It was 10am and Hanoi was as hot as a burning stove. Many chose to take the bus or a taxi or even decided against going outside in order to keep the suffocating heat at bay, rather than riding their own motorbikes or using the motorbike taxi service known as xe om as they usually do.
Phan Thanh Tuan, a Grab xe om driver, told our correspondent: “Normally, I could earn about VND200,000-300,000 (US$9-13) or more with 10-15 rides a day but these days there are hardly any customers.”
He added, “People have been making few journeys, and if they have to go outside, they will take an air conditioned cab. Previously I could run more fares in the evening to make up for the sunny daytime. But now everyone stays at home to watch the World Cup.”
In order to make some income during the heat wave, many have turned to transporting goods in place of people. For those who could adapt themselves well, their incomes are relatively decent but there is only a handful of such xe om drivers. In general, most xe om drivers have fallen into disfavour these days and their incomes have also fallen substantially.
On the other end of the scale are roadside vendors of iced tea, coffee and freshwater. The hotter it gets, the more money they make.
Nguyen Thi Hien has been selling iced tea by the roadside for nearly 20 years. No matter the weather or the time of the day, she always settles herself under the shade of trees and serve her customers.
She said “Small roadside iced tea shops began to mushroom in Hanoi around the early 2000s. Many scrambled to open stalls by the roadside to sell not only iced tea but also freshwater and other snacks. The initial investment is very small but the profit is fairly good. If you are hard-working, you could easily earn VND10 million a month.”
Hien added that she has customers almost every day in both the summer and winter but her stand reaches its peak during the sizzling days like this.
On a day when customers are not so plentiful, she still could sell 100-150 cups of tea while on a hot day, the number of customers soars and she could sell as many as 400 cups.
Hien said “I sell a cup for just several thousand Vietnamese dong, and a few candies and packets of sunflower seeds, but many a little makes a mickle and my husband and I were able to finance my children until they left college. They are now all grown up and have good jobs.”
“My eldest son used to work for a foreign company and earn VND30 million a month but he already quit because he wanted to run his own business. He just opened a café just across the street. It looks impressive but after covering the rent, employee salary and other costs, his profit is not as large as mine,” Hien said in pride.
Iced tea shops could earn huge profits during the hot days. (Image: Kien Thuc)
But no matter who they are, xe om drivers or roadside tea sellers, behind the petty cash which seems to be easily earned, is the extreme hardship they have to endure.
Nguyen Van Nam, a 23-year-old Grab driver, was hurriedly slurping a cup of catjang dessert, his face flushed with exhaustion and streaming with sweat. He looked like a person suffering from heatstroke after a ride in the early afternoon.
“I’ve run ten fares since the morning. There are few customers today but because of the hot weather, there are also fewer drivers so I was lucky to receive several bookings. This afternoon I have run only two rides but it’s too hot and I have to stop here for a rest.”
To shield themselves from the intense sun, Nam, Tuan and thousands of other xe om drivers have to wear thick winter coats, gloves, sunglasses, face masks and kerchiefs. Some even have to soak their clothes in water before putting them on in order to deal with the extreme heat.
Despite taking all the possible measures, exhaustion is unavoidable when they have to work for many hours under the scorching sun.
For iced tea sellers, although they have better incomes and less arduous work than xe om drivers, they are frequently faced with the risk of being moved on for occupying public spaces.
Pham Linh Dan has graduated from college and is currently unemployed. During the day, she takes Grab bookings and in the evening she runs a roadside stall selling iced tea with her boyfriend.
The stall is not fixed and changes its location each day. Her shop has only eight small plastic stools, a vacuum flask, several cups, a few packets of sunflower seeds, some bags of fruits and several small-sized grass mats, which can be rolled up and put into a cardboard box.
“Compared with other jobs, selling iced tea by the roadside has its own enjoyment. During the hot sunny days, I can sit and enjoy some fresh air at the stadium and make some good money. If I am lucky to have plenty of customers, I can pocket VND200,000-300,000 an evening, a fairly large amount for a manual worker like me,” Dan said smilingly.
But deep in her heart, she does not want to tie herself to this job forever.
“I sell iced tea as a last resort because I couldn’t find any other jobs to do. No one wants to sell iced tea by the roadside like this after graduating from college,” Dan said.