Behind the family farm in Nakhon Phanom there is probably close to 50 individual rice paddies that are owned by all the various families in the village. I learned the hard way exactly how the rice fields work in the village because I spent a few days fertilizing them last April for the coming planting season. The family owned 7 fields behind their farm and a further 5 fields 3 miles down the road.
After a hard days work I was asked if I wanted to go fishing, to which I replied, “sure”. I expected that once the fishing nets were checked and folded up that we would be loading up the truck and heading down the road to the Mekong, but I was wrong. We loaded up the truck and got all the kids on a motorcycle and started heading in the general direction of the Mekong but then we took a turn onto the dirt road that runs along side the rice fields.
The fields behind the farm are separated by a small wooded area with a stream and on the other side was another 40 fields or so. We came out of the wooded area and drove to the opposite side of the fields and parked. That’s when I noticed that interspersed around the fields were actually man made ponds that were pretty good sized and as I found out about 10 feet deep.
I asked Pookie if they had stocked the ponds and I was told they occasionally buy feeder fish and set them loose but the birds also help out by dropping remnants of fish and other critters into the water. As the nets came out and were prepared to start the fishing the kids found a spot in the shade to play while Pookie hid out behind a very small tree for cover while watching the men fish.
The ponds are collectively used by all of the farmers so I didn’t expect many fish to be pulled out but after a long day of shoveling manure I was more than ready to jump in and cool off. Eventually Pookie’s brothers and her young cousin unfurled the nets and set to trawling the first pond but as expected they didn’t get anything after 3 tries. We then headed for the second pond only to find that the fish weren’t home there either.
Right near the fields is what looks like a large natural lake and I was told we would walk over there and give that a try. I thought it sounded like a good idea until I walked into the lake only to find that the water only came up to my shins. At best it was 3 feet deep in places. more of a large flooded area than a lake. At this point I wondered what we would be fishing for.
It didn’t take me long to realize we would be mucking around in the mud for fresh water clams and mussels. They didn’t think I was up for it and laughed as I laid in the water, pulling myself around with my hands while feeling for anything in the muck below. Surprisingly, for me and them, I pulled up about 12 mussels and the brothers found about 20 each. More than enough to compliment dinner that night. And while we were mucking around in the mud Pookie decided to try her hand at photography, as you can see she caught my better side.
So, as the sun began to set, we loaded up the pickup truck and headed back to the house with our haul of mussels and just like their western counterparts there was a tall tale or two of the fish that got away. Dinner that night tasted better than any four star restaurant, partly because the work we put in to bring it to the table but mostly because I felt like I was a part of something bigger than a meal.