Hanoi village shifts from farming to parking

By Quynh Nguyen   February 14, 2022 | 04:34 am PT
Most residents of the Tan Trai Village in Hanoi have found parking a far more lucrative vocation than farming, given their proximity to the Noi Bai Airport.

For some, it has been a vocation thrust on them by virtue of a portion of their land being taken away by the airport.

At 8:00 a.m. on February 10, Nguyen Van Thanh and his wife rode their motorbike for the fifth time to the airport’s T1 terminal to get a customer’s car and drive it to their parking lot.

"They are all regular customers so I had to pick their cars up from the terminal. Normal customers have to drive to the parking lot themselves. There are still many more cars to come in the afternoon," said Thanh, 47, owner of the Thanh Hung parking lot.

Previously, Thanh and his wife, like most people in Tan Trai Village, Phu Cuong Commune, Soc Son District, made a living by growing rice and other crops. In 1995, when Noi Bai Airport built the domestic terminal T1, a part of the family's field was taken away because it was located in the planned area. By the time the international terminal T2 was built, his family only had about 200 square meters of land left. Since the remaining area was not enough to cultivate, husband and wife abandoned farming and switched to freelance jobs, earning about VND5 million ($225) a month, not enough for a family of four.

In 2014, seeing that many customers wanted to go by car from the city to the airport and needed space to park their car, some families in the village began offering car parking services. Thanh discussed with his younger brother the possibility of using the garden land that his parents had left them to open a parking lot.

Nguyen Van Thanh at his parking lot in Tan Trai Village, Soc Son District on February 2, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Nguyen Van Thanh at his parking lot in Tan Trai Village, Soc Son District on February 2, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

The two brothers raised the foundation of the land higher, concreted the floor and built a roof, creating space to accommodate 10 cars. Normal customers who parked their cars here would get free transportation from the parking lot to the airport. Regular customers can get their car picked up and dropped back at the airport.

"My brother used to be a taxi driver, so he’s the one who drives the car back and forth for customers. I can’t drive to I stay at the parking lot. With good service, more and more cars came here to park, and we expanded the parking lot. Now it can accommodate 60 cars," Thanh said.

Since 2018, the demand for parking cars near the airport has been increasing. Many customers began calling at the same time and the younger brother couldn’t handle all of them, while Thanh, who was only used to farming, had just learned to drive.

"Now that I have a license and am good at driving, we work together and it is easier to manage the workload," Thanh said.

On average, each day, Thanh, his wife and his brother make around 50 trips from their house to the airport, about a kilometer away, to receive and return cars to customers. Their daily income is three times higher than what they earned on the rice field, enough to bring their children up and save some money.

A lot of parking lots

According to a VnExpress survey, there’s a parking lot for every two or three families in Tan Trai. The whole village has around 70 parking lots, with the smallest accommodating five to seven cars and the big ones can accommodate dozens. Most of the parking lots have obtained licenses, set up fences, roofs, fire prevention systems and surveillance cameras. The price for parking is VND60,000 ($2.64) per day for a car.

"Compared to VND240,000 ($10.58) a day at the airport, this is quite reasonable. In addition, the parking lots are quite large, so the cars will not get bumped or scratched and security is guaranteed. They also get free two-way transportation from the parking lot to the airport and back," said Nguyen Hung, a customer who has been parking his car in Tan Trai since 2017 every time he goes on a business trip.

As a regular customer, Hung does not have to drive to the parking lot. He enjoys valet parking. Hung said that when he first learned of this service, he was quite skeptical, but he feels "really secure" now as the parking lot has cameras and right before they pick up his car they take photos of the speedometer that also records the kilometers traveled.

"This job looks easy but it’s as busy as babysitting," said Nguyen Thi Binh, 51, owner of the Tuan Binh parking lot.

She said that the parking lots have become a way to earn a living for most people in Tan Trai because most of the fields have been acquired for the construction and expansion of the airport. Although the job is not as difficult as farming, it is time-consuming.

Besides watching over the cars, the owners must deliver the car in time and take customers to the airport after they park. Every time a customer calls, she has to go, day or night. Sometimes there are only one or two flights a night but there are many nights that she has to run back and forth to the airport five or six times, unable to sleep.

"During the last Tet, my husband and I couldn’t go anywhere, because we had to work all the time", Binh said.

Binh used to be a farmer and her husband Tuan an airport taxi driver. In 2015, the couple opened a parking service. Since their parking lot can only accommodate five cars, she rents the land right next to the house, paying VND10 million per month to expand her parking space.

When Binh first opened the parking lot, she began suffering from sleeplessness because she was not used to the timings.

"Sometimes my meal would be interrupted five times because customers keep calling," Binh said. Then some winter nights get drizzly, windy and freezing cold, but she still has to go back and forth.

Currently, Binh earns a monthly profit of nearly VND20 million from the parking lot. She said the money is not that much but it’s still many times more than what she got as a farmer. Now there is no field or fieldwork, so the senior couple has to rely on the parking lot for a living.

A car enters Tan Trai Village, where there are many parking lots along the way. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

A car enters Tan Trai Village, where there are many parking lots along the way. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

"In pre-Covid times, when the international terminal T2 was still operating normally, cars were sent to the village day and night," said Le Bay, 71, owner of Bao Loc parking lot

Ten years ago, Bay and his wife built eight motel rooms for airport staff to rent. Each 24 square meter apartment had a rent of VND1 million a month. By the end of 2019, the number of tenants halved, while the demand for car parking increased, so Bay demolished the motel rooms and turned the area into a parking lot that can accommodate up to 28 cars and then let his two children manage it, earning dozens of millions of dong a month.

"Compared to the motel, opening a car park is much simpler, the investment is less and the income is stable," Bay said.

However, during two years of the pandemic, the airline industry was frozen, causing many difficulties for the households in the village.

"In the past, the car parks in the village were all full, but in the past few months, many of the parking lots were empty and had to be closed. Although we got to sleep well there was no income, so we had to use our savings", Bay said.

But as soon as the flights resumed in October 2021, the demand increased again and Tan Trai Village returned to its new normal. On the first days of the Lunar New Year, Tan Trai residents were busy getting cars into and out of parking lots again.

"Please come to the domestic terminal to pick my car up right now. I'm going to be late for my flight," a regular customer told Thanh on the phone. The couple left their lunch unfinished, took a motorbike to the airport.

Thanh mused: "My job is like that. Any time a customer calls, I have to go. It's inconvenient, but it helps us make a living. In the future, I will expand the business or close it when more profitable business opportunities come up, but I’m not thinking about it now."

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