There is a woman who sits every day from 7am to late at night on the bridge to my home.
She brings new meaning to the word ‘old’, hunching in her plastic chair against the ugly HCMC sun with more lines on her cheeks than motorbikes on the road in front of her, and by her knees is an equally antique wooden box with ’10k’ scrawled across it.
What is she selling? (And note, I haven’t taken a photo of her out of respect)
Well this woman is just one example of a metropolis of employment for the less able and less driven in my city, Saigon. Inside her box are hundreds of lottery tickets, each one 10 000VND (50c), and each with a delightfully slim chance of anything happening to make their purchase worthwhile…
And yet, each one will be purchased by the end of her day! There’s something about the promise in these pieces of paper that draws businessmen, labourers, teachers, shop owners, students, etc to them every day. What is it?!
I myself have never wanted a lottery ticket.
I can’t see the point, and I figure it’s a dangerous habit to get into… like a ‘gateway habit’ to gambling, debauchery, and all myriads of sinful sins that, if noted, would take my exaggeration a bit too far. I just can’t understand why such a lot of upright, normal people would invest in that. Or, potential gateway aside, I can’t understand why so many people would invest in a piece of luckless paper.
So in conclusion there must be, there has to be, there IS another reason to buy them. Actually my boyfriend is a case in point – he is a student here, a decidedly bizarre man from the Mekong-Delta with a bigger heart than anyone I have ever met. Despite the fact that together we eat for 30 000VND every night, that he has very little after that to sustain himself the next day and that his family are not in the position to offer him compensatory funds should he run out, I have watched him stop at that old woman’s stall every night since we started eating together.
He buys one, just one, and exchanges a nod with the lady before hopping back on his bicycle and moving out into the night, but I know how much that one ticket could mean to some… and he knows it too.
Here in Saigon the people are an odd mix – my city is the perfect place to have everything you own stolen, the right location to be scammed, abused, and taken advantage of (and especially as a westerner), but it is also the place to come to if you are looking for a family.
This metropolis has bad, yes, but there is just so much good here, and I think I can genuinely say that HCMC looks after its own.
But not every city is the same – when I was in Bijapur, central India, it couldn’t have been more different. I found that poverty there was like an illness – people didn’t like to get too close, almost as if they feared they could catch it.
Read about it here in my article Working for Nothing >