Saigon watchman keeps pace with the times

By Diep Phan   May 5, 2020 | 03:00 am PT
After 40 years, one of the most senior horologists in Ho Chi Minh City knows what makes life tick. 
Giang Ty, 65, is a Sino-Vietnamese living in Ho Chi Minh City. With 40 years of experience, he is one of the most senior horologist in town. Not remembering how he started fixing these timepieces, Ty operates his shop with this cart in Saigon’s District 6.

Giang Ty, 65, is a Sino-Vietnamese residing in Ho Chi Minh City. After 40 years, he is one of the most senior horologist in town. Unsure exactly when and how he entered the trade, Ty operates a mobile "shop" in Saigon’s District 6.

I was short, I thought I could not learn to do jobs requiring strength such as builders or carpenters... You can sit at one place while fixing watches, so I opted for it, Ty recalled.

"I was short, and thought I could not learn trades requiring strength like in construction or carpentry. Since you can sit in one spot fixing watches, I opted for it," Ty recalled.

Watches used to be valuable and luxurious because not every one could have it, Ty said, adding watch owners liked having regular maintenanc, so his income was okay. However, in the last few years, the popularity of digital watches has taken away his customer. You just need to replace the battery for digital watches, they are cheap so owners can buy a new one instead of fixing, he commented.

Watches used to be exclusive items of luxury, Ty said, adding their owners liked having their timepieces regularly maintained, earning him a pretty penny. However, the advent of digital timekeeping has robbed him of much if his custom.
"You just need to replace the battery in digital watches. They are so cheap you can just buy a new one," he commented.

This job cannot be hasty, screws and gears will be difficult to find I drop them, he said, adding he must be careful and focus while working. All of the accessaries are purchased from other shops or from old broken watches of his patrons.

"This job requires patience and focus. Screws and gears are difficult to find when dropped," he said, adding all accessories are sourced from other shops or old broken watches.

The man is confident that he can diagnose a watch after taking a look and listening about its symptoms. His eyesight gets worse as he gets older and his hands are shaking when working with tiny things.

Ty, poor sighted and increasingly shaky with age, is confident he can "diagnose" any problem after listening to a watch’s "symptoms." 

More than 30 details of a mechanical watch are disassembled before cleaning. Ty, having his loyal customers loving ancient timepieces, likes the way these tiny gears fit others.

Around 30 parts lie disassembled for cleaning. 

Some patrons come to have their watch batteries replaced. Ty always cleans those for free and noted the date on the back of the watches, giving his clients a guarantee period. After 2-3 months, if the watches are out of battery, he will replace with new batteries for free.

Ty always cleans watches merely requiring a battery change, recording the date on their backs as guarantee. After 2-3 months, he will replace any batteries, again for free.

Fixing watches priced up to several million dong, Ty earns around VND100,000 ($4.3) to VND200,000 ($8.5) per day.

Fixing watches priced at several millions of dong, Ty earns around VND100,000 ($4.3) to VND200,000 ($8.5) a day.

Customers normally leaves quickly after telling Ty their problems. The man rarely talks, focusing on working with his tiny stuffs.

Customers normally leave quickly after telling Ty, who rarely talks, their problems.

After his working hours, Ty relaxes by listening to a radio by the window. After 40 years with many ups and downs, he knows that the job will never leave him, as long as he sticks with it and does his best.

After decades in the trade, Ty likes to unwind by listening to the radio, confident the next customer may only be an arm or two away. 

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