A Seafood Culture
Chapter 2, part 1, from Dancing Shrimp
by Kasma Loha-unchit
The scintillating light of the early morning dances on the rippling waves as they gently lap upon the shore. Another day is dawning on a quiet stretch of the gulf coast.
Nimble feet move swiftly to and fro, into the water and out, as if dancing in rhythm with the waves. They sink into soft wet sand, then rise into cool morning air, before sinking again into sand and sea. Sun-darkened hands grasp onto rope and net as muscled arms stretch and pull. Wrinkled skin on bare feet betray this lively spirit, who's been up and about long before dawn's first light.
Side by side with next of kin, the fisherman weaves in and out, working his way up the sandy stretch: casting, pulling, emptying, folding, and casting yet again. Silhouettes in the distance down the shore dance along like shadows in step, as neighbors from the village work for their morning's catch. Faint sounds of voices talking, singing, humming, laughing, drift by from time to time, carried by the soft sea breezes. Soon, the first glimpse of the waking sun will greet the villagers from beyond the misty horizon.
Little fishes flip and flop as the cast net is drawn out of nutrient-rich waters. Into buckets and baskets they go, soon to be gutted and cleaned for the fisherman's kitchen, for markets near or far, or for drying racks to preserve them for monsoon days when swelling seas keep even the bravest soul safely home.
Beyond the shore, small wooden boats are rowed from spot to spot, and lines are dropped in hopes of hooking bigger fish. Nets strung on wooden hoops scoop up smaller fare swimming close to the water's surface during this cool time of morning. Further out, long-tail boats chug about, setting and collecting traps for squid, cuttlefish, and crustaceans. These dangle from recycled-plastic-bottle floats, each marked by a pole topped with a colorful flag. Men and women – old, middle-aged, and young – all help out, whether on shore or in boats off shore, in carving out a living from the sea.
From beyond the horizon, larger fishing boats will soon appear, returning from an early morning's catch, or a full night's excursion out to sea. At the village pier, different boats prepare to leave, loading nets and ice in oversized coolers for a day's journey to harvest other species of nature's bounty.
Come evening, when the sand and shallow waters, warmed by the hot tropical sun, cool, activity resumes along the shore. Men, women, and children, armed with sticks and woven baskets, wade ankle deep in clear, dark waters, as if taking a leisurely stroll, gathering clams.
The day's activities witnessed on this quiet stretch of coastline are repeated on numberless other stretches of Thailand's long sunrise coast – from its eastern border with Cambodia, across the eastern seaboard, then curving south down the peninsula, until the Gulf of Thailand opens into the South China Sea and beyond. These western shores of the mighty Pacific, with warm equatorial waters, are a rich haven for abundant varieties of marine life.
Across the narrow southern peninsula lies yet another shore, Thailand's sunset coast, on the enchanting Andaman Sea. Here, on the eastern shores of the Indian Ocean, can be found dazzling beaches, punctuated here and there by dramatic limestone karsts; mangrove swamps, spawning grounds of precious marine resources; and countless idyllic islands, islets, and rocky outcroppings, surrounded by extensive reefs and eerie underwater caves, home to innumerable species of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. Here, deeper waters and a current different from that of the Pacific brings a differing mix of marine life, giving the country an extraordinary range of wonderful seafood to serve up at the dinner table and to export to seafood-loving cultures around the world.
Next: (part 2) Fish Bridges