By Quang Huy – Translated by Kim Khanh
Over the past four decades, Ho Chi Minh City cobbler Bui Thi Tuyet has worked tirelessly to make sure the bespoke shoes she builds are a perfect fit for customers with foot impairments, helping them walk comfortably and smoothly.
Able-bodied people may take shoes for granted, but what many with foot impairments dream of is just being able to don a pair of shoes that perfectly fit their feet and walk gracefully, particularly on their wedding day.
Tuyet is well aware of this and has been single-mindedly dedicated to helping her customers with such special needs.
For nearly 40 years, the 57-year-old woman has been running her in-laws’ shoemaking shop called Tuyet Tien, coined from her and her husband’s names.
Her small house, doubling as her workshop, is nestled in a ‘village’ known for its century-old shoemaking tradition next to Calmette Bridge connecting District 1 and District 4 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Snuggled in the District 4 end and run by Tuyet herself and her sister-in-law after being passed down for several generations, the shop brims with shoes needing work, morsels of leather and echoes from the footsteps of customers needing help.
|Bui Thi Tuyet works with high dexterity on bespoke shoes for deformed feet at her family-run shoe shop, nestled in a century-old shoemaking quarter in District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre|
It is clear Tuyet is proud of the shoes she makes, and she goes the extra mile to look for materials and leather to make her footwear pieces stand out from the rest and best suit her customers’ special needs.
A local resident, she began learning the trade when she married into a family running a shoemaking business.
Now, almost 40 years later, Tuyet said her clientele keeps expanding and her items have never failed to win her customers’ hearts.
Her clientele includes professional dancers, including Hoang Ich Hau, who places regular orders with Tuyet for dancing clogs despite living in the north.
However, Tuyet’s reputation does not rest on her famous clients and fashion sense.
Her unique cobbling skills culminate in thousands of her customized shoes for her disabled clients to boost their mobility and confidence as they look their best in daily life or for special celebrations like weddings.
With or without impairments, all of Tuyet’s customers welcome her exquisite leatherwork, craftsmanship, and dedication with glowing praise.
Some of her custom-made pairs fetch up to millions of dong apiece, Tuyet said. (VND1 million = US$43).
Many of her customers from different parts of the country make orders for a couple of pairs, even five pairs, at a time, to make sure their trips all the way to Ho Chi Minh City for feet measurements are really worth it, Tuyet said while showing her homemade chat app Zalo inbox brimming with orders from V.I.P. customers as well as those with disabilities or budget constraints, or both.
Tuyet always strives to bring out her best for the customers.
Even though she had a full plate fulfilling orders for the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, which lasted one week last month, the seasoned cobbler insisted she retrieve and adjust a pair which a customer ordered as a gift for their mother to wear during the festive occasion.
Shoes that fit special feet
The first days in building shoes for those with foot deformation were a struggle, and it took a great deal of trial and error, with Tuyet sometimes spending days on a single pair of shoes.
“Customers are my greatest masters. There were times I just wanted to give up on a technically demanding pair,” she shared.
“I just went out with the best of my ability to finish one pair before moving on to 10 and 20.
“I just got blown away with the calling without realizing it.”
Her main clients are people with legs of different lengths and club foot, or twisted feet.
Her shoes must reduce the effect of the impairment or at least conceal it, which is why they must be specially made.
Tuyet’s main source of job satisfaction comes from the fact that customers who come in walking with a bad limp often leave walking with much greater ease in their specially-made shoes.
Among her patrons is Thanh Phuong, who lost almost all of her foot and has one leg shorter than the other.
“I’m still not able to fulfill her order placed from the summer,” Tuyet said.
She added she recently had to adjust the price for Phuong’s shoes slightly upward this year from the current VND300,000 ($13) a pair due to the rise in material price and the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Tuyet recalled her first meeting with a special customer, a boy the age of her youngest son, who came to see her from Dong Nai Province, after watching a video clip on YouTube a few years ago.
|Do Thanh Tan, one of Bui Thi Tuyet’s customers, looks his best in shoes built by her to conceal the difference in his legs’ length for his wedding held in October 2020 in Thai Nguyen Province, northern Vietnam in this supplied photo.|
The mother of three was moved to tears at the sight of the boy moving awkwardly with his two tiny stubs of leg wrapped in socks.
