Buses provide livelihood for women vendors in central Vietnam

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A woman vebdor about to get into a bus in Hue with a basket of snacks. A colleague waits for another bus

Many women are braving the cold and waiting on the road in Phu Loc town in Thua Thien Hue Province, waiting for a familiar bus.

Each has a basket tightly covered with a plastic sheet.

They are the "bus jumpers," women who clamber on and off passenger buses to sell snacks to travelers.

They mostly ply their trade between the town and Da Nang, and only one of them gets into a bus at a time to avoid competition.

"We vendors all know each other, so competing would make it hard for us to see each other later," Thiep, one of the women, says.

She says around 10 of them work the route, mostly selling banh loc (tapioca shrimp pies), a Hue specialty.

Some get off a bus en route and take another to return to Hue, while others travel all the way to Da Nang and also sell there.

Often they fail to sell out on the bus and have to try at local bus stations.

"There are times when we get home only at 10 p.m. and then have to wake up early the next morning to make the pies."

The Da Nang woman says she married a Hue man, and learned to make the pies from other Hue women.

She earns around VND100,000 ($4.78) a day, "enough to feed my children."

Dozens of other women work on north-south buses also selling Hue specialties like meat pie and "me xung" (elastic sesame sweets).

Hue, who has been doing this for more than 30 years, has her entire family depending on her income.

Vendors like her would not be allowed to board a bus again if they are caught pressing a customer too hard, she says.

They cannot sell at high prices since most customers are students, she says.

Many of her colleagues quit when a nearby bus station closed down, forcing vendors to travel further.

But she could not since she has no other income to fall back on. Her four children go to school, while her husband is a casual construction worker.

She wakes up early every day to make the pies with help from her children, and only finishes at around noon for selling in the afternoon.

"I only dare take a day off when I am very sick."

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