|Irina Khmylnikova and her Styrofoam box and cakes – PHOTOS: THANH HOA|
Many aliens who have been stranded in Vietnam have tried their best to survive tough times here during the protracted pandemic. In several cases, they have to do all kinds of jobs available to pay for food and accommodation. They have also received hearty support from local communities. Irina Khmylnikova from Belarus is one of them.
Over the past two months, Saigonese passing by Tan Dinh Market in District 1 have seen a Westerner selling cakes to locals. Every day, the vendor appears two times, from seven to eight o’clock in the morning and from four to five o’clock in the afternoon. She is Irina Khmylnikova, 47, who is often addressed as “Irina” by some locals, or simply “the Western cake seller.”
|Some of Irina Khmylnikova’s best offers|
A special cake hawker
The first impression about Irina to many Saigonese who have met her is her warm smiles and fair skin. While on the sidewalk, she always has a
Styrofoam box suspended in front of her chest, on which pieces of cakes are neatly arranged.
Her offers include chocolate cakes, cocoa cakes, honey cakes and the like, whose prices range from VND25,000 to VND35,000 (roughly US$2-3). Irina speaks neither Vietnamese nor English. Yet she is able to sell her cakes to Saigonese. To make her business somewhat easier, she has the Vietnamese names and prices of the cakes printed on the Styrofoam box.
Irina says all her cakes are made by her friends in Nha Trang and sent to Saigon to her. This group, including Irina, has done this job for about one year.
|Buyers always receive a warm smile from the cake hawker|
Although she speaks only broken Vietnamese, Irina can pronounce the word “Bánh đây!” (Here comes the cake!) clearly and correctly. Her beautiful smile obviously helps her attract local buyers.
Every week, Irina works from Monday to Saturday, selling cakes. In the morning, she often offers her cakes in the area of Tan Dinh Market in District 1 while in the afternoon, she sells them at a school nearby. On Sundays, she says she spends time exploring local culture. “I’ve visited many places in Vietnam,” she says. “Dalat, Halong Bay, Hanoi and even the Ca Mau Tip in southern Vietnam are some.
“I’m trying to learn more Vietnamese so that I can communicate better with Vietnamese,” says Irina. “With improved Vietnamese, I could better understand locals.”
Irina has two children in Belarus where she was a shop assistant for 20 years. One day, she felt the urge to travel. After having arranged her family affairs, she rode on a motorbike to travel to every corner of Belarus before thinking of making overseas trips.
|Her customers who are students of a school near Tan Dinh Market|
Irina says she has traveled to countries across different continents. She has visited Russia in Europe, Chile in South America, Egypt in Africa, Israel in the Middle East and Thailand in Asia. In 2019, she first arrived in Vietnam.
The first place in this country to welcome this Belarussian woman was Nha Trang. In February 2020, she made her second trip to the country, determined to have a permanent job to live here for a long time.
Irina and some of her friends set up a firm and began to make and trade in cakes under the brand of GUURMANN. Her business also provided job opportunities for Belarussians, Russians and Ukrainians living in Vietnam. “We mostly worked in the hospitality industry,” says Irina. “Some of us even have children who are studying in Vietnam.”
When asked why she has chosen cakes but not something else, Irina answered hawking cakes is a temporary job due to Covid-19. “My firm used to sell Vietnam tours to foreign visitors, mostly Belarussians, Russians and Ukrainians,” she says. “’Why do I choose cake making?’ It is just by chance. I noticed that during their trips here, many visitors seemed to prefer cakes. So, I pick cakes to sell them.”
Irina always keeps a smile despite the scorching heat and the polluted atmosphere of Saigon. “I remain optimistic and believe I can stand on my own feet with my temporary job.”
Often, Irina is able to sell out her cakes within an hour. Among her customers are Vietnamese students who always receive her greeting “Xin chào!” (Hello!)
“I hope the pandemic will be over soon,” says Irina. “Then life will be much easier to me and many other foreigners.”
For now, with all her cakes sold, Irina says “Xin chào!” to call it a day and returns to her lodging.
To foreigners like Irina, Saigon and Vietnam are often generous and faithful. It is this generosity that has helped many aliens survive the current hardship while waiting for a better time to come. x
Artworks play role in fighting COVID-19 in Vietnam
Under the scorching sun of Hanoi, a group of young artists meticulously wield their brushes to paint colorful art murals to help combat COVID-19.
Nguyen Manh Quang, the group’s representative, said the project ‘Fighting the Pandemic like Fighting Your Enemies’ was aimed at honoring frontliners and calling for social awareness in protecting public health.
“We first painted a 15-square-meter mural in Hoan Kiem District’s Phuc Tan Commune,” Quang said.
“We later received support to make big murals, ranging from 20 square meters to 105 square meters, in Dong Da, Ha Dong, and Tay Ho Districts.”
The next destination is Cau Giay District. The group sets a goal to cover walls of 10 to 20 square meters in the Vietnamese capital with art on the theme of COVID-19 fighting and prevention.
Quang said the project was funded by artists and some donors.