Tuyet customized contoured shoes to fit his severely deformed legs and the boy has become one of her regular clients since.
In late October last year, Do Thanh Tan, a young teacher residing in the northern province of Thai Nguyen, had a wedding ceremony beyond his wildest dreams.
Part of the miracle came to life because of Tuyet’s shoes that glammed him up for his big day.
Tan, who has one leg 15 centimeters shorter than the other, said he is very grateful to Tuyet.
“It’s really difficult to find shoes for people with my condition. They are never available in shops,” Tan shared, adding he had one shop in his hometown build a pair for him, but they ended up too high in one sole, causing him a lot of pain.
“Tuyet’s shoes are a perfect fit, I can walk with much ease now and my legs are now only 1-2 centimeters imbalanced,” he said.
Tuyet also gifted him a pair of sandals for daily use.
Nguyen Thi Hao, from Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands, shares Tan’s foot condition and experience.
Five years ago, the woman, who also lost half of her foot, managed to track Tuyet down for bespoke pairs of shoes.
“Believe it or not? Until I met this cobbler [Tuyet], I had kept dreaming for nearly 50 years of perfectly fitting shoes so I could look my best,” the 54-year-old woman shared, noting it is not just about how shoes fit, but how they look and feel.
Hao cheerfully showed her wedding photos featuring her walking gracefully in Tuyet’s shoes on her important day.
Another female customer came all the way from a locality in the north to take her 70-year-old father with club foot to Tuyet.
It took Tuyet nearly one month to build the shoes for the father, who had always walked barefoot as no cobblers were willing to make shoes for his twisted feet.
Tuyet’s work came in extremely useful with the father, who then proudly walked her daughter down the aisle in the new loafers on her big day.
Tuyet shared unlike other cobblers who excel in only some phases of shoemaking, she has to master every detail in building custom shoes for deformed feet.
“No matter how difficult the items are, they will finally come into shape if I put serious work into them,” Tuyet said of what has kept her passion ablaze.
“I must be ‘unique’ so my special customers will come to see me. That’s also where I can help them most,” she said with a smile, adding she has built thousands of such special shoes throughout the years.
Walking their dog after dinner has always been a favorite daily activity of Tho Pham and his wife, a Vietnamese couple who live with their 39-year-old son in Garden Grove City, California.
But not in the last few months as the wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment has terrified him.
“I do not dare go out without my children because I am afraid someone will knock me to the ground or stab me to death just because I am Asian,” he laments, adding that the hate crimes have disrupted his daily life.
Many other Vietnamese share his apprehension, especially older people.
Wally Ng, a member of the Guardian Angels, patrols with other members in Chinatown in New York City, New York, U.S., May 16, 2020. Photo by Reuters.
Violence and hatred directed at Asian Americans, which also includes mugging, have surged across California since the beginning of the Covis-19 pandemic as Asians are blamed for its origin in Wuhan, China.
Videos of an Asian woman being punched in the face on a subway platform and a Thai man being pushed to the ground in San Francisco have sparked fears, and the Vietnamese community is traumatized.
Hoai Nguyen, a housewife in San Jose, home to the largest Vietnamese population in America, says: “It is annoying and scary when you go out and have to keep looking behind your back to see if you are being followed by someone suspicious.”
She has been called “coronavirus” several times while walking and shopping, but she had not expected the discrimination and hatred to turn violent and even murderous.
Last month the Vietnamese community in San Jose was shocked after a 64-year-old woman was robbed in front of Dai Thanh Supermarket during the Lunar New Year holidays.
Nguyen says with a sigh: “I cannot do that (go out) on my own because they may kill me. How weak I am and how cold-hearted those people are.”
Since older people are targeted, no one is comfortable letting their parents or grandparents go out alone though the first month of the lunar new year is typically filled with activities like meeting relatives and going to pagodas.
This year most had a subdued New Year also because of the pandemic.
Hong Nguyen, who is always accompanied by her children on the streets in Oakland these days, says: “It should be a time for celebration, we should meet our families and friends instead of being targeted or attacked.”
The potential threats have brought the Vietnamese diaspora together.
On Facebook groups, they post videos of Asians being assaulted or robbed to warn others about the growing threat in places like California and New York, home to many Vietnamese-Americans.
“Please help if you see anyone being verbally or physically attacked,” one person wrote in a group for people living in West Hills, California.
