Rain or shine, Le Truong Son and his wife, who are both deaf and mute, have kept their food stall running in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, and won diners’ hearts with tasty food and their strong will and love for life.
The buzz on Van Kiep Street, Binh Thanh District, considered one of the city’s ‘snack paradises,' grows loud each afternoon as throngs of street food fans frequent the place for appetizing finger food at the stalls and carts.
Amid all the hustle and bustle is a silent cart selling 'banh trang nuong' (Vietnamese ‘pizza’) and 'com chay kho quet' (rice crust served with caramelized fish sauce dip).
What is special about the stall, owned by Son, 45, and his 39-year-old wife, Le Mong Thuy, who both lost their hearing and speech, is its sign that reads, “The weather is really nice today, but I cannot hear or speak.”
Street food enthusiasts, especially young people, have flocked to the stand for the tasty snacks and also out of curiosity aroused by the amiable couple signing to each other.
Communication may pose a challenge to new customers, as the only way to make orders or get special needs across is pointing at the menu or writing them down on pieces of paper.
Nguyen Ngoc Phuc, the couple’s long-standing ‘business partner’ who runs a stir-fried noodle stall across from them, shared that he and other stall owners in the street food zone have joined hands to help the pair despite being indirect rivals over the past several years, even helping them fix their cart.
Phuc offers the couple tap water free of charge, while Phan Thanh Nam, a local resident, allows them to run their stall on the sidewalk in front of his home, for a nominal fee to pay monthly electricity bills.
“My heart sank seeing the couple trying to find a spot to launch their stall. Compared to all other healthy stall owners in the zone, the couple struggles to provide for their young children. So I told them to place their cart in front of my home,” Nam said, adding the owner of a computer repair shop nearby also offers them space on the sidewalk when their stall is crowded.
“There are times when members of a deaf-mute association came over for snacks. We couldn't understand what they're talking about as they all used sign language. The interesting thing was they got together in order and didn't make much noise,” Phuc said jokingly.
“Even the person who drops by from time to time to help them cope with the line-up of customers is also from the deaf-mute association. The stall owners always smile at their customers or use sign language and so they have never ended up in squabbles."
|Le Mong Thuy (right), a deaf-mute food vendor, communicates with her son using sign language at their rented home in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre|
Newfound marital bliss
Born Dong Nai Province, which borders Ho Chi Minh City, Thuy lost her hearing and speech as a child.
At 21, she moved with her parents to the city, where they struggled as vendors around Ba Chieu Market in Binh Thanh District to scrounge up enough cash to afford rent and food. She has not been able to afford a place of her own since.
Thuy was married previously; however, her marital bliss was short-lived, as the husband passed away and left her behind with two young children shortly after she turned 30.
“She had never thought of remarrying until she met Son, who has the same disability and dearly loves her and her two children. Their marriage has relieved us of worries as parents,” said Pham Thi Hoa, Thuy’s mother.
Another silver lining is that all of Thuy’s children are growing up healthy, Hoa added.
Thuy and Son’s chance meeting at a get-together of the deaf and mute nine years ago led to a happy family to which they added two more kids.
“We rent places near where we run our stall. The current residence is our fifth move since we got married nine years ago,” Thuy opened up by writing in a note.
Son previously worked as a construction worker and a server at eateries before opening the food cart together with his wife some years ago.
The couple’s second child now lives with Son’s younger sister in Dong Nai Province, while Thuy’s high school-age children have been cared for by her parents since they were toddlers.
|Young street food fans show interest in the savory snacks and the sign that reads 'The weather is really nice today, but I cannot speak or hear' at Le Truong Son and Le Mong Thuy’s stall, placed in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre|
With their stall open from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm every day, the couple struggles to bring in cash and provide for their four children.
“We try to keep our spirits up, thinking it is also a blessing to have a houseful of children. I hope our small business will pick up and our children will all grow up well,” Hoa added.
Many of the stall’s patrons are appreciative of its savory food and sympathetic to its owners’ moving life stories.
“I have been a regular customer for the past three or four years to savor the warmth from their stories and the tranquility amid the urban hubbub,” Ha Thanh, one of the regular customers, shared, adding the couple has added 'com chay' (rice crust) to the menu while dealing with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
With school closures, cessation of face-to-face learning and social distancing measures over the past several months, the ongoing epidemic has been a heavy hit to the vendor community, many of whom have been left out of a job and short on money while others grapple to cope.
Phuc, Son’s long-standing business partner, closed down his 'banh mi chao' (beefsteak and sausage served with bread) and switched to fried rice and noodles two months ago to lure customers.
Thuan, a 'che' (sweet soup) stall owner, now pushes her cart along streets in the city she has called home for the past 30 years on the lookout for clients instead of staying put at the street food quarter on Van Kiep Street.
Amid all the anxiety to make ends meet and hunker down, Son and Thuy’s tale comes as a heartwarming respite, and as their sign reads, the weather is really nice today.