Tet trade-off: college students stay back in Saigon for casual work

By Manh Tung   January 22, 2020 | 08:02 pm PT
Tet trade-off: college students stay back in Saigon for casual work
Tran Xuan Duc, a college student, waters aster flowers at a garden in HCMC’s Thu Duc District, January 20, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.
For Vietnamese, Tet is the most important festival of the year and family members are supposed to gather and celebrate it together, but not everyone can afford that.

Some poor students are spending half of their Lunar New Year holiday, or even the entire period, in Saigon to do part-time jobs to earn a little money.

Nguyen Quoc Trung, 21, will stay back instead of going home to Binh Dinh Province in central Vietnam for a second Tet in a row.

The student of veterinary breeding at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Agriculture and Forestry has the job of taking care of a chicken farm in HCMC’s Cu Chi District during the holiday.

The youngest in a family of seven says he needs VND700,000 (more than $30) a month for tuition fees and accommodation, and it is a burden for his parents, who are both farmers.

Even while in high school he used to work part-time at packaging factories.

The money he would be paid by the farm owner would cover his second semester tuition fee.

"Only by working I have learned to treasure every dime and nickel my parents have spent on raising me. It has made me more mature."

Last year during Tet he had taken a job at a pig farm. Several other students also stayed back and did the same job, and so they celebrated Lunar New Year's Eve together with traditional treats. But it was still a sad occasion.

"At that moment I missed my family terribly."

On the last day before the holidays, the owner of the farm bought more than 1,000 breeding pigs. Trung and the other students had to vaccinate the new herd. By the time they finished they were all covered in pig dung, but they were satisfied with payment of VND8-10 million ($345-430) each.

Trung hopes to find a job in the city after graduating with a veterinary degree at the end of next year. But his dream in the long run is to return to his hometown and open a farm or a veterinary clinic of his own.

Better late than never

After carrying a pot with a bonsai tree to a truck for delivery, Tran Xuan Duc returns to water aster flowers. Both are popular items to decorate houses during Tet.

It is Monday afternoon, five days before Lunar New Year peaks on Saturday.

A junior at the University of Technology and Education Ho Chi Minh City, Duc has been working as a gardener at a flower market on Pham Van Dong Street in Thu Duc District for more than 10 days.

"I work 12 hours a day, starting at 7 in the morning and get paid VND230,000 plus lunch," he says as he prunes a plant.

This is the first time he is spending part of his Tet break in the city instead of going home to Trang Bom District in neighboring Dong Nai Province.

After finishing the first semester, he started looking for a Tet job online, found the note from the flower garden owner and applied immediately.

Initially he found the job, which requires him to carry bonsai trees and flower plants to and from trucks, water trees and flowers and serve customers, tiring, but has gotten used to it. The only thing that bothers him now is the scorching sun and the temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius.

Duc, the third child in a farming family with six children, grew up knowing how his parents struggled every day to make a living.

Working part-time to help his parents is not new for Duc, but during the first semester of the year he could not find time for it. Since he has a long Tet break, and not just the seven days of official holidays between January 23 and 29, he decided not to waste the chance to earn some money.

He plans to work until Friday night and be at home just in time for the Lunar New Year’s Eve.

"Everybody should be at home right now. Usually, each of us [he and his siblings] would take care of one task like cleaning the house or the garden.

"But this year I’m still here, and cannot wait to go home."

Several other college students are doing similar jobs as him at other gardens along Pham Van Dong Street. Most of them are from provinces close to HCMC such as Long An, Tay Ninh and Ba Ria-Vung Tau, and will also return home just in time for eve.


Junior Tran Thi Quynh Trang is studying to become a nurse at the HCMC Medicine and Pharmacy University, and has chosen to work through Tet at a city hospital.

She is on duty from January 19 to 29 for a daily salary of VND500,000.

The native of Quang Ngai Province in central Vietnam says though her parents can afford her tuition and living expenditure in the city, she wants to learn from real-life situations to become a better nurse in future, earn some money for herself and acquire new experiences.

"All my life I've been with my family every Tet. Now I want to get some new experience. I want to see how Saigon is during Tet."

Trang has company since several friends from Quang Ngai have also decided to stay back in Saigon and work during the festival.

According to centers for student support and job recommendations, the demand for Tet jobs has increased sharply this year.

The center for business cooperation at the HCMC University of Technology said it has found jobs for 1,000 students.

The Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union’s center for student support has asked 300 companies and other institutions in the city to hire more than 3,000 students during Tet as cashiers, warehouse managers, housekeepers, gardeners, and unskilled workers at supermarkets and parking lots.

They are paid VND19,000-50,000 per hour depending on the nature of the job.

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