Paper lamination machines have been around for a long time, but a woman in Ho Chi Minh City who laminates documents using an iron heated on burning coal on a sidewalk still has a loyal clientele.
Le Thi Hue offers her service right in front of two large photocopy shops with modern lamination machines at the busy corner of Cao Thang and Nguyen Dinh Chieu streets, but she fears no competition.
Many customers have been loyal to her for the past 30 years. They said she is careful and her manual job offers more quality than the machines.
One customer said Hue takes more time but her product lasts longer compared to lamination by machines.
“My friend told me about her. I used to go to shops with machines, but the plastic quickly fell off.”
Hue laminates ID cards, licenses and photos. She puts a blotter on top before ironing the plastic layers onto the paper.
The skinny 55-year-old handles each step slowly, saying care is the only thing she has in competing with the machines.
“People only laminate important papers. So I have to do it carefully if I want them to come back.”
Hue started working on the sidewalk when she was 10 along with her parents who fixed motorbikes. So she is familiar with working under the sun and rain.
When her father grew old and sick and could no longer take care of the entire family, she secretly went around shops in the city to learn anything possible.
“Anytime they found out I was copying, they would shoo me away. So it took me a long time to learn lamination tricks.”
Then she bought an old iron, several pieces of plastic and a coal oven to start her business.
She now earns up to VND70,000 (US$3.2) a day, sometimes nothing when it is raining. But she manages to save some money for when she gets older.
She plans to stay at the job for as long as she can, partly because of her attachment to the street corner.
She says, “It’s become a part of me.”