Locals who pick up sau, a typical fruit of Hanoi, for sale to earn a living will not start their daily ‘harvest’ until the sun goes down.
Sau, scientifically known as dracontomelon duperreanum, is the most popular edible species among the dracontomelon genus.
Rows of dracontomelon trees can be found on many streets, including Phan Dinh Phung, Tran Phu, and Tran Hung Dao, in the Vietnamese capital.
The small, round fruit turns yellow when ripen, and can be sugared or salted to make delicious snacks, while sau soup and sau juice are also among typical delicacies of Hanoi.
But not so many people know how hard the fruit pickers have to try to harvest the fresh fruit in the middle of the night.
Picking in darkness
When night falls, the ‘sau pickers’ in Hanoi start to grab their sticks and sacks and get on their motorbikes, heading for the sau tree-lined streets, to begin their work.
While the old trees are often taller than 30 meters, Bac, a veteran dracontomelum picker, said he has never had to surrender to any tree.
Sau trees only bear fruit once a year. “Each season usually takes about two months from early summer so pickers always have to work hard,” Bac said.
At night, only with bare hands, the sau pickers can still manage to climb up the trees very quickly.
It took Bac only a little more than one minute to reach the top of one sau tree, hiding himself among the leaves.
Less than half an hour later, he dropped down one sack, filled with some 30-50kg of fresh sau.
|Sau is seen on sale on a sidewalk in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The picking job usually takes place from 1:00 am to 4:00 am. They may finish late, but never after 7:00 am, when most locals start a new day.
This explains why it is hard for Hanoians to see sau pickers in the trees on the streets.
Fresh dracontomelum will be sold on the sidewalk for VND30,000 to 40,000 (US$1.3-$1.7) per kg.
In recent years, many pickers in Hanoi have had to go to other northern provinces to pick sau to have more money.
Ngoan, 31, a resident of the north-central province of Thanh Hoa, said, "People just think that we are making a good income from picking sau, but no one knows that this dangerous job costs us not only our sweat but also tears and blood.”
Dangerous side job
Most of the sau pickers are not Hanoi residents. They mostly come from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Hung Yen and Nam Dinh, and sau picking is only their side job, given that the trees only beer fruit once a year.
When there are no sau to pick, these people will work as xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers, shoeshiners or porters. Some of them are very young, only 15 to 17 years old, but all are in very good health.
|A group of sau pickers are seen after a night of hard work in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Phuong is a farmer in a countryside village in Thanh Hoa. During the sau season, he will travel to Hanoi and stay in a rented house for VND15,000 a day and go picking the fruit with his fellow villagers, Hoi and Ngoan.
Ngoan, a shoemaker in Hanoi, is happy whenever the sau season comes, as it helps him have more money to send home for his wife to pay for daily costs and send their two children to school.
But there is also one sau picker with a college degree.
Son, a university graduate, works at the Dong Xuan market during the daytime, and goes picking alone without joining any group at night.
Son laughed and said, “I have been picking sau for seven years. I used to go picking in the day before but had to stop as people would chase me away.”
He added that he is willing to take risks climbing trees at night as “it is still quite an easy way to make money”.
"I will miss climbing those trees if I don't go picking sau when its season comes," he said.
|A sau picker sells his fruit on the sidewalk in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre|