'Zero supermarket' provides Hanoians infinite joy

By Thuy Quynh, Tung Dinh   April 15, 2020 | 01:04 am PT
Rice, eggs, noodles and other supplies are sold for zero dong at a newly-opened supermarket in Hanoi.

On the morning of April 14, many Hanoians queued in front of a supermarket on Tran Duy Hung Street of Hanoi's Cau Giay District. Selling everything for zero dong, the store, named Hanh Phuc (Happiness) allows customers to choose five items not exceeding VND100,000 ($4.3).

At the entrance, customers stood two meters apart, filled in a form, and waited to shop with the support of staff.

"If you are in difficulty, please take what you need. If not, please leave some goods for others," read a sign in front of the supermarket.

Operated by an enterprise, the "Zero supermarket" is one of many opened in the northern provinces of Lang Son, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Thai Nguyen, as well as the central provinces of Thua Thien Hue and Phu Yen. This chain will remain open until the Covid-19 pandemic is contained.

Eager customers employ social distancing  in front of Hanh Phuc supermarket on April 14. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

Customers employ social distancing in front of Hanh Phuc supermarket on April 14, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

Arriving at 8:30 a.m., Nguyen Thi Kim waited an hour to enter the supermarket. Before the pandemic, Kim worked as a trash collector, but the nationwide social distancing campaign has stopped her from earning. Her husband, a motorbike taxi driver, makes only VND50,000 ($2) a day max. 

To void infection, Kim wears two layers of masks and rubber gloves when going out.

"The epidemic is complex, I would rather be careful. Coming home, I always wash and disinfect my gloves," she maintained. 

Kim, who suffers from disc herniation, got rice and instant noodles at the supermarket while her husband’s earnings are saved for meat and vegetables. 

"We need to be fed first, who cares about having tasty food," she said, adding they were lucky to receive support from authorities and big-hearted donors during the pandemic.

Holding a package of rice, sugar, eggs and oil, the middle-aged woman could not hide her happiness: "This amount of food can feed us for a week. I hope things will get better soon."

Later, at 10:30 a.m., Nguyen Thi Hang, 87, hobbled to the supermarket. Seeing the old woman walking with a stick, everyone gave way.

With support from staff, Hang collected rice, noodles, eggs, salt and fish sauce.

"With this amount of food, I can eat for weeks. A lot of rice, instant noodles and eggs are more than enough. I can cook on my own without disturbing my neighbors," she claimed.

A brave Hang makes her way to the supermarket with help from a neighbor. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

A brave Hang makes her way to the supermarket with help from a neighbor. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

From the northern province of Thanh Hoa, Hang pays VND400,000 ($17) per month for a room on Hanoi's De La Thanh Street. Before the outbreak, she sold cotton swabs. With the ongoing social distancing period, all of her customers and suppliers have disappeared, leaving the 87-year-old with an empty wallet.

"I plan to return to my hometown at the end of this year because I am too old. But the epidemic makes me stay here," she said.

Tran Thi Hoa, waiting since 10 a.m., said she could only work 2-3 times per month due to Covid-19, making money for food scarce.

From northern Nam Dinh Province, Hoa's family rents a room forVND1.3 million ($55.5) per month. Though their kids have moved out, two grandchildren remain. Before the pandemic, her younger child had returned to the northern province of Nam Dinh, leaving his parents, elder sibling and their minors in the capital.

Shoppers can choose up to five items for VND100,000 in total. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

Shoppers can choose up to five items for VND100,000 ($4.3) in total. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh.

"We have six mouths to feed, it is dangerous if we do not earn enough money. I do whatever people hire me to do. Today, I got rice, cooking oil, instant noodles and salt, enough for one week, with the food we have at home."

Each "shopper" must fill in a form before "shopping". After two weeks, they can return to receive more food. Hoa promises if things get better in the next two weeks, she would not return because there are people facing even greater difficulties.

According to Nguyen Minh Trang, coordinator at the "Zero supermarket", said her company had spent nearly VND10 billion ($42,688) to stock the eight stores.

The supermarket opens from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Monday to Thursday. On the morning of April 14, up to 400 people received food here. 

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