Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

By Thanh Hue   September 10, 2020 | 07:41 am GMT+7
For the past 12 years, Chi and Hao have walked the nocturnal streets seeking ways to make ends meet.
Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Bui Van Chi, 50, and his wife Nguyen Thi Hao, 42, sit in front of their six-square-meter home in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung District.

They left their lives as farmers in nearby Nam Dinh Province 12 years ago to eke out a living in the city.

"We had enough to eat but not enough to live on, so we decided to travel to Hanoi and join the 'human labor market'," Chi said.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

The couple usually works from 7 p.m. to midnight, doing odd jobs that mostly include cleaning and loading/unloading.

"One needs to be prepared in this line of work. Whether cleaning houses, stevedoring, transporting waste or doing demolition, you do it!" Chi stressed.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Their work kit consists of two wheelbarrows, some baskets, shovels and helmets, along with a small satchel containing gloves and water bottles.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Chi and Hao remove debris from a construction site, each bag weighing up to 50 kg.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

"A full load could earn us around VND200,000 ($8.61), depending on the distance between the site and means of transport," Chi said.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the couple made around VND15 million ($645) a month. Now, they only manage about VND10 million.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Chi holds out his callused hands.

Health problems including joint issues are part of the job, Chi said, adding he had to stay home for seven months last year due to amyotrophy and paralysis in his left arm. As a result, Hao and their eldest son had to support the entire family on their own.

At the time, Hao had to work extra hard to afford Chi's medicine, raise their two smaller children, and pay off debt collected during the construction of their house. The latter were finally wiped in March.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Due to the pandemic, jobs have become increasinlgy scarce.

"We often spend several days without work. We wait out on the street for hours, only to return empty handed," Hao said, adding they mostly find work through familiar drivers.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Due to their room's small size and to minimize the risk of fire, the couple uses two rice cookers, one to prepare rice and the other to either cook or reheat other foods bought from a local market.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

In his free time, Chi often chats with his neighbors, mostly other migrants from outside Hanoi.

"Back in April, when Hanoi imposed social distancing, everyone returned home. Inter-provincial buses stopped operating, while others drastically increased their ticket prices. We thought there was nothing back home to do anyway, so we stayed. Even infrequent work could help us pay rent and eat," Chi explained.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Last year, Hao got a smartphone to stay connected with her daughter.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

Hao prepares for work after finishing dinner, and the dishes at around 6:30 p.m.

Odd jobs keep Hanoi couple awake, in pocket

At 7 p.m., their new work day begins.

As their eldest son has his own family and job, the couple no longer has to worry as much, Hao said.

"Our bigger concern is our second-born daughter who just finished her university entrance exam, and our youngest child who just finished 5th grade. Just the other day, our daughter received admission letters from three universities in Hanoi. But she said she would not continue to study, but find a job to support us," Hao said, while carrying baskets out onto the street.

 
 
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