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Diving for a living in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta



A ‘squad’ of certified divers live in a small neighborhood in Long An Province. They have been salvaging boats and recovering corpses for a living for many years. 

Tran Van Chau, born in 1964, commonly known as Tam Chau, is the senior diver in his team. 

“We’ve all had to stay onshore the last few months because of the pandemic,” he referred to the COVID-19 impact on their job. 

Tam Chau and other divers live around the foot of My Loi bridge in Ward 4, Phuong Dong Commune, Can Duoc District, Long An Province. 

This bridge runs across Soai Rap River, connecting Long An Province and Tien Giang Province, both in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.

His father was commissioned to dive into Soai Rap River to pick up large wood logs that had sunk there, according to Tam Chau.

These logs were transported along Vam Co River to Go Cong District in Tien Giang Province, all the way from the southeast of Vietnam. 

They were meant to provide materials for the production of a well-known wooden altar cabinet by the local craftsmen. 

“My father alone could not do this job easily, so he called for extra help from his family members and neighbors,” Tam Chau added. 

“At that time, all these families were poor and had no farms or fields to work on.

They were willing to dive because it could bring them some money.

“Over time, my father and others soon trained themselves to become very good divers.”

The age of 16 marked Tam Chau’s first diving trip with his father. They were looking for wood logs and sunken boats and canoes.

In the past, the diving gear consisted of a mere rope tied around the diver’s waist on one end, and fastened to a small canoe on the other. 

“Divers had to go up the surface continuously for gasps of air,” Tam Chau said.

“But that was the thing of the past.

“Now we have a lot more equipment, especially oxygen tanks for breathing underwater.

“So our working time can be lengthened.”

During his first working days, Tam Chau was merely helping out on his father’s diving trips. 

He soon learned the tricks and became a lead diver on their team. 

After his father retired from old age, Tam Chau gradually made his way to become the leader of the whole diving squad in this region. 

He has remained in this position until now. 

His two children are also following in his footsteps.

The tools, the kit, and the risk

The divers’ boats are parked neatly in a row behind their houses, in Rach La Rivulet and Soai Rap River. 

On the shore, one can easily see a pile of strings, rubber pipes, drills, water pumps, sand dredger machines, steel cutters, and other equipment. 

According to Tam Chau, the most crucial tool is the oxygen supplier. There are normally two of them in a kit, a working tank and a spare one. 

They are to be working properly all the time because they are the lungs and heart of the divers.

If the primary oxygen tank breaks down, the partner on the boat has to operate the spare tank instantly in order to maintain the oxygen supply to his workmate below. 

When both of the tanks have a failure, the diver has to be removed from the depths immediately. 

Nobody dares to ‘dive without the tanks.’ 

From Tam Chau’s accounts, the job is rather perilous, drawing a very fine line between life and death. 

A minute of distraction might result in a fatal accident, so the divers always have to stick to their safety principles and be aware of their situations. 

Before and after each diving trip, the team has to perform a close-up inspection of their machinery. 

This is one aspect of their safety guidelines. 

“Any one of us [the divers] has to be able to operate and maintain his gear, so that he can quickly assist his diving partner,” said Tam Chau.

A diver also has to be in good health on working days. Tam Chau makes sure that any sick member does not get to dive due to safety reasons. 

Tran Van Chau, or Tam Chau, is an experienced diver. He is seen on a diver boat located on Soai Rap River. Photo: Hung Anh

Tran Van Chau, or Tam Chau, is an experienced diver. He is seen on a diver boat on Soai Rap River in Long An Province, Vietnam. Photo: Hung Anh

Despite their handed-down skills and expertise, all of the divers still need to pass a recognized diving test and obtain their certificates. 

“It is extremely muddy down there because the water of the Mekong Delta river is full of alluvium,” said Tran Van Tan, born in 1972, who is Tam Chau’s brother. 

He is known as Muoi Tan and has been 30 years into the job.

“The divers basically see nothing,” Muoi Tan said.

“They rely on their hands to locate and manipulate equipment, including pumps and others.

“Whether the diver has to remove nuts and bolts, or cut through steel, it is all done in total darkness.

“Weather permitting, the job is less demanding with smooth currents and calm water surface.

“But it’s really tough on a stormy day with strong currents.”

Talking about a diver’s biggest threats, Tam Chau mentioned two of them.

“One is getting stuck, the other is having the oxygen pipe cut in half.”

The money

The first thing for a diver to look for before making his dive is to investigate his subject, according to Muoi Tan.

