Hanoi Train Street café owners look for other means of livelihood

By Thuy Anh, Tung Dinh   October 11, 2019 | 05:31 am PT
The owners of two dozen cafés on Hanoi Train Street will probably be forced to return to their old jobs following their imminent closure.

On Thursday local authorities blocked the entrance and exit to Phung Hung Street in the heart of the city’s old quarter, a part of the 200-meter Hanoi Train Street through which railroad tracks pass.

Early that morning they set up a barrier to prevent even residents from trespassing on the railroad. People stood behind the barriers, took a few photos and left.

The former business owners sat on chairs in front of their houses, cranky, frustrated and helpless.

Makeshift coffee shops have been cleared on a section of Hanoi Train Street on Phung Hung Street, Hanoi, on October 10, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

 Coffee shops on Hanoi Train Street are closed. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

Bui Quy Lam, the owner of one of the coffee shops on the street, was calm. He has been familiar with the train sounds for 60 years, and he and his neighbors could "feel an incoming train even before the warning sign is on."

With coffee shops on Hanoi Train Street being shut down, Lam plans to go back to his old livelihood of renting rooms to workers.

But he warned there could be a dramatic increase in the number of people living in the narrow street to the detriment of public cleanliness and security.

The looks and cleanliness of the road had improved dramatically after locals set up businesses, he claimed.

"Meeting foreigners also helped people here become more civilized."

"I used to throw cigarette butts on the street, but now I am more civilized; I throw them here," he said, putting out his cigarette in an ashtray.

He also referred to instances of tourists helping preserve and clean up the area, hinting there was a need to retain the cafes.

Nguyen Le Quan sit in front of his house, looking out to the Hanoi Train Street. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

Nguyen Le Quan sits at his coffee shop on Hanoi Train Street. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

A woman owner who asked to remain unnamed was distraught with the decision, choking in emotion, wondering how her family would now make ends meet.

"The coffee shop is the family's main source of income. My parents are retired while my younger siblings are still going to school. Without the coffee shop, I'm unemployed and have to stay at home to raise my kid. How will I be able to support my child?" 

As she tried to hold back her tears, her two-year-old son started screaming in her arms, not realizing his mother was worried about how to earn enough money to raise him.

Nguyen Le Quan was also worried sick about the shutdown. 

Thinking his house by the railroad was perfect to open a café, Quan and his wife had borrowed money from a bank less than a year ago to set up the business. He was earning around VND20 million ($860) a month, enough for his family to have a stable life.

"If it is shut down, I will become an electrician. My wife will again open a hair salon." He estimated that together they would be able to earn only VND10 million ($430) a month.

He hoped authorities would find a way to bring tourists back to the area, creating livelihoods for people living along the railroad on Phung Hung Street.

Deputy head of the Hoan Kiem District police department, Bui Van Dang, said the coffee shops on Hanoi Train Street attracted many tourists and local youngsters who came and took photos.

"Since June we were lobbying business owners who violated railroad safety. But they still violated the law since the place attracted many tourists."

He added that the district police would inform travel companies to remind tourists not to schedule trips to the area, install danger signs in Vietnamese and English and organize regular patrols.

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