Hoang, a silver-haired man wearing an old, blue jacket, always sits quietly in front of the Hyundai Showroom on Tran Hung Dao, no matter what the weather is like. I walk by that section of the street every day, but until recently, I never noticed his presence.
Knowing that beggars often have unusual stories, sometimes with a dark past and usually with an uncertain future, it is easy to stereotype them as unfriendly. Yet when we start a conversation with him, Hoang gives us a warm smile.
Every day, the 68 year old sits in his spot from 3pm to 10pm — the place he calls “home” is located in the alley just a few metres away. According to him, it’s his parents’ house. He shares the space with other family members who don’t really care about his existence.
“I’m sitting here to work,” he explains. It’s a strange, seasonal job, and depends on tourists and their sense of charity. Limited by his lack of English, he makes conversations with foreign tourists and hopes to be paid for his friendly and nice personality. The showroom’s eaves are his office during the rainy season, the front is his chair when the weather is dry. He has been working the same spot for more than 10 years.
The King of District 1
As everything happens for a reason, I told him to have the bun thit nuong (noodles with barbecued pork) and nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) we bought as a small gift before trying to find out why he is working on the street.
“The king of District 1 pushed me to this situation,” explains Hoang. “He took my wife and my house, so I had to move back to my parents’ place in that alley.”
I pause for a few seconds to make sure if I understand who the king is, but I’m confused. “The king is 80 years old now,” he then adds, mentioning him several times.
Still no clue.
Although a pair of crutches is placed next to him, Hoang insists that he doesn’t have any health problems.
“How long will you be sitting here?” I ask.
“I don’t know. This is the only thing I can do,” he replies with a smile shining like a diamond in a muddy pond.
In its own odd way, life can be weirdly beautiful. — Vu Ha Kim Vy
To see the other stories in this series, please click on the links below:
The Banh Mi Seller
The Shoe Repairer
The Banh Canh Cua Seller
The Street Barber
The Flower Seller
The Salad Professor
The Tuk Tuk Driver