At noon, tides in Ba Hon Co rise rapidly. Strong winds howl and waves crash. Yet Chin Lieu, who is blind in both eyes, still carries his bucket to the sea and dives for fish and crabs as skillfully as a sighted fisherman.
“Our current life is not prosperous, but we can live happily with mutual care. When comfortably off, we save up so that we can manage on a rainy day,” said Chin Lieu's adopted daguhter Vuong Thi Kim Vui.
The sea-based occupation of Chin Lieu, whose real name is Vuong Hoai An, a 58-year-old resident of Kien Luong District in Kien Giang Province, southern Vietnam is very strange and distinctive.
Without a snorkel and protective gear, the blind man only needs simple tools such as gloves, a homemade fish bucket, and a bottle of drinking water for his work.
The blind man’s special eyes
“Crabs, fish, and shrimp all move swiftly, so it is not easy to catch them. When the tide comes in, they hide well in their deep lairs. As such, hunting them is challenging,” Chin Lieu giggled and said.
Each day, wading a few dozen meters away from the shore, taking a deep breath, he gently dives under the waves, and a little later, emerges from the water, with one hand stroking his face and the other holding fish.
“In Ba Hon Co, small sharp rocks are layered on the seafloor, so toadfish and rock crabs prefer to live there," Chin Lieu said.
“Diving into the sea to catch fish, I feel them mainly through my hands. Wherever there are fish and crabs, they strike my hands very hard.
"Fish with scales live in mossy lairs while others without scales inhabit slippery lairs.
“Due to diving regularly, I know them without seeing."
|Ba Hon Co – an area of the sea where Chin Lieu dives for a living in Kien Giang Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre|
Chin Lieu does not leave out any fish or crab, yet he is extremely cautious about groupers and grey eel-catfish. Their characteristics make life more challenging for him.
Big groupers are strong and have sharp teeth, while grey eel-catfish are slippery with long prongs.
Just a year ago, while catching fish in Ba Hon Co, the blind man was stabbed to the bone by a grey eel-catfish, forcing him to stay home for a week.
Although scared, he is delighted with every one of the fish that he runs into for his livelihood from the sea.
When encountering dangerous fish, he has to use a suitable way to get them. If it is a grey eel-catfish, he will be careful, not in a rush.
“The strikes of waves under the sea make me sway, making life tough to catch fish and crabs. When touching a fish, I will gently and decisively press it down into the mud or onto the rock with my hands," he said.
“Running into a grey eel-catfish, I just use one hand to squeeze its head, while the other holds the tail firmly."
As he is running out of breath while hunting fish under the water, he only needs to take a small sip of seawater to extend the diving time.
With this method of hunting fish without seeing, on a lucky day, he can bring home 4-5 kilograms of rock crabs as well as 4-5 kilograms of grey eel-catfish and toadfish.
He takes them to the market to sell for VND100,000 (US$4.2) per kilogram of rock crabs and VND40,000-50,000 ($1.7-2) per kilogram of catfish.
Hunting a 50-kilogram grouper makes his name as Chin Lieu, or daring Chin
Chin Lieu said that when he was born, he was like many other normal healthy children. Yet at the age of seven, he got sick and went blind.
“At the seaside at that time, my parents were stone-broke, with many children. When I was sick, my parents tried a lot of treatments but in vain. I had to live blind willy-nilly,” he lowered his tone.
“In the first few years of being blind, it was a terrible obsession for a seven-year-old boy, for I could not take care of the basic daily routines on my own such as eating and drinking.”
Yet thinking about his poverty-stricken parents and siblings, Chin Lieu had to manage to live on his own. He asked his father to allow him to go offshore.
At first, he only dared to follow his father to the sea to fish for herrings and hunt by using bait near the shore to get used to the smell of the sea.
After that, he asked his elder brothers for permission to go far offshore.
“My brothers disagreed. After I entreated them, they allowed me to follow," he recounted.
|Despite being blind, Chin Lieu is as agile as an otter. Photo: Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre|
“In the sea, I was really unbalanced. I even found it hard to set foot on the island and go ashore.
“Despite walking cautiously, step by step, sometimes I fell headfirst into the sea."
But then, repetitions helped him become familiar with the job. It is said that the blind have 'special eyes' of their own.
Gradually, his feet became more and more stable on the fishing boat. When he got better at diving, his family let him go far offshore.
During one of his trips, he risked his life to conquer a hooked giant ocean grouper.
On that day, his fishing boat was far offshore, the big grouper was hooked, stretching the line.
The battle of the giant grouper and the blind man began. The wind was strong and the boat was swaying hard.
He quickly tied a six-kilogram lead clot to his body and carried the scuba tank to sink rapidly into the sea.
He followed the fishing line with both hands and dived toward the bottom of the sea to catch the fish.
“The depth was about 40 meters, while the huge grouper with the line was in a rock lair. It took me 10 minutes to pull it out of the lair. The grouper weighed about 50kg,” he recalled.
“The sea area was deep, with sharks living there. After that experience, I got the name Chin Lieu, or daring Chin.
“I was 20 back then, robust and daring. That sea area was deep, with sharks living there, so not many people were courageous enough to dive and catch fish.
“While diving on a regular basis, I got the nickname 'Chin Lieu.'"
With more than 30 years of sailing 'in the dark,' when getting old and coming to Kien Luong District to settle, Chin Lieu again dived to catch fish and crabs by himself. Unfortunately, he was once swept away by waves.
“On that day, I was so immersed in diving, gusty winds and huge waves swept me away. I was not able to go back to the shore," he recollected.
“Fortunately, thanks to my sensitive ears, I heard the sound of a boat running. At the place where I was looking for snails, boats often set off from the shore.
“As I perceived the sound of the engine, I oriented myself to return to the land. It was about 8:00 pm at that time."
Missing the sea so bad
Sharing more about his life, the blind man said, “When I was young, a girl wanted to tie the knot with me.
“But I was blind, went offshore frequently, and would not take care of her after getting married. As such, I decided to stay single until now.”
Chin Lieu has an adopted daughter, Vuong Thi Kim Vui, who is over 40. She has a daughter studying in grade 5.
With the sounds of the child, his little home becomes so warm and cheerful.
Every day, he dives to hunt fish and crabs, bringing home to sell. At home, Vui, in charge of cooking, waits for her father to return and have meals.
Vui is also trying to advise her dad to retire due to his old age.
She said, “As long as it is safe and cozy, eating as much as what is earned is okay."
Yet he said that he would miss the sea so bad if he stayed at home. He is so used to the 'smell of the sea.'
Huynh Van Do from Kien Luong District said that he had known Chin Lieu for about six years.
Do really admires his diving gift to catch fish and crabs.
No one here can do that like him.
Sometimes, he dives all day. While several people dive with a scuba tank, Chin Lieu dives with his two bare hands.
However, many times he caught more fish, even huge fish, than sighted people.