He has to find out if the sunken boat was carrying cargo, which type of cargo was on it, whether there are any people stuck inside, the location of the boat, and the authorization letter for diving from the authorities.

For construction sites, divers also need to understand clearly the requirements of the owners, and figure out the precise location.

Then, they perform a field test to gauge the amount of workload.

“The price can vary from a few thousand dollars to a few grand for salvage diving, depending on the depths and workload,” said Muoi Tan.

“For underwater construction projects, the earning can be ten times the normal rate, dependent on the scope of the project, the workload, and the length of construction.

“It is a dangerous job, so each shift can last no more than two hours.

“Those more fit can work two shifts a day, while the less physically able work only one.

“For each dive, a diver can get paid a maximum of VND1 million [USS$44], subject to the complications involved.

“Diving in the night is generally avoided because that is too risky.”

The river god 

Once a contract has been signed, Tam Chau will pick a lucky hour based on his calculation of the lunar calendar. 

A praying ritual follows, with offerings made to the river god. 

Tam Chau himself kneels down to pray, hoping the river god will ease their dives and keep them safe from the strong winds and accidents. 

Only the very brave members of the team dare to perform human body recovery dives, according to Muoi Tan.

“We agree among each other that if the victim’s family is too poor, we will recover bodies for free and only charge the fee for salvaging their boats,” he said.

“We believe that is the way to build a better karma for our children.

“Divers are widely known to see things in the deep water, but they must not disclose the details because they have sworn to the river god that what is in the water stays in the water.”

The river god watches over all those who make a living out of the river, Muoi Tan underlined.

After the sacrifices are made, Tam Chau has to dive himself to confirm the amount of work. 

Then, he gets back onshore to make the final assignment of jobs to his team.

If there is a dead body, that has to be their priority, so that the family can host a funeral. 

Salving boats is done afterward.

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Your Vietnam

Scientist brings solar energy closer to people



When beginning his journey to the US at the age of 20, Nguyễn Trọng Hiếu showed an endless passion for science. From a young student, Hiếu has become one of the nation’s leading scientists in engineering. With pioneer initiatives in solar energy, he and his team have taken humanity one step closer to a future where solar energy can thrive. Việt Nam News reporter Hoàng Hồ talks with Hiếu about his journey.

With excellent scientific research works, Nguyễn Trọng Hiếu was honoured to be nominated by the Central Committee of the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union in the list of 20 outstanding young Vietnamese in 2021. Photo courtesy of ANU

Inner Sanctum: How did you feel when your name was announced among 20 outstanding young Vietnamese in February? What were the turning points in your career?

I’m thrilled and proud to be honoured as one of the outstanding young faces of Việt Nam as a rep for the scientific research category. This motivates me to continue what I have been doing — performing good research and supervising and teaching my students, and mentoring junior colleagues.

I won a full scholarship to study at the Portland State University, USA, thanks to my performance in the first two years of studies at the Hồ Chí Minh City University of Technology. It was a huge step for me. But the turning point was when I started my PhD at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australia, immersing myself in their world-class solar device fabrication and characterisation facilities. I received excellent mentoring from many world-renowned researchers and collaborated with many world-leading research groups.

Inner Sanctum: What are the challenges in reaching sustainable solar energy? 

The Earth receives thousands of times more solar energy from the Sun annually than the world’s total energy consumption. However, solar energy usage is still limited due to its higher cost than conventional electricity sources.

This is primarily because of the commercial solar cell efficiency (20 per cent), which is still far below the theoretical limit. The current challenge in improving solar cell efficiencies is the poor understanding of factors that can potentially cause efficiency losses at various stages. My work is well on the way to addressing this knowledge gap and providing the community with new tools to characterise these losses and novel processes to minimise them.

Inner Sanctum: Can you explain your research, its goals and the specific applicability of the research in daily life?

Dramatic climate change forces humanity to seek clean energy sources that are efficient, cost-effective, and reliable. Solar energy is an obvious solution. My research goal is to make solar energy cheaper and closer to everyone. I’m doing it innovatively – exploring light emitted from solar materials.

Nature gives physical things beautiful colours, which are a key to unlocking the potential of solar technologies. The secret is that every part of light emitted from materials contains important information. Examining the emitted light allows me to determine the most efficient material to use.

Because emitted light has unique features corresponding well to certain material properties, I can diagnose the material characteristics by just ‘looking at’ but not ‘touching’ them. I am taking it a step further – after understanding the material properties, I apply the knowledge to the fabrication process.

Much of my research directly supports R&D engineers to improve the efficiency of solar cells. These innovations could be applied to make better solar cells by different solar cell and module manufacturers. Then, the devices will be distributed around the globe, including in Việt Nam.

