Good Morning Vietnam!

One thing that we have found common in South East Asia so far is the large numbers of people who are always trying to sell you something, whether it be food, transport, or any manner of useless junk.  This is not surprising, but it can certainly be challenging and frustrating if you are not prepared for it and if you approach the situation with the wrong attitude.

Hanoi - Street vendors
Hanoi, it was a common sight to see women carrying
their wares on bamboo poles as they travel the streets in
search of buyers.

Aside from the ubiquitous street vendors, Hanoi also had many other sights that were common in the streets.  The streets themselves are often cluttered with traffic.  But unlike cities in North America, there are relatively few cars that contribute to the traffic.  Everyone here has a bicycle or a motorcycle – one of our tour guides at one point joked with us that there are more motorcycles in Vietnam than people, as some people owned more than one motorcycle.  At any rate, as two-wheeled vehicles are the primary mode of transportation for the majority of Vietnamese, you would often see all manner of things being carried by said vehicles.

Hanoi - Street vendors 3Baskets, hats, and all manner of straw objects.  You want
it, this man is probably carrying it.

Hanoi - Woman on bikeA woman transporting some plants around the
backpacker district of Hanoi.

Hanoi - Horse on Motorcycle
Yes, it’s a cow on a motorcycle.  Yes, it’s also alive.  Some
may cry foul, but I have three words:  Pot, Kettle, Black.
Livestock back home aren’t exactly living a life of luxury.

Vietnam will forever in my mind be associated with certain images.  Anything and everything on a motorbike is one of them.  In fact, there’s an interesting book that we came across during our travels, called Bikes of Burden by Hans Kemp, which is full of amazing photos detailing all the things you might imagine on a bike, and then plenty more that you wouldn’t imagine as well.

Along with these bikes of burden, I will also forever think of Vietnam whenever I see a conical straw hat.  Not just for the benefit of tourists or for aesthetic reasons, locals wear these hats for very practical reasons – the scorching sun and the constant rain.

Hanoi - Street vendors 2
Women wearing the traditional conical hats.

In Hanoi, some of the street vendors can be very assertive.  They’re not exactly militant, but they can be very much in your face as one after another, they continue to approach you and ask you to buy something.

Hanoi - Jen as a fruit sellerA street vendor gave Jen her fruit and hat for a photo-op.
And of course, we bought some fruit from her – great
selling technique!  The fruit was delicious!

I was always polite in declining their advances.  But once I decided to forgo a purchase, I never thought anything more about them.  That was before I visited an exhibit telling the story of street vendors.  Upstairs from the Women’s Museum, there was a very interesting series of photos and stories of street vendors of Hanoi.  It really made me think about each of the people I encountered and how hard they were trying to give their families some food, and their children an education.  The vendors were of all ages, some as young as 15 or 16, others well into their 70s.  The exhibit highlighted such issues as the vendors’ home lives, their hopes for the future, reactions from both vendors and buyers, and several other salient topics.

Hanoi - Street Vendor Exhibit 1The exhibit was not large, but each story and each photo
told the tale of someone struggling to make ends meet.

An excerpt from the exhibition:

Most of Hanoi’s street vendors are from rural areas.  They come to the city not because they enjoy the work of selling at the curb, but because they and their families are unable to survive on farming alone.  Many of them will not be able to do this job much longer.

On January 9, 2008, the people’s Committee of Hanoi passed Resolution 02/2008/QD-UBND, which puts constraints on the buying and selling activities in the streets of Hanoi.  According to the Resolution, 62 major streets, historic and cultural beauty spots, as well as other tourist places, will become off limits to street selling.  So how will this resolution affect on life of migrant street vendors and their families?

In the first nine months of 2008, a study group of the Vietnamese Women’s Museum held numerous meetings and interviews with 97 migrant street vendors.  From this group, 33 people agreed to tell us stories about the difficulties and misfortunes of their trade, their desire to earn a living and make a financial contribution to the family, and about their hopes and expectations of a better future.  We followed in their steps through the narrow streets of Hanoi, we went with them to their rented houses, and then travelled back to their villages, to see with our own eyes their hard lives, and discover the reasons that pushed them to become migrant street vendors in Hanoi.

Hanoi - Street Vendor Exhibit 2Street vendors are nothing new and the exhibit illustrated
some photos of vendors past.


~ by dawseng on July 27, 2009.

2 Responses to “Good Morning Vietnam!”

  1. Your posts have been fascinating to say the least. In addition to the fabulous photo opportunities, you’ve found yourself in many thought provoking situations. I like your style Dawsengs.

    PS. I wonder what the cow was thinking….

  2. You have to like our style… you’re related to us! We’ve definitely seen our fair share of odd things here… though they seem to be getting less and less odd, perhaps we’re just getting used to it all. Will certainly miss it when we’re home!


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