The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cay Trung Ca

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.


Aikido Roll said...

Adam, finally I reached to the beginning of the post (in reverse chronically order) and understood "the fish egg tree." :-D Thanks for sharing your view from a Caucasian/expat point of view.

Seeing how you got treated differently made me upset. Not only tourists (non-Vietnamese) get double-standard treatment but Vietnamese aboard coming back to VN as well. One trick is to ask a local to buy/pay for you or to show you where to go. But then as explorers and tourists you don't have those options unless you have lucky to travel with a local friend.

Adam Bray said...

Thanks for taking the time to read this far back! :)

I learned a few hard lessons about asking people to help me shop:

1. Never ask a guy to help. We guys tend to have a pride problem that inhibits us from negotiating prices well. I discovered early on that whenever I asked a male Vietnamese friend to help, I was still getting really screwed on prices. Always ask a girl. Better yet, as someone's mom to help.

2. Make sure you really trust the person helping you. Often when someone offers to 'help' you get a cheap price, they are actually getting a commission from the seller & you are actually being cheated. If the person helping you is a friend, they can at least take the commission then turn around and hand it over to you!

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