This will help the industry make more efficient and cheaper solar cells, unlocking the full potential of solar energy and providing low-cost renewable energy for humanity.

Hiếu founded two optical laboratories at the Australian National University, used by more than 50 researchers from nine different groups. Photo courtesy of ANU

Inner Sanctum: Can you share your passion for a field that is difficult for many people? Did you have any difficulties at the beginning of your journey in the US? 

My love for physical science took me to engineering. Then, my bachelor’s study was in electrical engineering, grounded in semiconductors. Ten years ago, solar cells were a hot topic, a path to tackle our climate change. The bulk part of solar cells is semiconductors. I decided to follow this area to utilise my background and do something meaningful for the world.

The greatest difficulty at that time was my English, particularly my writing and speaking skills. To overcome them, I just practised and practised. Practice makes perfect.

Inner Sanctum: How is your time working abroad? What in the US and Australia can Việt Nam learn from?

So far, I have enjoyed my time working in the US and Australia very much. I have built collaborations with numerous leading research groups around the world. These collaborations have provided me with unique opportunities to learn a wide range of state-of-the-art solar cell fabrication processes and characterisation techniques.

I am happy with their open working culture. I’m free to express my opinions and ideas even though they sometimes contradict the majority. VNS


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Your Vietnam

National Senior Golf Championship to start early next month



HÀ NỘI—The Vietnam Senior Championship presented by T99 2022 will open on June 4-5 at Vinpearl Golf Nam Hội An (Quảng Nam Province), the Việt Nam Golf Association (VGA) and the Vietnam Golf Services (VGS), it was announced yesterday.

The organisers said the tournament would be followed by the T99 Vietnam Amateur Series 2022.

Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Dung won VGA’s golf champions in 2008 and 2021. Photo by GolfNews

About 100 amateurs aged 45-55 for women and 50-60 for men and higher aged golfers are expected to join the tournament.

The championship started in 2008, with Andrew Hùng Phạm (men) bagging five championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2021.

Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Dung (women) won in 2008 and 2021.

The VGA and VGS signed a strategic cooperation deal with the Technology Finance, namely T99 Group, in which T99 will become the main sponsor of the T99 Vietnam Amateur Series 2022.

Andrew Hùng Phạm bagged five VGA golf championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2021. Photo by GolfNews

Nguyễn Ngọc Tuấn, deputy general director of T99, said: “National golf tournaments have been improving over the past years and lured an increasing number of golfers into joining.

“T99 wishes to join the VGA to develop this sport further to attract more golfers, particularly to improve the quality of golf tournaments and bring the country’s golf to international tournaments.”

The tournament will be broadcast live by VGS Media via GolfNews channels. VNS


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Fencer, volunteers collects rubbish in Mỹ Đình Gymnasium



Lê Hương

HÀ NỘI — Famed fencer Vũ Thành An and nearly 100 volunteers collected plastic rubbish in Mỹ Đình Gymnasium on Friday in the “Collecting Plastic Rubbish – Getting Green Medals” activity as part of the ongoing ‘For A Green SEA Games’ campaign.

They divided into groups to pick up rubbish, bottles and cans. By the afternoon, over 30 volunteers who collected the most rubbish won Green medals from the SEA Games organiser.

Fencer An (right) collects rubbish with a volunteer at Mỹ Đình Gymnasium on Friday. —  Photo SEA Games organiser

With the spirit of “For a Stronger Southeast Asia”, the event has not aimed just at fair play but also for green-clean-beautiful and environment-friendly purposes.

The Natural Resources and Environment Communications Centre and the WWF have coordinated with the SEA Games 31 organiser on a project to minimise plastic disposal in the ocean and implement a national plan on controlling plastic disposal in the sea by 2030, aiming to set up a recycling economy and focus on environmental protection.

These plastic reducing activities are part of WWF efforts to protect Việt Nam’s biological diversity, including the Sao La (Asian unicorn), chosen as this SEA Games mascot.

This is the very first time such a rare and valuable mammal has been chosen as the mascot.

Volunteers at the event. —  Photo SEA Games organiser

The programmes “Collecting Plastic as Gifts” and “Collecting Plastic Rubbish  Getting Green Medals” have been implemented in Hà Nội’s Mỹ Đình Gymnasium since May 12.

They aim to enhance people’s awareness of various kinds of plastic that can be recycled and encourage people to sort rubbish to protect the environment.

Volunteers at SEA Games venues have been joining the activities. — VNS


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