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Toy story: how a Saigon public bus pimps its ride



Driver Pham Ngoc Tuyen and assistant Pham Van Sang of public bus 146 have delighted passengers by decorating it with stuffed animals and plushies.

It is 12:30 p.m. when Tuyen completes his final trip from the Hiep Thanh Bus Station in District 12 to the Mien Dong Bus Station in Binh Thanh District. After the bus comes to a complete stop, Sang runs off to sign the logbook.

The 49-year-old bus assistant does not rush back to the bus, though.

He goes to try his luck with two claw machines in the bus station. Inserting a VND10,000 ($0.43) bill into the slot in exchange for two coins corresponding to two chances, Sang begins to move the lever and press the button. He manages to pluck a red buffalo soft toy with his second chance.

When his colleague brings the brand new toy, driver Tuyen is thrilled. “What a cool addition to our collection. It would have been nice if we’d got this one and hung it up during in time for Tet to welcome the Lunar New Year (Year of the Buffalo). Are there any left in the machine? You should try to get another one in the evening so we can hang it on the other side and make it look symmetrical.”

“Okay, I will try to get another one later,” Sang replies.

Pham Van Sang (L) and Pham Ngoc Tuyen (R) posing for photo in the Bus 146. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Pham Van Sang (L) and Pham Ngoc Tuyen in the public bus 146 that they have decorated with stuffed animals and plushies. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Tuyen and Sang have been friends for a long time, but have only worked together on bus 146 for about two years. When he was assigned as the new driver of this bus, Sang discovered that there was a staff member who was very good at picking up stuffed animals, so he often bought them at a cheap price for his grandchildren and also put a few up on the bus ceiling.

When they found that passengers were happy and impressed with the decorative touch, Sang decided to conquer the game and get more toys.

During the Covid-19 outbreak last year, the number of bus trips was reduced and the staff had a long time off, so he had the opportunity to try and win many plushies.

At first, he failed often and barely caught any toy with the claws. But he persisted and with a lot of experience, managed to pick the toys frequently. Over more than a year now, Sang has lost count of how many stuffed animals he has picked up. He plays one or two times a day almost every day, turning the bus into a “kingdom” of stuffed animals.

Toan, 60, Sang’s colleague who is another driver of bus 146, said: “Whenever I change shift with the two, I also feel very happy since I have the chance to drive the stuffed animal bus. All the commuters compliment us. They say that looking at the stuffed animals swaying around is a lot of fun and gives them a different feel from sitting on a normal bus.”

Stuff animals are dangling inside the bus. Photo by VnExpress/ Diep Phan.

A passenger buys a ticket inside bus 146 that is festooned with stuff toys. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

The toy lottery

Whenever he wins a new toy, Sang gives away an old one or that looks similar to regular customers, children or students. In order to create a happy atmosphere for passengers on the bus, especially during peak hours when students are out of school, Sang organizes a game to give away stuffed animals. After selling tickets to all guests, he randomly announces three digits. Whoever has a ticket number with matching last digits wins a toy.

“If a customer likes any one of the toys, I give it to them. The job of a driver and bus assistant is stressful, so doing this makes us and the customers happy,” Sang said, smiling.

Their unusually decorated bus also attracts unusual attention. Once, Sang saw a motorbike suddenly speed up to overtake the bus. When the bus stopped at a street light, two young people waiting by the sidewalk came close to the glass windows, took pictures of the bus full of stuffed animals, returned to their motorbike and drove away.

Thu Huyen, 20, a student at the from Industrial University of Ho Chi Minh City, uses bus 146 often to go to school: “I take many different buses, but the bus of Tuyen and Sang is the most special because they decorate it hundreds of stuffed animals. Their stuffed animals usually new and clean and are frequently updated. I have noticed that some of the new toys that I see in the machine make their way to the bus in a few days.”

The bus parks at Mien Dong Bus Station at noon on May 12, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Bus 146 parked at the Mien Dong Bus Station at noon, May 12, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

After completing a trip to the Hiep Thanh Bus Station, the two friends take turns inviting each other for lunch. With about 20 minutes remaining during the lunch break, they discuss removing all the stuffed toys and repositioning them in the evening.

The toys don’t just occupy the ceiling. They are also placed on armrests, in the front and other places. Sometimes they are hung in color clusters, sometimes in a symmetrical order, and in some other order at different times.

“Since the day we started having them, we are also much more diligent in cleaning the bus. We clean the bus, clean the air-conditioner fans so that the stuffed animals won’t be dangling in dust,” Tuyen said.

Although he spends VND10,000-20,000 of his hard earned money every day to “picking” up the stuffed animals just to decorate and give to customers, Sang says has no intention of stopping. He is only worried that the owner of the claw machines might remove them because he wins too many of the toys.

“Last year there were four machines, but now there are only two. I would be very sad if all of them were removed. Picking up stuffed animals is my entertainment and the passengers are also happy.

“Instead of drinking coffee at a café, now I brew my own and bring it. Since we don’t smoke, we use that extra money to pick up the stuffed animals.”



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. Photo: Ha Quan/Tuoi Tre

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 Ministry of Health’s advice and warnings against COVID-19 is visualized. 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 resists Hanoi’s hot weather to complete a mural. Photo: Ha Quan/Tuoi Tre

An artist braves Hanoi’s hot weather to complete a mural. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

The mural delivers a message hailing social solidarity to fight against COVID-19. – 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 metaphor of a nurse “angel” protecting the Earth from SARS-CoV-2 is seen on a mural in Tay Ho District. – 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

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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 Has zero supermarket offers a wide variety of farm-produce for people to chose from. Photo by VnExpress/Dien Phan.

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.

Southern womans zero supermarket spark joys in Can Tho - 1

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.”


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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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