Thanh My Loi Ward in District 2 near the HCMC center still has a vast unharvested rice field. These pieces of land have been designated for construction projects. As there is no sign construction will take place soon people cultivate rice on the sites.
“My family has two hectares of land and has grown rice for several generations,” Phan Van Sau, 64, a local resident, said.
The Lunar New Year holiday, or Tet, is just around the corner. The plants are ripe, Sau hires some farm workers for the harvest because his family does not have enough hands. The workers are all from the Mekong Delta and are in HCMC just to earn some extra income for Tet which will last from February 4 to 10.
Harvesting rice is mainly done by machines.
But the machines cannot reach the crops along the edge of the field, so the workers have to cut them by hand. Dexterously harvesting the crops with a sickle and putting them in a pile nearby, Thach Thi Hanh, 34, an ethnic Khmer, says she has done this since childhood.
Her group consists of six people, mainly from Tra Vinh, Soc Trang and Bac Lieu provinces in the Mekong Delta. They have come to HCMC to find harvesting work.
“Every year, close to Tet, we all pack up and travel to Saigon and only return to our hometown two days before the beginning of the lunar year,” Hanh says.
Under the midday sun, Thach Tam, Hanh’s husband wades in the water, carrying bundles of rice plants to shore, one at a time. He tells VnExpress: “Our old father and we came to Saigon to earn money for Tet. In my hometown, we have a hard life. We only work in the fields and cultivate fruits for people. After I finish here, I’ll go and work at some construction sites.”
Some young people are sent into the water to harvest the rice plants and to load paddy on a truck that takes it to the drying spot.
Son Nhan says: “A few years ago there were no machines, so farmers had to cut the rice by hand. Now this work is only for women and old people. Young people like me mainly carry heavy stuff, I carry about 50 bags a day.”
A wide path close to the rice field is the place for drying, and workers constantly turn the grains over so that they dry evenly under the sun.
If it’s a sunny day, it only takes half a day for the paddy to dry. This work is mainly for women and older people. They each get paid VND250,000 ($10.78) a day each.
Thach Quai, 59, says: “It breaks my heart that while others take their children to places to enjoy at the end of the year I’m in the mud harvesting rice. Harvesting rice is hard work but I can earn 400,000 VND ($17) a day. So when the harvesting season is done, I can earn more than VND5 million ($215). That’s enough for my children to have a joyous Tet.”
Quai’s son and his daughter-in-law have been working in Saigon for many years. After Tet they go back to working at construction sites or factories, or travel to the Central Highlands to harvest coffee beans for others.
During the lunch break Thach Tam wades into a pond to pick wild flowers, wild morning glory and fish to eat. He will take the rest to the market to sell.
The group rests in a hut.
Nguyen Thi Chin, who hired the workers, says: “The land here is no longer fertile and is contaminated with alum. So only one crop can be grown per year and five tons of paddy. It is only profitable if two crops are grown in a year. But it is a waste to leave the land empty, and the rice cultivation is for fun. It also provides rice for my family.”
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