In summer, when temperatures begin to rise and tempers start to fly, many Hanoians find release watching the ancient art of fish fighting.
|A good fighter
|Another good fighter called La Han
|Fish fighting in Dong Ho Painting
On my first visit to a fish fight, my friend took me to a xới (arena) adjacent to Ba Mau Lake. Under the blazing sun, more than twenty men gathered around three glass bowls containing a collection of colourful fish. As we arrived, two of the men prepared to drop their fighting fish into the ‘ring’ – a glass pot containing clear water.
As the two aggressive fighters (one deep black in colour, the other a bright pink) are dropped into the water, they immediately attack each other. The fish seem to fight harder as the crowd urges them on.
Long ago, fish fighting developed as a special hobby for Vietnamese children, especially in Hanoi. Now, this children’s game has become a popular hobby for adults as well. Fish fighting arenas are developing on pavements, lakes sides, or in more secluded areas such as gardens.
According to an ornamental fish seller in Mo Market, Hanoi, the best fighting fish can be found in Yen Phu and Nghi Tam villages in the Tay Ho District of Hanoi. Nguyen Van Huan, a fighting fish raiser from Nghi Tam village said, “To have a good fighting fish, you have to choose it carefully. A good fighting fish must have characteristics such as a big head, long and thick body, thick tail, hump back, and vertical fin.”
Quality fish such as these can be priced between VND50, 000-70,000 each, but even though the fish may display the characteristics of a fighter, it can still take two to three months before they are ready to be brought to the fighting arena.
There are now a few families in Nghi Tam village that continue to raise fighting fish. According to Phan Thi Hoa, breeders of this kind of fish now have numerous challenges they need to overcome. For example, she said, water in the area now contains a high content of chlorine which makes fish weaker.
“We often have to take water from West Lake," said Hoa, “More over, we have to buy worms from neighbouring provinces to feed the fish.”
It is estimated that Nghi Tam village supplies thousands of fighting fish to fish markets every year. One of the most famous fighting fish breeders in Nghi Tam is Nguyen Quang Hung. He has set aside a 50 quare-metre area for raising fish in hundreds of bottles and pots.
Fish trainers from Hanoi, Hai Phong, and even Vinh City are all fond of Hung’s fish because they are, “strong, vigorous and fight to the death".
Each season, Hung sells tens of thousands of fish, which earn him hundreds of millions of Vietnamese Dong. “Raising fighting fish is like raising fighting cocks. When they are small, we put them together but when they get bigger, we keep them separately.” Hung has a stable of one hundred or so of the best fish which cost hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Dong each.
Fighting fish from Thailand are also appearing in Hanoi, but according to a trainer, “Thai fish are beautiful but not strong and vigorous like Nghi Tam fish.”
Training fish is also an important step. After choosing the best fish, trainers put them in a glass pot and keep it in a dark place. Some people wrap the pot with paper while others bury it in the ground for some days. The next training step is to place a mirror in front of the fish and let it shadow fight. To get them ready for their first show fight, the trainers let the growing fish spar with each other in order to choose the strongest one.
Fish must be four to five months old before being entered in an important fight, and to help their charges win, trainers sometimes use some special methods. One or two days before the game they put some salt or a quater of a B1 tablet into the pot. Salt and vitamin makes the fish hungry and so it will be more aggressive against its opponent.
To make the fight end quicker, people may shake the pot so as to make the fighters tired and end their bout. The fight ends when one of the fish dies or swims away. But if both flee, the fight will end in a draw.
Today, fish fighting is not only a game just for relaxing. Many people have been using this game for gambling. Besides football and cock fighting, fish fighting is now also becoming a hot gamble on every corner.
If you meet a man holding a glass pot or a nylon bag containing small colourful fish, it is probably a good bet that he is on his way to find a fish fight at Dong Xuan Market, Mo Market, O Cho Dua, Buoi Street, or Thanh Cong Park. Wish him luck.