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A Day in the Life of Madame Xuân, Hoi An's 85-Year-Old Vegetable Vendor

She is not famous but has silently become a part of Hoi An’s cultural beauty for years.

At the age of 85 years old, she still walks more than 10 kilometers every day to sell vegetables around Hoi An. She has been doing this business for more than 40 years, rain or shine. Her name is Huỳnh Thị Xuân, a native Hoi An resident. Her husband passed away during the war, and none of her relatives are still alive except her two sons and one daughter who are grown up and married, so she lives alone. A long time ago, she was a farmer but post-1975, she started working as a mobile vendor.

Every day, when the morning dawns, Xuân starts walking from her house to Hoi An with a quang gánh on her shoulder. She usually walks the whole way, but sometimes she runs into a friend and hitches a free ride. “I walk everywhere in Hoi An to do my work. Sometimes I go to the ancient town, sometimes to An Bang, to Cua Dai, to Cam Kim,” she explains. After arriving at a residential area, she stops at any house with the door open to ask people to buy her vegetables and eggs.

While walking around Hoi An to sell her products, people often invite her to have lunch with their family. Sometimes, if her goods are already sold out, she will happily join them in their meal. “Hoi An people treat me warmly as a member of their family. I don’t know how to describe that feeling clearly,” she shares. “I love Hoi An. It is my home. I imagine that when I pass away, I would still see Hoi An.”

Xuân works almost every day, no matter the weather. Every morning, residents can see her wandering the street with her quang gánh. She just keeps moving until all of her goods are sold out. She said: “I will continue working until I die. I cannot stand staying at home. I love going out to work, to enjoy life.”

“My work brings in a few ten thousand dong per day. Besides that, the Vietnamese government grants me an amount of cash monthly since my husband served in the war,” she added. Every evening, she goes around her neighborhood to buy home farm vegetables and eggs to prepare for the next day. She also gets vegetables from her own home garden in An My village, Cam Chau Commune, in Hoi An's countryside.

“I live alone but it does not make me sad. When I have free time, I often go around to chat with my neighbors,” she said.

Rain or shine, Xuân brings fresh produce to Hoi An residents.

She shares that when she meets poor people, she usually gives them vegetables and eggs for their meal as her little way to help others. On her walks, she also regularly collects leftovers from food vendors to feed her dogs at home. “After work, I always come back home with a plastic bag full of food for my dogs. They are a great help to me in guarding my house."

There was a time when one of her dogs gave birth and there were many puppies at her house. Then, her close friend, Nguyên, helped her to sell those puppies and she earned a few hundred thousand dong from that.

Nguyên, a 25-year-old freelance photographer living in Hoi An, joined Xuân on her daily journey for a few days to photograph her. He said that she has become a part of Hoi An’s beauty, in his eye.

“She reflects the symbolic picture of the Vietnamese countryside's mothers and grandmothers silently working hard every day. I think that among old people who are around the same age as Mrs. Xuân, she is the only one who still walks around every day to work,” Nguyên said.