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Traders, laborers droop in freezing cold at Hanoi markets

Sunday, January 10, 2021, 11:21 GMT+7
Traders, laborers droop in freezing cold at Hanoi markets
Traders and buyers are seen after 10:00 pm at Quang An Flower Market, snuggled in Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Vietnam, in the cold, exacerbated by the traders’ worries of dampened sales. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

As a strong cold front left temperatures in Hanoi below 10 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, flower and fish stall owners and porters at traditional markets have had a hard time working full speed to sell and deliver fresh products to their customers.

Though the temperatures in the capital started to dip in the early morning, the market sessions come with bustling sounds and commotion as traders and porters are kept on their feet the whole time.

Their work days begin in the small hours to make sure the flowers and fish are delivered fresh and fragrant to city residents early in the morning, though the cold weather made it even tougher for them to do their job. 

At Quang An Flower Market, snuggled in Tay Ho District, things became most hectic as blossoms from flower villages from across the city and neighboring areas arrived in trucks.

For some stall owners, business is not always good.

Yellow daisies from a stall run by 28-year-old Nguyen Thi Kim Lien attracted few customers on the day your correspondent visited the market, with its color brightening up part of the space.      

Fish porters put on raincoats to keep themselves warm during a cold spell that hit Hanoi, Vietnam starting January 8, 2021. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

Fish porters put on raincoats to keep themselves warm during a cold spell that hit Hanoi, Vietnam starting January 8, 2021. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

“Daisies usually don’t sell well except on public holidays, so I’m just selling my stuff to my regular customers,” she said.

According to Lien, part of her clientele is made up of foreigners who buy her flowers during their night out.

“With few of them around now [as COVID-19 continues to disrupt the world], my sales have dropped a lot,” Lien said.

Delivery workers also have their own worries.

Among them is Nguyen Van Hung, who shared rain or shine he and his co-workers show up at the market entrance at 9:00 pm each night, ready to secure timely floral deliveries to customers on demand.

Their daily wage varies between VND250,000 (US$11) and VND300,000 ($13).

“Our pay stays almost unchanged on chilly days due to dampened sales,” Hung said.

Moving ice with bare hands

As usual, trucks loaded with fresh catches from neighboring provinces arrived at Yen So Fish Village, located in Hoang Mai District in the wee hours as mercury dropped to under 10 degrees Celsius in the capital city.

Traders also had bad days in the cold.

One of them, Tran Thi Linh, revealed prices can fluctuate sharply.

“With ‘tram den’ [black carp] and ‘ca chep’ [common carp] priced at VND100,000 [$4.3] and VND50,000 [$2.2] per kilogram respectively today, the prices may drop by 20 or 30 percent tomorrow,” she noted. 

Linh also lamented about poor sales over abundant supply and the shrinking number of traditional market goers triggered by the recent sprouting of supermarkets.

Sharing Linh’s concern, Thanh, who has operated a fish truck for 15 years now, said he has taken in only half of his usual purchases in recent times.

Rising oil prices and bank loan interest rates, among others, have left stall owners struggling even more.   

An ice carrier moves a big block of ice with his bare hands in shivery Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

An ice carrier moves a big block of ice with his bare hands in shivery Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

“I’m used to the smell of fish. Besides the business was handed down through generations,” Thanh said.

“But I’m considering switching to another job after Tet [Lunar New Year, which falls in mid-February] as I can no longer keep the business afloat.”

Fishmongers are not the only ones trembling in the cold for dipping their hands in the icy water.

Ice carriers also shiver carrying 50-kilogram blocks of ice to fish tanks to keep the water cool and the fish alive and fresh.

“It’s really hard work, but we get paid only VND150,000 [$6.5]   each day,” complained Minh, one of the workers.

“As ice melts, the water drenches our shirts, and the biting cold is really hard to bear.

“But we can’t get changed as orders just keep popping up.”

Showing his rough hands, Minh added they have to put the ice close to their body while moving it to keep it from slipping off and breaking into pieces.

“We work with our bare hands only, as rubber gloves are sticky while woolen ones can easily get drenched.”

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Nguyen Hanh - Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre News

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