A Fish Egg Tree, or Cay Trung Ca in Vietnam, is known as a Jamaican Cherry Tree in much of the world (it’s scientific name is Muntingia calabura). Although I’ve read it’s a native of the American tropics, it’s found frequently lining streets in Vietnam. It’s a small tree with branches that spread out like an umbrella, creating a thick, tightly woven canopy that’s perfect for shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. The flowers are white and quickly producing small, red, edible berries which look like fish eggs. The tree produces fruit perpetually once it is just a few months old. It thrives in poor soil with little moisture, and grows rapidly, even where other plants will not grow at all. For all of these reasons, it is my favorite tree in Vietnam.
Fish Egg Trees grow in many places that have been memorable to me as well. They grow in front of my friend Khiem’s house, where I meet him to drink beer and eat dried squid and stuffed crab at the harbor. They grow in front of the district police station where I always pick a few berries before I go inside to renew my residence permit every month. One grows above the stand in Mui Ne where I eat banh canh and drink peanut milk with my friends after work. They grow all along the streets and markets of Phan Thiet, and in front of the home of many of my closest friends.
I planted three in front of my house in the graveyard, where I anxiously watched them grow day by day. The sun baked my house in dry season, making it unbearable in the afternoons. I hoped their bows would absorb some of the heat. The lorries sped by every morning, kicking up dust that settled in my living room. I hoped that they would buffet the filth and save me some cleaning. The mourners on their way to the cemetery every day would peer into my windows and chatter about the strange foreigner living in the cottage. I hoped the trees would finally give me some privacy. The birds and bats nested in the holes in my roof, dropping babies in my shoes. I hoped the trees would provide them with a new home and forget about mine. Even with a new brick wall around my front yard, the neighbors still snuck in at night and stole my orchids and water jars. The trees finally give me a place to hide things out of view. I took great pride in the Fish Egg Trees as they thrived and met all the hopes I had for them.
Fish Egg Trees to me, are a symbol of comfort, the best of my life in Vietnam, and the dreams I’ve had living there.