It is barely dawn, and Đỗ Minh Tú and her husband are already hard at work selling the pork broth soup she got up at 3 a.m. to cook.
She adds in green beans, rice noodles, meat and Vietnamese spices pungent and peppery.
“You eat one bowl.”
She promises a customer.
“You will feel full all day.”
For 20 years she’s been the best-selling soup lady at the Cái Răng floating market in the south of Việt Nam.
“The buyers fight each other.”
“To buy my soup.”
This is capitalism at its best:
Big boat owners bring in watermelons and pumpkins, cabbages and turnips, garlic and sweet potatoes, from fields as far as 50 miles away.
There is even advertising, of a sort — sellers tie a sample of their goods, like pumpkins or garlic, to a pole.
At wholesale (as in, off the big boat), a watermelon might go for about 25 cents, bought by owners of smaller boats who will peddle their goods at a hundred-percent markup on the canals and streams of the Mekong Delta.
And there are other businesses amid the swarm of boats:
A lottery ticket salesman, who can hardly keep up with demand.
Or the coffee woman — here, Starbucks comes to you!
One boat is like a floating 7-11 with sodas and snacks.
Another is a bobbing sandwich shop.
And like smart business owners everywhere know, sales go better with a smile.
“Customers like to buy from sellers who are laughing and happy.”
Mrs. Tú told Petersen.
“No one wants to buy from someone in a bad mood.”
The floating market has been like this for a thousand years, surviving Asian conquerors come and gone … the Americans, who fought a river war here … even the Communists, who left this slice of capitalism alone.
But times are changing.
A decade ago the floating market stretched nearly a mile.
Today it is half that.
At wholesale (as in, off the big boat), a watermelon might go for about 25 cents, bought by owners of smaller boats who will peddle their goods at a hundred-percent markup on the canals and streams of the Mekong Delta
The tourists, especially the Vietnamese, now come to see a fading part of their own history.
To make life better for the people of the Mekong Delta, there is a push for progress, but progress might just push this age-old market into extinction.
Modern supermarkets sell vegetables in air-conditioned comfort.
New bridges and roads mean trucks, not boats, bring in goods, and shopping is about navigating traffic-jammed roads.
But there is something else changing, and maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
Take 45-year-old Hồ Thị Thanh Vân.
She paddles the canals, selling door-to-door what she bought from the floating market.
She earns maybe 10 dollars a day.
But her daughter is studying English at college.
So she sweats and struggles with a single hope that many share, that she will be the last generation forced to work like this, that her children will have a better life.
And in that hope may be the last real chapter here, because a better future for the next generation will surely mean an end to this little slice of age-old smiling and hustling capitalism that once thrived on the ebb and flow of a mighty river.
By BARRY PETERSEN
Source: CBS News