by Ngoc Hau
|On the road again: Le Mai delivers newspapers around the suburbs, a job he plans to do until he drops.
People living in My Tho City, in the southern province of Tien Giang, have grown used to the small man driving an old 50cc motorbike. He goes all over, from markets crowded with people to silent valleys, to deliver newspapers. They call him Le Mai.
Le Mai was his pen name when he wrote for the Ap Bac newspaper for dozens of years. His real name is Le Thien Ngu, of Village 1 in the city's Dao Thanh Commune.
Mai has peddled newspapers for 25 years, and is one of a handful of newspaper peddlers in the 330-year-old city who have become well-known for their hard work and perseverence.
"I have a strong attachment to the job. Although I only earn a little money from it, I love it more than any other job," said Mai.
Early in the morning, even when the rain is heavy, he goes to deliver newspapers.
"Seeing readers receive their newspapers with happiness, I feel warm inside," he said.
There are a lot of newspaper stores in My Tho City, but more than 200 people still prefer Mai to deliver newspapers to their houses, although they may receive the newspapers later.
"Le Mai is a joyful newspaper deliverer, and knows a lot about the news and latest information," said Nguyen Thi Lan, a resident who has subscribed to the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper for a long time. "He often spends several minutes talking with me about the news with joy." Thanks to his permanent smile, more and more people ask him to deliver their newspapers and introduce Mai to their friends and neighbours.
Mai's customers said that he charges VND200-300 (1-2 US cents) more for each newspaper, but these are his only wages, so they don't mind paying a little extra.
Moreover, before delivering newspapers to people, Mai takes time to separate the stories and advertisements.
Although he doesn't get paid until the end of each week or even each month, he remains consistently jolly. During his nearly three decades of delivering newspapers, Mai has experienced a lot of interesting "incidents", which are so imprinted in his memory that he still recalls them whenever he passes the places where they took place.
One time, he remembers, a husband ordered a newspaper, but when Mai delivered it, he met the wife, who insisted he take the newspaper home.
By midday the husband phoned Mai to complain that he had not received his newspaper. At first, he blamed Mai, but after Mai explained the situation, he and the husband discussed how to deal with the wife. He now delivers the newspaper to the man's house every morning.
Mai said that sometimes a customer gave him VND200,000 ($9.5) to buy a newspaper worth only a few thousand dong and asked him to give back the change.
"I resigned myself to selling those newspapers on credit, or else I would lose my customers," he said.
In Mai's opinion, newspaper deliverers should be well-spoken and treat customers with kindness and consideration.
Some fastidious customers ask Mai to wait for them for hours to pay their year-end bill, and Mai always waits patiently, even though he knows he will receive only some dozens of thousands of dong.
"The interesting point of the work is that customers always pay their bills, and deliverers do not have to worry about being conned," he said.
Mai's customers do many different jobs, but they all share the enjoyment of reading printed newspapers, although at present the internet is available from urban to rural areas.
Formerly, Mai worked at the Tien Giang Department of Health, and then moved to the provincial Department of Sports and worked for Tien Giang and Ap Bac newspapers. Mai also worked as a contributor for several newspapers in HCM City.
In September 1987, he decided to quit being a journalist and work as a newspaper peddler.
At that time Mai's wife did not agree, as maintaining face was very important to her.
"It was difficult to think I would have to run around the city to sell newspapers to support my family. But if I continued to work for a newspaper for such a small salary, how could I bring up three children?" he said.
Soon, however, he became interested in the job and could not give it up.
Now at the age of 64, Mai does not think about retiring.
"The part of my life I enjoy most is when I bring newspapers to readers, see them read the latest news with happiness and discuss it with them," said Mai.
Mai said that he would do the job until he can no longer drive his motorbike. At that time his son will succeed him, as he does not want to leave readers hanging. — VNS