As if we must punish ourselves for having too much fun in a previous incarnation, we book in for a 4am rise and visit a pre-dawn fish market on the shores of the Great Lake. It is surprisingly cold in the blank darkness as we park on the side of a long man-made spit leading into the water.
A flurry of trucks and motorbikes is already coursing up and down the thin lane, loaded with coolers overflowing with ice and fish. Down the end of the road on a steep beach dozens of fishing boats are crowded bow first onto the shore.
On board the crews are shoveling tons of fish out of their ship’s hold into baskets and bags for transportation. Small single person long tail boats jockey for space next to larger industrial scale trawlers, and behind the mêlée on shore, villagers in smaller wooden skiffs pole through the darkness, small silent shadows against the lightening sky.
We speak with several people, market sellers and fishermen to find out the details of this market life. They tell us that the fish of the Lake attract buyers from all over. The houses and buildings here are all wooden and as the sun rises over to the west over the water we start to pick out the details of life. Some of the huts here are no bigger than a large box. Constructed of sticks and patched with rice bags, one hut is home to a woman and her 2 young children. She smiles at us, perched in the door way suspended on thin wooden legs above the water. Her poverty is such that she cannot even set her foundations on 2 meters of dry land. Rather she will shift her home with the rising and falling of the Lake, retreating before the wet season floods, but always placing her feet in the shallows, in no man’s land.
We spend hours filming an interviewing, taking in the scenes of fish wealth that have played a central role in Cambodian history since the rise of the Angkorian empire on the shores of this Great Lake. Then we drive back towards Siem Reap, stopping to film a large group of men excitedly casting their nets in what otherwise appears to be a rice paddy. This mixing of land and water, an amphibian world, is magical in our eyes. It is a wide ditch running to the horizon and linked to many others that 20 or more men are netting catching catfish, silvery fingerlings and pretty little spiny green-scaled fish. At one point one of the men in a public parody of his lack of fishing success and need for some kind of meal attempts to hunt one of the white cranes that are standing on the back of a buffalo grazing in the field. One tiny boy fishes by himself, casting his small net awkwardly and then watching the older men to try and copy their technique. His efforts are both adorable and alarming, as the energy he uses needs to be matched by the fish he catches. For all the exuberance, there is no pretending to hunt in the efforts of the poor people netting in this ditch.