CHANGING FACES

Catching mosquito larvae in the Qing River gives buzz of financial certainty

For those who spend their summer working the Qing River, making money every day is the lure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 5:38am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 5:38am
 

Every summer, about 100 farmers from Zhoukou in Henan province travel to part of the Qing River in northern Beijing to catch mosquito larvae, which is ground into feed for aquarium fish. They camp in tents along the river as they collect and sell the insects. Gong Yanhua and her husband say they were the first to take up the work. But it's not without risk. During the interview, employees from the local water bureau arrived and sent four men wielding sickles into the river to force the catchers from the water.

Why did they stop you?

They said it was for our own safety. There's a dam 100 metres upstream, and it's the rainy season. They said it would be dangerous if workers at the dam, unaware we were working in the river, released water. But we have done this for more than a decade. We're all aware of this and can run fast when it rains. Is there any job that is 100 per cent safe? Don't construction workers fall to their death once in a while? The bureau employees made their first visit a couple of days ago, and the second the day before yesterday. They asked us to get out of the water, and we did. But today they threatened to cut our bags with sickles. We are neither robbing nor stealing. Why should they destroy our means of livelihood?

How did you get into the business?

Seventeen years ago my husband learned from a migrant worker from Shandong that mosquito larvae hidden in sludge can be used to feed fish and sell at good prices. The worker taught him the technique, and he made 20 yuan a day. Later he asked me to join him and introduced the business to his brother, who later invited his brother-in-law. One relative invited another, and we have about 100 now. We were all very poor back home, so we came here to make some money.

How do you catch the larvae?

We fix a woven plastic bag with gauze inside into the mud. Then we let the water flow carry the sludge into it. It takes about two hours for the bag to fill with 150kg of sludge, which after sifting contains 2.5kg of insects. We usually enter the water around 4.30am and get out at 12pm. Two hours later the buyers arrive.

How much can you make in a day?

On average a pair can catch more than 30kg of insects a day, which sells for about 10 yuan per kilogram. Usually a man and his wife work together. The man carries the bags and the woman does the sifting. This is something the aquarium fish quite like and it sells for a much higher price after being processed at factories.

What's the price after it's processed then?

We don't know. That's someone else's business. We don't care about that as long as our own job brings us a decent income.

When do you come and go?

We come in late July and work until a few weeks before Lunar New Year. We don't go home unless it rains heavily. At home, I have no way to make money. On cold days we may earn only 100 yuan a day, but that's better than nothing. After celebrating the festival at home we return to Fangshan district [in Beijing]. We live in rented homes and spend the spring doing odd jobs, from construction to gardening. When the larvae re-emerge in summer, we move here.

Where do you live while on the river bank?

In tents. There are two restaurants here run by Henan people. They charge six yuan for a bowl of noodles and make it extra large for us. They let us use the tap water and give us free boiled water when we're thirsty. In the morning we have porridge and a pancake before getting into the river, and lunch is between 2-3pm after we have sold the insects. We don't eat for the rest of the day. We don't want to pay for one more meal.

Why do you do it?

Because we get money every day after work. It's not like working at a construction site, where sometimes you don't get paid even after the project is finished. My husband worked for a bridge project two years ago, and he never got the 50,000 yuan he was owed. This job at least guarantees we get paid immediately after work.

Why do you choose this area to catch larvae?

Mosquitoes like dirty water. It's interesting how a lot of them can be found if the conditions are right but none when the conditions are different. We leave some on purpose every day. They propagate so quickly. If you don't catch them, they grow into mosquitoes in two or three days' time.

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