by Phuong Hien-Trung Hieu
For the last 15 years, bus conductor Thai Thanh Huyen has woken up at 3.30am every day.
After 30 minutes of getting ready, she leaves her small room in Thanh Xuan District for a parking lot in Hoang Mai District. There she meets the driver, who takes her to a bus station near Hoan Kiem Lake so that at 5am, they are ready to receive their first passengers. She returns home around midnight.
Bus conducting is not a career where exceptions are made for women. The conductor must focus constantly on making passengers feel comfortable and ensuring revenue for the bus company.
Buses also operate on holidays, so the female staff members have no time off. Many say they feel occasional moments of sadness as they stand on buses, glancing out the window at flags and flowers along the streets during these days.
"We work from early morning till night. Sometimes we do not see our husbands for a week," says Huyen.
Luckily her husband and family understand the hardships she faces, she adds. If they did not, she would not be able to continue the job.
Despite these challenges, she and her colleagues are whole-heartedly devoted to their careers.
Thu Huong, 23, has worked on buses for nearly two years. Previously, bus drivers struck her as rude and bossy. When she started selling tickets, however, she was "really impressed" by a middle-aged bus driver.
"My first lesson in customer service came from him," she says. "The State pays us to serve our passengers, and passengers create the State budget by paying taxes. So when they travel with us, we shouldn't treat them badly."
Today, passengers on the route from Mai Dong (Hai Ba Trung District) to My Dinh National Stadium can see the young conductor put this lesson into practice. Even at rush hour, when passengers crowd and jostle for each place, she is gentle so that her elderly and young passengers feel comfortable.
"I never thought I would be attached to this job. But now I can't quit," she says.
While there isn't much in the way of a financial bonus, making passengers feel good is enough reward, Huong says. Even though the job is hard, her dedication makes her feel like she is "getting a spiritual gift from life".
That's not to say that the job doesn't have its challenges.
"Some days, I feel sick and tired, but I don't want to ask for colleagues' help. Everyone has their own job and has the same struggle," she says. "Thinking about the passengers who are already familiar with me and expect me to be there, I manage to go to work."
To offer support to Huong and her colleagues, bus lovers in collaboration with Transerco Hanoibus company established the forum http://www.xebushanoi.com. Visiting the forum, you can read many comments that express encouragement and thanks to the bus staff, especially the women.
Many members wrote that more women staff would make drivers "softer and gentler".
One member wrote: "My brother and his wife took their child to the Children's Hospital. The couple received enthusiastic help from a female conductor who helped carry their things and give them directions. She even offered them her own umbrella when it started raining. On behalf of my brother, I want to thank that bus conductor and wish her peace on every road."
Sometimes, the female bus conductors receive words of thanks from passengers on their buses; that, they say, is enough to make them feel warm. They know that their devotion is not useless and is acknowledged by many people.
Earning an honest living is always honourable, no matter how simple the job is. The female bus conductors devote themselves every day to finding joy along their routes. — VNS