Some people give a helping hand to elders in their Vietnamese and Asian communities. In Oakland, for instance, there have been community initiatives including patrols by volunteers who escort seniors around the city.
“From our Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese elders to our youth, our Asian-American communities are traumatized, afraid and outraged during a time when we are also experiencing disproportionate impacts of the pandemic,” according to a joint agreement by Asian-American organizations in the Bay Area said, calling for non-police safety measures like volunteer neighborhood patrols.
Hong Nguyen’s sons and daughter, who are in their 20s, have joined many other Asians to protect elders in public places.
“Someone threw rocks at my sister’s house twice last week, and so five of us stand in front of her house in the evenings to see if those thugs come around again,” Hong Nguyen says, adding solidarity is their recourse now.
A 91-year-old Asian man is shoved to the ground from behind by a suspect in Chinatown in Oakland, California, January 31, 2021. Photo courtesy of Reutters.
Some people have taken a further step, gun ownership.
“I decided to buy a handgun this spring after seeing a series of mugging of Asians,” Nguyen Duc Phuc, 45, says. Owning a gun gives him and his wife peace of mind amid the senseless violence, he says.
“When I was in line waiting to buy the gun, two white guys called me ‘chin*’ and made fun of me because I wore a mask.”
The New York Times quoted David Liu, owner of Arcadia Firearm and Safety in the predominantly Asian city of Arcadia in California, as saying there is an uptick in Asian-Americans buying firearms though admittedly interest has been skyrocketing among “basically everybody.”
In a survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation last year gun retailers estimated there was a nearly 43 percent increase in sales to Asian customers in the first half of 2020, the Times added.
But people like Pham, Phuc and Nguyen know that violence is never the correct response to violence.
On February 26 senior officials of the U.S. Justice Department claimed that the recent surge in violence and hate incidents against Asian-Americans is unacceptable, and promised to investigate those cases and other hate crimes.
These “horrific attacks on Asian-Americans across the country” have “no place in our society,” Deputy Attorney General John Carlin said while speaking about domestic terrorism, adding that the Justice Department is “committed to putting a stop to it.”
Agents and prosecutors at the department would “look at recent footage from New York and California to see those horrific attacks directed at Asian Americans, to realize how dire the threats are,” he said.
But in the meantime, Pham knows he needs his children with him if he wants to venture outside home.
“I just want to feel safe and not fear for my life when going out without disturbing my children.”
All of the fresh patients in Hai Duong are F1 contacts who previously came into close contact with confirmed cases and they had already been placed into quarantine at concentrated isolation facilities.
The detection of the latest patients lifts the national infection tally to 2,507, including 1,584 domestically-transmitted cases, along with 923 imported cases.
With regard to the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases along, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases of Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Duong province, the nation’s current biggest epicenter are set to start inoculation on March 8.
Moving forward, vaccination plans will be based on the principle of ensuring maximum safety for citizens.
“It can be affirmed that 100% of vaccinated people who contract the disease will be milder and not lead to death. This is a very important factor in deploying a large-scale vaccination plan. People need to get a better understanding of the benefits of vaccines as well as unwanted reactions in order to have confidence in vaccination as the best way to protect themselves from the virus,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said.
According to the official, priority will be given to those on the front line in the fight against COVID-19, including health workers, army personnel, police forces, along with customs and immigration officers. In addition, those working in sectors which offer essential services such as aviation, transport, tourism, and education will also be prioritised. This is along with people suffering from chronic illnesses, those above 65 years old, people living in pandemic-hit areas, the poor, and beneficiaries of social welfare.
Due to the complicated nature of developments relating to the pandemic, the People’s Committee of Kinh Mon town in the northern province of Hai Duong has recently issued a decision to continue implementing social distancing measures in line with Government Directive No16 for 10 communes and wards in Kinh Mon.
At present Hai Duong has recorded 707 cases of local transmission, along with 321 recoveries and 2,642 F1 contacts who are currently undergoing concentrated isolation.
The Hanoitimes – The MoH is working with the COVAX to arrange for another shipment of 1.3 million doses to arrive at Vietnam in March.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) would mobilize all resources to carry out Vietnam’s largest vaccination program yet with an estimated of 100 million doses.
|Local volunteer vaccinated with domestic Covid-19 vaccine named Nanocovax in Hanoi. Photo: Ngoc Tu|
Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long made the statement at an online conference discussing plan for the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination program held today [March 6].
