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At Saigon's Oldest Ornamental Fish Market, Fish Are Friends, Not Food

It is a street, not a river, that comes to mind when people talk about vibrant fish in Saigon. Located in District 5, Lưu Xuân Tín Street is only approximately 500 meters long, but it is home to dozens of aquarium businesses.

From just a few stores at the beginning, Lưu Xuân Tín is now home to rows of aquarium supply shops. Photo by Đỗ Anh Chương.

The short thoroughfare is more than 40 years old, known amongst enthusiasts as the oldest street for ornamental fish in the city.

The street entrance. Photo by Đỗ Anh Chương.

Lưu Xuân Tín Street is not only a well-known place for commerce, but it is also a popular tourist destination in District 5. Aquarium aficionados in Saigon and merchants from all around Vietnam come here to buy aquatic pets and fish-keeping items.

“There were only a few stores when I initially visited, then more and more [appeared]. Fish dealers gradually took up residence here, transforming it into an actual market,” Đặng Thị Thủy, a local beverage vendor, tells me. She has been selling refreshments here since 1992.

Cô Thủy runs the street's refreshment stop. Photo by Trần Duy Minh.

Traders often sit around her drink stall to conduct business. “My place is kind of a gathering point for aquarium businesses,” she proudly shares.

Fish merchants discuss their trade and prepare fish for customers right on the street. Photo by Trần Duy Minh.

Many merchants who do not have brick-and-mortar stores here cut fish deals on the street. “I don't have a store and I sell aquarium fish wholesale,” Phạm Kiều Oanh, an aquarium fish merchant, says. “I've been doing this for nearly 30 years.”

Tank maintenance is a constant task at these ornamental fish stores. Photos by Trần Duy Minh.

In the beginning, Oanh started her business by selling feeder fishes here. Then her trading network grew bigger, and she started selling aquarium fish wholesale.

Apart from aquatic animals, shops also sell a range of knick-knacks so customers can decorate their tanks any way they see fit. Photo by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

While there are no official business hours, Lưu Xuân Tín Street is open every day from as early as 4am to as late as 5pm. Traders, buyers, and sellers arrive on the street early in the morning to start a new working day.

Photos by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

“I come here to work every day between 4 and 8am. I eat breakfast and have a cup of coffee here, then I meet with the buyers and direct my employees to deliver the fish to fulfill the orders,” Oanh shares.

Fish nets for fish, not fish nets for humans. Photo by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

Oanh previously worked as an embroiderer. Her older brother then introduced her to the aquarium fish industry. She and her husband are both working in the ornamental fish market, which provides the majority of their family's income.

Trays of aquatic plants. Photo by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

“This business does not make me rich, but it allows me to live well and support my family. I'm 57 years old now. No one wants to hire me because I am too elderly, this business is a good fit for me,” she says.

Scores of vivid fish species are available for purchase here. Photos by Đỗ Anh Chương.

Oanh runs an aquarium fish farm from her house in District 8. She returns home to take care of the fish when she's not on the street cutting deals and confirming orders.

Photos by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

“Every day, I take care of the fish as if they were my children. I have been engaged in this business for a long time, and I love it. I don't want to change to another job,” Oanh says.

Goldfish in giant bags on the pavement. Photo by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

While the formation of this "aquarium street" was a spontaneous development, its existence has brought about positive impacts on the livelihood of Saigoneers living in the area, whether they are directly involved in the ornamental fish trade.

“I started my business here when I was 28 years old, and I am now 60 years old. My drink stall has many regulars and is well-visited. Thus, my life is nice and stable,” Thủy claims.

Photos by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên and Đỗ Anh Chương.

Even when she is not present, her regulars frequently come to get drinks on their own and then settle their "tab" later. "I don't have to worry about my drink stand, and I sometimes just leave it there to let it run on its own," she says with a smile.

Photos by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

Thủy has been selling drinks on this street for so long that she has gained a lot of knowledge about the aquarium trade here. When new dealers arrive, she is always happy to help out.

Aquatic plants to be grown in tanks. Photo by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

"I often advise newcomers on how to buy aquarium fish cheaply and efficiently here," she explains. "I love this street because everyone here is cordial. We love and support each other whether we are buyers or sellers, rich or poor."

What is this? Houses for fish? Photos by Lê Thái Hoàng Nguyên.

For some long-term members of Lưu Xuân Tín's little fishy enclave, the street has become much more than just a location to set up shop and gain an income.

A budding fish-keeper accompanies their dad on his morning fish run. Photo by Trần Duy Minh.

"This place is like my second family, and the people here are like my family members. Talking with them is pleasant and fun. The time I spend here is the happiest of my day," Oanh shares.

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