Each Street Vendor has a Story

Street vendor
Each Street Vendor has a Story

September 24, 2023

When asked about Vietnam, many people will talk about the fantastic foods, friendly people and street vendors. Street vendors are a familiar sight in Vietnam, and for many, it is a way of life, they live day to day and carry all they have on their backs often working from 12-15 hours a day.

Each street vendor has a story. Here is my story, it is a story of friendship and hardship.

My mum was a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City. We had a spot on the corner of the street where we would sell 'banh mi' (baguette filled with meat and pickled vegetables) for breakfast to all the students and workers heading off in the mornings. I fondly remember sitting next to my mum from 5:00am each morning watching everybody ride by. We were a 'drive-thru' street vendor where many workers would stop and call out their orders, mum would quickly prepare their order before moving onto the next person.

We were a 'high end' street vendor as we were able to rent a space on the sidewalk to set up each day. Many others weren't so lucky and had to wander around the streets or markets carrying everything on their shoulders.

When I was about 9 years old, we met a lady and her daughter, who was also my age. The first day they came by, they bought a 'banh mi' and also a plain bread roll. Mum and I watched as the mother handed the banh mi with the filling to her daughter and ate the plain roll herself.

The next morning, they came back, this time the girl refused to let her mum buy her a banh mi explaining that she was also ok to eat a plain bread roll to help save money.

I soon became best friends with the daughter, Hue. Life for Hue and her mother was difficult as they rented a bedroom in a shared house. Their day started at 3am each morning as they made their way on foot to the wholesale market to purchase fruits which Hue's mum would sell throughout the day. They would arrive at my mum's shop each day at 5:30am for breakfast, where her mum would quickly eat before heading off carrying her bamboo frame loaded up with various fruits.

Hue would stay behind with me and we would sit and play next to my mum from 5:30am - 6:30am, we would then walk to school together and back again at 4pm. I learnt they were from a rural village and her father had passed away when she was little. Her mother had wanted a brighter future for Hue, so they made their way to the city so Hue could get a better education.

I remember one day trying to carry the bamboo frame full of fruits and could not believe how heavy the baskets were. When I asked Hue's mum how she can carry it the whole day her response was one which has stayed with me forever; "Of course it is heavy, but each time I think of Hue, the basket gets lighter and easier to carry."

Hue's mum worked everyday for over 15 years to make sure Hue had a roof over her head and enough food to eat. Hue saw how hard her mum worked and was motivated to study hard. She was able to obtain a scholarship to the best secondary high school in Ho Chi Minh City, before continuing on to study medicine.

Now 20 years later, Hue is working as a doctor, I'm working as an operations manager and both our mums regularly catch up for a cup of tea.

The next time you see a street food vendor, stop and hear their story.