“With the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine doses set to be administered on March 8 in the northern province of Hai Duong, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, there would no doubt be side effects, but this is not the reason for Vietnam to stop the vaccination program,” stated Long.
According to Long, Covid-19 vaccines are developed and manufactured in the shortest time in the history of vaccine development, so the effective period of vaccines varies from six months to two years.
“In addition to importing vaccines, Vietnam would accelerate the R&D processes for domestic Covid-19 vaccines to ensure long-term public health security,” Long added.
The minister suggested any post-vaccination side effects is possible, as not any vaccine can be 100% safe.
“As the vaccine is new, so the vaccination program will be carried out in a cautious manner,” added Long, saying local health authorities have evaluated the safety of vaccines in Vietnam.
With the limited amount of vaccine doses, Long said the MoH would prioritize vaccination for 13 cities and provinces of high risk.
“The MoH is working with the COVAX to arrange for another shipment of 1.3 million doses to arrive at Vietnam in March,” he informed.
Under the government resolution NO.21 on the 11 priority groups, Long said the first doses of Covid-19 vaccines would be allocated for health workers at 21 health facilities with the highest level of risks, followed by front-line workers of the Covid-19 fight in Hai Duong, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
One of a key point in Vietnam’s vaccination program is that health officials would carry out health check-up for locals before vaccination to ensure safety.
Every people getting vaccinated will be added into a database for supervision.
“Vietnam’s vaccination system would later be integrated with other countries, which would serve as a basis for vaccine passport, and is managed via QR code,” Long noted.
Last month, Vietnam received more than 204,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca as part the WHO-led COVAX Facility vaccine-sharing scheme.
Vietnam has been negotiating with AstraZeneca to import 30 million doses for 2021 and another 33 million doses from COVAX.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are possible side effects after getting a Covid-19 vaccine including: pain, redness, swelling, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.
The Hanoitimes – The number of Vietnamese women accounts for half of the labor force but less than one-fourth of overall management roles.
The percentage of women in management in the foreign-direct investment (FDI) sector is a third of the number of people in leadership positions, the highest (34.1%) compared to the 29.7% and the 20.2% in state and domestic spheres, respectively, according to the latest report.
|Vietnam’s women account for half of the labor force but less than one-fourth of overall management roles. Photo: ILO|
A report “Gender and the labor market in Vietnam” by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Vietnam shows that there is still a gender gap in labor force participation in the country, especially in management level. Uneven distribution of family responsibilities in Vietnam’s society could be the reason behind.
The elimination of gender gaps in education has not translated into a comparable narrowing of gender gaps in employment quality, earnings, or decision-making jobs. “They are much more likely to involve in household work than men, and spend twice as many hours on it,” said Valentina Barcucci, ILO Vietnam Labor Economist, lead author of the research.
Women spent an average of 20.2 hours per week cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and shopping for the family, doing family care and childcare, whereas men spent only 10.7 hours. Close to one fifth of men did not spend any time on these activities at all.
|Chart: The portfolio of female management in total employment, by sector, 2019|
As a result of the pandemic, total working hours dropped significantly in the second quarter of 2020, and recovered through the second half of the year. Women faced the most severe losses, according to the report.
The total weekly hours worked by women in the second quarter of 2020 were only 88.8% of the total for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to 91.2% for men.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, both women and men had a relatively easy access to jobs, but the quality of such jobs was on average lower among women than among men,” said Valentina Barcucci, ILO Vietnam Labor Economist, lead author of the research.
Female workers were overrepresented in vulnerable employment, particularly in contributing family work. They earned less than men (by 13.7% on monthly wages in 2019), despite comparable working hours and the progressive elimination of gender gaps in educational attainment.
Gender inequality in the labor market is traced back to the traditional roles that women are expected to play, supported by the social norms, said ILO Vietnam Director, Chang-Hee Lee.
The 2019 Labor Code has opened opportunities to close such gender gaps, for example in retirement age or removing the ban on female employment in certain occupations, a much more difficult task still awaits Vietnam.
“That is changing the mind sets of the Vietnamese men and women themselves which will in turn influence their behavior in the labor market,” Chang-Hee Lee said.