Life Life

30/01/2018 - 17:00

Making ends meet in the freezing cold

Late at night, when many people are wrapping themselves in their warm blankets, the dumpling, balut and noodle vendors are still earning their livelihood in the bitter cold.

Ms. Lan wears her raincoat to keep her warm on the street.  

Ways of making ends meet

When the street becomes less crowded with people, the traffic is less fast-flowing, it is when Aunt Thuy (55 years old, selling baluts at Van Duong bridge, Xuan Phu ward) begins her work. Everyday, she leaves home at 19.30 and returns home when the new day has begun.

Unlike other days, today, most of the guests did not eat at the little stall, but they wanted to take away their food, and then rushed to their vehicles to avoid the winter cold. Aunt Thuy's little stall nestled under an old porch on Nguyen Lo Trach road, enough to shelter her from the rain but could not stop the cold winds. Huddling up in the blowing wind, Aunt Thuy shared: "It’s still OK sitting on the porch, but when I go back home at 1 am, and it is raining, then I am chilled to the bone. It is a hard work, but for 30 years now, except the sick days, I have not stopped selling. No matter how cold it is, I always have to open the stall, or I can’t afford to buy rice… "

It was nearly 11 o'clock at night, the sound of Uncle Nhan selling dumplings (45 years old, Phu Mau, Phu Vang) broke the silence of the night. He stopped in a familiar neighborhood and took one out of the pot of hot dumplings for a guest; the warmth of the cake radiated, making the smile on the man's wrinkled face so warm. Rainy cold days force Uncle Nhan's legs to work much harder, the cycling is heavier because of the cold, but the cold rain will make more people come to his hot dumplings. According to Uncle Nhan, people are often lazy to go out in the cold rain, so he sells more. That is why, he is never absent on these familiar streets to sell dumplings, not even one freezing rainy night.

Even though it was freezing cold, Le Thi Lan, (a 45-year-old noodle vendor, Xuan Phu ward), was still pushing her push-style noodle cart in the street light. Sometimes, she stopped to warm her numb hands over the charcoal stove. Her eyes were glittering, with gentle smiles when customers stop to buy her noodles. Her husband does not have a stable job, so Ms. Lan's noodle pot is the main source of income for the whole family. Although she has to struggle with all worries burdened on her thin shoulders, the industrious woman always silently thanks God for her health and is proud of her nice children. "Thanks to the noodle pot, my three children can afford higher education. The first two graduated from college and got jobs, and my youngest daughter is a third year student at Hue University of Foreign Languages," she confided. In that way winter goes by, and every night she returns home with the sold-out noodle pot.

The hope to sell out

At 5am, the outdoor temperature is only about 12 or 13 Celsius degrees, but at the foot of Dong Ba bridge, there were flickering images of women with baskets and bags of snails, beginning a new working day. Those snails are the result of their diving in the cold water the previous evening.

Rain clothes and an old conical hat are the things used to keep her warmer during the cold rainy days of the old woman Phan Gai. At the age of 80, she still has to go picking up snails and then to go selling them, to earn money to feed herself, and to raise her grandson who is in the 9th grade (his mother is working far away from home). She shared: “I always have to work every day, even when it is colder than today. If I do not work for one day, I don’t have any money to raise my grandson.”

To earn more income, the old woman Gai usually buys snails from other people and then sells for a profit. On the lucky days, she has many buyers so that she can come back home early. She said that she has five children, both boys and girls, who are all married. It’s not that the children do not want to take care of her, but because they themselves are suffering, struggling to make ends meet for their children, she does not want to live like a “freeloader”. She is still healthy so she tries everyday to earn some money to buy food and learning tools for her grandson.

The last basket of snails was sold by the time the little boy Nguyen Ngoc Minh (her grandson) rode his bike to pick her up. Quickly packing the baskets and the plastic bags for his grandmother, he asked if she was hungry or cold. "She loves me and wants to have more money to buy clothes and books for me, so every day she sells snails. Knowing that she is old but needs to make a living and bring me up, I also try to study well and behave well. I go to school during the day, and to help Grandma earn money, after school I work casually at a joss paper store,” said Minh.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Nga (41 years old, in Group 14, Huong So, Huong Tra town), another snail seller quickly said about the old woman: “It is cold, but she sells very early, about 4.30am, she has some familiar customers who usually do exercise early in the morning and go by this place, so she gets to sell early.”

Spending dozens of years catching snails, through the cold winters wading in the paddy fields and canals, or by the foot of bridges, Ms. Nga and the old woman Gai do not lament, but just wish to have more customers, so that the children can enjoy their good meals. These are the modest jobs that help them make money to cover life expenses, raise their children and send them to school to get good education.

Story and photo: Thanh Thao