Three years have passed since Nguyen Thi Thuy first took to the streets of Nghi Tam, armed with little more than a basket of fruit and a dream to escape the life afforded to all farmers. Having previously slaved away in the paddy fields of Tuyen Quang, Nguyen is no stranger to hard work and her daily life at 310 Nghi Tam is indicative of her attitude.
Her day starts around the time that most of Hanoi’s drunken debauchery comes crashing to an end at 3.30am. By 4am, most people are happily horizontal and unconscious, but for Nguyen, it’s the time to get busy at the Long Bien night market and by 5am she’s in full-swing.
Most days, Nguyen sells around 20 bunches of bananas, but the 1st and 15th of every lunar month marks special days when Hanoians give offerings to their ancestor and Buddha. More often than not Nguyen sells double her usual amount on these holy days.
Hailing from Hung Yen province, Doan Thi Mien escaped to Hanoi over a decade ago and has spent the last ten years keeping Hanoi awash with the kind of fruits that Hanoi is famed for.
Doan leaves for the fruit market at the unsightly hour of 4am. Biking through the chaos of Hanoi, she joins the herds of fruit sellers flocking to the market from 2am, but Doan knows the price at that hour is higher than she can afford.
Ten years in the game affords you certain insights and so Doan waits till later to pick up the best deals. Doan laughs in the face of the gym-membership owning public as she racks up an impressive 10km every single day on her bike, all in the name of fruit and gainful employment.
Nguyen Hong Nu left her hometown in Ninh Binh to seek a better life in the capital. The vision of Hanoi as an easier existence was somewhat disrupted when she found herself working in a factory. Long thankless hours passed by, but during that arduous time, she met her husband and upon finding a house to rent, she soon began to have other ideas about work.
The big push came when the factory she worked in was closed and relocated to a remote location in order to cut costs. Finally able to leave the condemnation of factory life behind, Nguyen started selling fruit on her own doorstep and enjoys this new line of work. While this is far from easy work, it’s flexible and doesn’t leave her in such a perpetual state of exhaustion, even though she’s at the fruit market by 5am and often selling until 10pm, it is a life of her own making at least.