HCM CITY — Despite missing an arm, Lê Thị Kim Trâm is doing an inspiring feat: making a living as a hairdresser and raising two kids by herself.
Trâm, 41, opened her own barber shop in District 2’s Thảo Điền Ward in 2007, making use of her skills that had been passed down from her family. However, in 2016 while riding her motorbike, she had an accident in which a truck crushed her left arm, leaving her with only one arm.
During her stay at the hospital, she kept thinking about how she could continue her job and thought that she might be able to do everything one-handed.
“When I returned to my job, I was lucky to have a frequent customer who allowed me to practise cutting his hair with my one arm. Before, I had been able to do a person’s hair in around seven minutes, but it took me around 50 minutes, and it didn't even look that good," she told Việt Nam News.
Lê Thị Kim Trâm, who was left with only one arm following an accident four years ago, pursues her passion as a hairdresser. — VNS Photo Việt Dũng
Despite her worries about her haircutting skills, the customer spread the word about Trâm, encouraging more people to visit her shop. More and more customers were supportive in helping her return to work. With time, her skills greatly improved, and now she can cut hair just as well as any other abled barbers or hairdressers.
Unfortunately, not every customer was as open-minded and generous; when customers saw her for the first time, some were nervous about letting her cut their hair, while others outright took their leave.
“But customers who are fine with me cutting their hair always return and introduce me to other people. That is a great motivator for me, and I'm really happy about it.”
Trâm’s barber shop is called Nghi Nghiêm, after the names of her two kids.
Watching Trâm work is a sight to behold: she uses her pinky and ring finger to lift a customer’s hair up in place of a comb, then uses her three remaining fingers to hold the scissors to cut the hair.
Trâm is also able to use hair trimmers and razors with ease, delicately trimming bits of hair from her customers with great precision, who are now more comfortable with letting Trâm pursue her expertise.
Most spectacularly of all, her skill of removing ear wax (a common service offered by Vietnamese barber shops) even surpasses several barbers with two functional arms.
Ear wax removal is a difficult task that requires a great deal of finesse, and even abled barbers can struggle with removing wax located deep inside customers’ ears. Trâm, on the other hand, can meticulously clean out even the tiniest bits.
Watching her work so effortlessly may make you forget that she had to go through a great deal of practice to hone her skills.
Unsurprisingly, Trâm has had to improvise after her accident: she uses her thighs to clutch certain equipment or to help her roll cotton bits onto wax removal tools or a piece of flexible plastic to flatten the customer's ear.
Trâm even uses her leg to lean the customer's chair back for ear wax cleaning, and she has to bend in certain ways to get a better look inside customers’ ears, which she would not have to do if she had two arms.
“At first it was really challenging, but with passion for my job and supportive customers, I am still doing my job to this day," she said.
Nguyễn Đình Biền, a frequent customer, said that he had always found her skills to be great, and admired her determination. Even when she was practising with one arm, he still preferred her over others.
Trâm raises two kids and does everything for her family by herself. — Photo courtesy of Lê Thị Kim Trâm
One year after her accident, her husband told her that he wanted to divorce her.
“I was devastated. I felt like I had just escaped death from my accident, so how could my husband hurt me like that? Still, I decided that it was just fate so I let him go, and began anew, using my one arm to raise my two kids.”
After the divorce, Trâm and her two children moved out and rented a place on another street in the same ward, where she set up her barber shop.
Trâm has been shouldering multiple responsibilities, from earning an income and paying school fees and rent to daily problems like her bike breaking down or her children getting sick.
“Even though I sometimes feel really bad about myself, I try my hardest to keep my cool and deal with my problems so that my kids do not have to worry about me and can focus on their education.”
Her job allows her to raise her two kids, but though she has a frequent customer base, she charges less than other barbers, so her income is not that great.
“Still, I get to do my job and my kids still have their mother, so I am happy," she said.
Thanks to recent media coverage, more and more people have been inspired by Trâm, who is originally from Nha Trang.
“Some people have told me that they had been involved in an accident and felt really bad about themselves, but they learned from my example and decided to persevere and overcome their challenges, which filled me with joy," Trâm said with a bright smile.
“I hope that my determination can reach more and more people, so they will love themselves more. Even if your body is disabled, your spirit does not have to be.” — VNS