The streets of Hanoi are full of interesting characters, people not known to me personally but people I notice time and time again.
I have been intrigued by this boy for a few years but the other morning was the first time I was able to talk to him. He normally doesn't want to talk to outsiders about himself, his predicament or his family. He is a disabled boy who can't walk at all. He sits on a tricycle, using his hands to pedal and control the bike. He started selling newspapers from his bike about 8 years ago when he was 10. He really is one of Hanoi’s child entrepreneurs and even today he barely looks 18 with his baby face and contented smile.
He starts his day at 6am and sometimes ends up at about 10pm, though most days he has sold his papers before then. In the old quarter of Hanoi, that represents a really hard day’s work. The traffic chaos, the dust and pollution, the motorbikes parked every which way and the general hectic activity that he encounters there would seem like a pretty stressful way to make a living. He says he has a loyal group of customers along his regular morning route, mostly those having their morning noodles or coffee. A day’s pedaling – with his hands – brings in the rather meagre sum of 50,000VND. His custom-designed tricycle might require the occasional repair to a puncture or some grease on the chain so his operating expenses are low, thankfully. Even so, the profits of such hard labour wouldn’t leave much for the average 18 year-olds entertainment expenses.
Then, again, this boy is not the average 18 year old. I see lots of boys and girls the same age, who hang around, do nothing, constantly putting their hands out to their parents for money. This young man is the opposite. In fact, part of his earnings probably gets contributed to the family kitty to buy food and pay the bills.
Local identities like him exist throughout this city but few are as inspirational.