be a big problem! The tallest of the group, I’m guessing he was 13 or 14, made friends with Owen and held him while he pushed his bike around with his feet. Owen LOVED it. He did not want him to stop. Landon was very concerned that this kid was going to disappear with his baby brother. I told him they were just having fun, and that I was watching him.
We left the fish and followed after the boy, who was just riding around the cement dock area, which also happened to be the town market in the mornings. There were a few women still at the market, enjoying some sort of weird red bean drink before going about their day. Like typical Vietnamese women, they tried to feed my children this drink. The drink had ice, and was some sort of milky liquid. I was not sure if the ice had been made from safe water, and so I really wanted to limit their exposure to it! It’s so hard to be polite and gracious, but at the same time protect my kids from contaminated/unsafe food and water! Landon declined the drink, but Owen tried it and then wanted more! I had to take him away and put him in the stroller to stop him from drinking more of the suspect drink. Fortunately, he didn’t get sick from it.
By this point, I was completely exhausted from the heat and walking all the way to town. Of course, on the way home, the tide had gone out and the boys wanted to dig in the mud. So, I allowed it for a few minutes. I was not really in the mood to clean up their sandy selves afterwards, but they had spent a long time in the stroller and needed some dig time. I liked them to dig when the tide was out, anyway, because then there was more sand available that wasn’t covered in trash. The things we take for granted in the United States, like reliable waste management!
Although this was not a tourist “destination,” per se, I think some of our best memories and most eye-opening experiences have come from going off the beaten path without any agenda and just observing and interacting with people in their rural towns. I see how they can survive with very little, and how much more I need to be grateful for the things I have and the modern conveniences that we enjoy. It also reminds me of what boyhood used to be about in America- fishing, getting dirty, helping parents with chores, and spending the majority of the day outside exploring or working! I think many of the issues facing today’s children in the United States could be at least helped, if not solved by reverting back to some good old-fashioned outdoor play, work and exploration. No fancy toys or screens needed!
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