When I meet Bao for this story, he doesn’t recognise me. Why would he? Our last meeting was over two years ago. Back then, in his previous location on Phan Van Han, a busy market street just over the canal at the start of Binh Thanh, the shoe repairer and artisan restored some brown leather dress shoes for me, bringing them back from the brink.
Sitting on his tiny stool on a sidewalk space between a ladies’ fashion outlet and an electronics shop, Bao had only a hand-written cardboard sign to acknowledge his retail existence. ‘Bao — fix your shoes’ it read. Carefully studying mine after he’d been recommended by another friend, I remember our first, rudimentary exchange. “Not good, big problem here,” he’d said, (or words to that effect) while looking at my frayed soles, “but no worries Australia, I make good! Come back two days. I busy.”
He was busy — there were several piles of customers’ shoes stacked up on his sidewalk emporium — but ‘make good’ he did, and at the same time he provided some inspiration. You see, Bao is excellent at his job, and the dedication and passion he has for his chosen craft is a reminder that you have to work hard to get good, at anything.
A New Start
Two years later, Bao is still the same. Still working hard, still giving off that charismatic smile, even if the location is different, along with the conditions. In Binh Thanh, he rented the space and worked for himself — he was boss. Now, in District 1, he works for someone else, from 7am to 6pm, seven days a week, and only needs to focus on making customers happy. They seem to be, too, as when I went there with our translator, Vy, there was a line of people waiting to be served.
“He’s very skillful,” one of them tells me. His name is Linh, and he sells shoes to people from all walks of life. Linh was there with a customer, making alterations to several pairs of shoes, and trusting the work to only one man, Bao.
Bao has been doing this job for the past eight years since he moved with his two brothers from Quang Binh to Ho Chi Minh City. At 28 years old, he’s happy with his career choice, and can make up to VND300,000 on a good day. Right now, during rainy season, it’s quiet, so those numbers are a little off.
I ask him about the things that drive him to keep going.
“You must do it from your heart,” he says. “Pay attention to detail and make the work beautiful. Then you can be a success in the eyes of your customers. They are the most important.”
Soon, he says he will move back to his old location in Binh Thanh, where he can be closer to his home, and go back to being his own boss. Higher rents forced him to make a change before, but he’s confident he can come to a good arrangement in the future.
Until then, check out his handiwork at the corner of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Le Thanh Ton in District 1.
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