Oct 28, 2021 / 21:15

Trivial jobs of Hanoi

Unusual works in the capital city not only bring earnings to industrious workers but also portray a special part of Hanoi.

Writer Do Phan once commented, “People say that Hanoi is a land of hundreds of occupations, but in fact, that's just a convention. If calculated according to the history of thousands of years, then a hundred occupations’ is not enough, the right number but much higher.”

A mechanical repair shop in Hanoi in the 2000s. File Photo

Indeed, Hanoi is the place where many odd jobs have been practiced, from ancient times to the present. There are trades that have existed for hundreds of years while many others have completely disappeared. These trivial jobs in Hanoi are only seasonal, but necessary and can help people to earn daily living.

In the difficult time of the wars and the centrally planned economy in the last century, unusual services were offered in Hanoi as people tried to earn from trivial things, such as making paper bags, folding books for printers, sewing buttons for garment cooperatives, rolling tobacco or hand-weaving sweaters, among others.

To date, these works are no longer exist, thanks to industrialization, however, new ones are emerged.

Let The Hanoi Times to introduce some interesting trivial jobs of Hanoi.

Shoes mending 

The Shoes Repair Shop at No 255 Yen Vien Street, Gia Lam District offers prestigious shoes repair service in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the shop

For a long time, creative and industrious people in Hanoi have practiced unique jobs that meet the smallest needs of the consumers. One of the most popular trivial job in Hanoi is shoe mending. 

If one of your high heels suddenly misses a top piece or has a part of the sole broken, in the West, you normally throw them away and buy a new one. But in Hanoi, it can be easily fixed with only one or two dollars and your favorite shoes are still kept in good use.

There is usually no shop for it but it is easy to find the signal right on the street: some pairs of old shoes at a corner, possibly with a hand-writing sign board announcing the service. The repairers are usually middle-aged men with their kit of basic tools like big needles, thread, scissors, a hammer, some glue, and so on.

One of them, 50-year-old Danh Thanh, is known for practicing the trade for over 20 years. His customers are mainly women who are workers and students from offices and schools around as well as residents in the area. “Each pair of shoes requires different ways to fix and there is no book teaching it. So, shoe reparation relies on experience. I learnt it from a friend who inherited the trade from his father,” Thanh told The Hanoi Times, “It also needs requires a lot of meticulousness and patience for the work.”

With the price ranges from VND10,000 to VND 40,000 (US$0.45-1.75) for each pair of shoes, depending on its problem, his average daily income is about VND 200,000-250,000 ($8.75-11).

Clothes repairing 

A tailor of Thu Hue Clothes Repair Shop at No 8 Tran Quoc Toan Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the shop

Another repair work which is also very common and useful is clothes repair. In fact, people working in this job are special tailors. They don’t make clothes but fix them.

From changing the form of a dress to fixing the broken zip or adding missing buttons, they do whatever the customers want for their clothes to earn from VND10,000 to VND50,000 ($0.45-2.2).

“Different from companies producing garments with fixed sizes, I change the clothes to fit each customer’s shape,”

Thu Hue, owner of a repairing shop in Tran Quoc Toan Street, Hoan Kiem District, told The Hanoi Times.

Doing the job for the ten years now, Hue has many loyal customers, mostly women. “They often come with multiple clothes at one time, including newly-purchased outfits that they like a lot but there are some problems, for example too big, and look for fixing it to be perfect on them,” she said.

Motorbike washing service

A busy staff of the motorbike mending-cum-washing shop at No 8 Nha Hoa Street., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Photo: nguoiduatin.vn

After clothes and shoes, people also care a lot about their vehicles for the best appearance when going out. Then car and motorbike washing service is offered.

There are hundreds of small and big washing shops in Hanoi. Most of them are mechanical repairs for automobiles. However, some only provide washing service with VND20,000 ($0.9) for a motorbike and VND50,000 ($2.2) for a car.

With 15-20 minutes on average for each vehicle for 10-20 customers a day, owners of these shops can easily earn $10-50 per day. Particularly, at the “peak season” like before holidays and Tet (Lunar New Year Festival), earn big.

Talents on the streets: locksmiths

While the above-mentioned jobs have a fixed location, many locksmiths either have a small shop or just cycle around the city to offer their service, like Duc Tien, a former mechanic, who has worked as a traveling locksmith for over ten years.

A talent locksmith in Hanoi helps multiplying a motorbike’s key. Photo: Tho khoa Duc Quang  

Beside his bike, his equipment includes an electric machine and skeleton key, pliers, old keys and locks, all in a toolbox. His job involves installing, opening and repairing locks, as well as making and fixing keys for houses, stores, safes, cabinets, vehicles and so on. His income also comes from exchanging new locks for old locks with a price difference, then he will fix the old ones to sell to other customers at a “surprisingly low” price.

“The machine can quickly produce key replicas within 1-2 minutes, but is useless without the original key. No matter how advanced machines are, there are still keys that need to be made by hand; without a skeleton key, a locksmith will even have to cut keys from steel panes”, Tien admitted with The Hanoi Times.

However, they have to be very careful to avoid dramatic situations of being asked to open cabinets or safes illegally to support thieves by accident, as most of them agreed.

Don’t be waste! Let’s call a scrap collector 

Another job that people totally work from here to there by walking or cycling around Hanoi and earn money from trash: scrap collecting. For decades, their call for “old and broken iron, copper, lead and aluminum products, buy all” has resounded in every corner and become familiar to everyone.

This old made-in-France ‘elephant ear’ fan was bought by a scrap collector and resold to a shop at Van Phuc Secondhand Market in Ha Dong District, Hanoi. Photo: Thang Nguyen

Accordingly, all used and broken products such as papers, bottles, cans, sandals, wardrobe, pots and pans, fans, TVs, fridge, among others that their owner wants to say goodbye to are welcomed by scrap collectors. Each kilogram can be sold for VND4,000-20,000 ($0.45-0.9), depending on the material.

Both the seller and buyer are happy as the first one can take back a little of the investment for their “throw-away” old belongings while the later is calculating the small profit from their “new” goods after reselling to recyclers.

Born in the northern province of Nam Dinh, 40-year-old Thanh Thuy left her hometown and the agriculture work to collect scraps in Hanoi for six years. From 7am, braving all rainy and sunny weather, she wanders all streets for twelve hours or more. The heavier the load on her bike, the happier she is. Lucky days of scrap buyers are usually on the weekends when city dwellers have free time for cleaning their house to earn VND100,000-200,000 ($4.5-9) while unlucky days end with VND20,000-30,000 ($0.9-1.25) only. In other golden opportunities, some scrap collectors can be hired to clean up a house and paid by cash or given free old products that are no longer wanted.

“My income is low and unstable but at least I have a job to survive. In fact, it’s still higher than the farming work,” Thuy said, “and I feel very happy because I can bring up my children and now my first son makes my dream come true to become a student.”