Another bowl of noodles for breakfast this morning, same as every morning since this trip began. In fact, I’ve had rice or noodles for every meal since I’ve been here, apart from lunchtime on my day off when I finally had enough and was lured into Burger King in Hanoi. After breakfast we took our converted Ford Transit van an hours’ drive down to Sa Chau village in the Nam Dinh province – otherwise known as Fish Sauce Village. 40 families are constantly cooking up batches of the smelly sauce that is added, in one form or another, to just about every meal they cook here in Vietnam.
There wasn’t much cooking going on today though as water was pouring out of the sky in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before – a constant monsoon from the moment I got up until at least mid afternoon. This was a bit of a problem, since fish sauce is made outside and dried in the sun. The streets of the town turned into a stream, and we sheltered from the deluge in a couple of cornershops while our director Mark and cameraman Geraint marched about the place trying to work out how to salvage the day’s shoot. Once we’d shot our opening under a dripping shop awning one of our researchers bought me a pair of flip flops to wade down to our next location, where we met a fish sauce maker on the balcony of his bungalow, and got to stick our noses in a bucket of the whiff substance. One good thing about the weather was that the whole place stank a lot less than it normally does. Apparently when the sun’s out the stench is quite overwhelming – not surprising considering that to make the stuff you have to leave fish to rot in a pot for a whole year.
A couple of extra government minders had come down to keep an eye on us, and make sure that no incidents might occur that could spoil our impression of the country (we already have one guy who travels with us every day as it is). We must have been a godsend for them though, as we have no interest in digging around to do any sort of disruptive investigative journalism. Our job is to turn up, show what’s great about a country, and how much fun you can have with the people who live there, and then drive off into the sunset waving. As a result they were all in a very good mood, getting photos taken with us and imploring us to try all the different bits of local cuisine that had been laid on for our lunch.
After a bit of post lunch filming dressed as French food critic Rene Mangetout (which they seemed to find quite funny, what with them being an ex-French colony) we made our way back to our hotel as the rain began to pour down again, stopping off at a supermarket to get a few supplies. Quite an experience actually. It was very well stocked I thought, and quite an assault on the senses, with bright colours and lighting and thumping dance music. The dour Communist states of yesteryear that I grew up hearing about on the news as a kid certainly seem to be a thing of the past.