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A man who makes folk toys for kids
Hoang The Phong
Wednesday,  Aug 16, 2017,10:29 (GMT+7)

A man who makes folk toys for kids

Hoang The Phong

Kids look excited with handmade toys - PHOTO: HOANG PHONG

Amidst the bustle and hustle of city life in the heart of HCMC, the image of a 75-year-old man sitting at a corner in front of the landmark Notre Dame Cathedral to sell handmade folk toys may captivate passers-by and tourists, especially those from abroad. Nguyen Kim Hanh says he would devote the rest of his life to preserving childhood memories through colorful folk toys.

Also dubbed as Mr. Mouse, he has been with the job for nearly 27 years as he sees the job as not only a way to earn a living but also a passionate love for young kids and a dream to treasure traditional toys that seem to fall into oblivion. 

Everyday he cycles around two kilometers from his home in Hang Xanh intersection in HCMC’s Binh Thanh District to the cathedral and is always there from 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Then, he moves to Nguyen Hue pedestrian square to sell the toys until midnight.

He was born and brought up in the land of Saigon, the former name of HCMC. Tourists might be surprised by his immense knowledge of the history and culture of the famous landmarks in the more-than-300-year-old city.  Especially, he has a good command of English and French, so he can fluently communicate with international tourists who use the two languages.

He has done mutiple jobs to raise five children before betting his life with the craft of making folk toys which are being pushed into oblivion due to the advancement of techonology. 

“It may take five to ten days to finish producing a toy and like other genres of art, this job requires artisans to be patient, meticulous, skillful and dexterous. It is not at all easy in the first days of working,” Hanh explains.

“People, especially my family, have asked me to quit the low-earning job and lead an easy life but I don’t want to rely on my children as I am still able to earn money to feed myself,” he added.

His hardest time in life was when his hands shrank after a fever, so he could not hold heavy items. Thanks to his strong will, he overcame the ups and downs of his life. 

Initially, he worked as a street vendor of balloons but his income was too little to feed his family. Later, he came up with the idea of making folk toys like mouse, snake, butterfly and bird with bright colors and attractive designs to capture the attention of kids.

“Everyday I can earn VND120,000 to VND150,000 but on rainy days there are no customers at all. How to earn daily bread remains a headache for many poor residents,” he says.

“Sitting here and seeing people and vehicles passing by, lines of trees growing up and the city changing, I am aware of the value of life, so I just pray for good health to live longer with my family. That’s enough for me.”

Thanh, a woman who sells coffee, soft drinks and feed for pigeons in the cathedral area, says she has been around there for 20 years. She has been familiar with the man who sells folk toys, so it would be sad if he does not show up, Thanh said.


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