He expressed the expectation that district authorities and Hanoians could give helping hands to spread the idea, especially finding big, plain walls for these artworks.
|A team of three to four artists can complete a mural of 20 square meters in two to three days in Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|On this mural, the 5K message conveying the Ministry of Health’s advice and warnings against COVID-19 is visualized in Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|An artist braves Hanoi’s hot weather to complete a mural. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|A mural delivers a message hailing social solidarity to fight against COVID-19 in Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
|A nurse ‘angel’ protecting the earth from COVID-19 is painted on a mural in Tay Ho District, Hanoi. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre|
Woman’s ‘zero dong supermarket’ a lifesaver for some in Mekong Delta
Duong Thanh Ha of Mekong Delta’s Can Tho City has set up a charity stall with vegetables and foods to help people facing economic hardships due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
For nearly a month now she and her husband have been waking up before dawn to pick vegetables in their garden and take them to her ‘zero dong supermarket’ behind Phuoc Long Pagoda in Le Binh Ward, Cai Rang District.
It is actually a small stall with many varieties of farm produce that Ha harvests or others donate.
While she was busy stacking the items on the shelves, some traders from nearby wet markets stopped by to donate vegetables.
From time to time people would drive up, and place bags of rice, instant noodles, sugar, or cooking oil in gaps in the shelves and quickly leave.
Scrap collectors, lottery ticket sellers and motorbike taxi drivers show up now and then to grab for some supply. Seeing a timid old woman selling lottery tickets taking only a handful of vegetables, Ha said kindly: “Please take more. You are [also] welcome to come back and take more if you want.”
Duong Thanh Ha’s ‘zero dong supermarket’ has a variety of farm produce for people to choose from and take for free. Photo by VnExpress/Dien Phan.
Ha, 60, used to be a merchant, but retired two years ago and handed the family business to her children.
In late May, when many farmers growing sweet potato in the neighboring province of Vinh Long could not sell their harvest due to the Covid outbreak, they offered to give it to Ha so that she could distribute it to those in need.
She rented a vehicle for a few days to transport the sweet potato from Vinh Long to Can Tho, and many people who had received it from her said: “We are very grateful… Having them for breakfast and lunch helped us save some money to pay our rent.”
Ha realized then that many poor workers were feeling the economic pinch caused by the pandemic. They were hoping to eat reasonably well, but were helpless as their incomes fell or disappeared, and that was when she decided to open the ‘supermarket.’
At first she only put up vegetables and fruits from her garden, but within a few days, as word spread about her charity effort, many people began to bring in food while others living far away contributed money for her to buy more vegetables.
She also uses some of her own money to stock the stall.
“At first I could only help with things I had. But thanks to benefactors from far and near, I have been able to maintain this for nearly a month now.”
In the beginning she would occasionally ask her adopted daughter to watch over the stall. But this made people afraid to come in since they could not see anyone inside. Since then Ha is inside almost all day until 6 p.m, only going for a short break at noon.
Besides picking vegetables and stacking the shelves, she also spends time talking to people who come in to assuage their embarrassment at taking things for free.
Ha with a basket of squash at her ‘zero dong supermarket’in Cai Rang District, Can Tho City.Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tram.
There are times when she sees people wearing gold jewelry and coming in luxury cars stop by her stall. She still welcomes them, helps them choose what they want but advises them to take only enough.
“If they have a need, I’m willing to share with them. It could be that they were not able to earn money that day.”
Do Thi Phuong Dao, 44, who sells spring rolls nearby, said: “There was less and less stuff at Ha’s stall after a few days. I thought the place would close down soon. But after a few days I saw many people bring food to donate, and so now every day hundreds of people come to take the goods. I have seen Ha choose fresh items to put on the shelf and take home less fresh ones to eat herself.”
Ha said she is “so happy that I cannot sleep” at seeing so many people make donations.
“The community’s cooperation has helped this stall survive for a long time,” she said, adding that she has the same joy with those receiving free produce from the stall.
At around 6 p.m., knowing the stall was about to close, Chau Thi Chi, 67, who sells lottery tickets, hurriedly comes in to grab some broccoli to cook with pork she bought on the way home.
She said: “Before the epidemic I used to sell more than 200 tickets a day, but now I can only sell half even if I head out early and return home late. Everyone is feeling the economic crunch, so they rarely buy lottery tickets.
“I have been coming to this stall every day since it was first set up and could save the money needed to buy vegetables. The vegetables here are very fresh in the evening and there is a large variety to choose from.”
Lifestart Foundation donates e-bikes to disadvantaged students in Quang Nam
|Three students receive e-bikes from the Lifestart Foundation – PHOTO: NHAN TAM|
QUANG NAM – Lifestart Foundation donated three electric bicycles valued at VND12 million to disadvantaged students at Le Thanh Tong and Dung Si Dien Ngoc schools in the central province of Quang Nam.
The students are all from underprivileged families who only own aging bicycles.
Karen Leonard, Order of Australia Medal, Founder of Lifestart Foundation, said, “Apart from supporting disadvantaged students with the Lifestart Foundation Education Scholarships, we are also thrilled to reach out to the larger community to provide the students with transportation. The provision of much needed e-bikes reduces some of the dangers for the students when they have to travel far for studies and enables them to travel long distances much quicker.”
The donation is one of the many activities of the Lifestart Foundation community. Founded in 2000 by Leonard, an Australian, and supported by a team of dedicated volunteers, Lifestart Foundation is a grassroots, not-for-profit charity that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese families become self-sufficient.
This is achieved through their two largest projects, Education Scholarships for disadvantaged students and their Housing Improvement project.
To date, Lifestart Foundation’s investment in the disadvantaged youth of Central Vietnam is in excess of VND26 billion (around 1,500,000 AUD).
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