Where selling bread put two on a roll
It was a hard life, but they were devoted to their work and to each other.
The two teen sisters would sit from dawn to dusk on Ly Chinh Thang Street, each with a basket of bread that they’d brought from a bakery, and save as much as they could for a rainy day.
A few year later, they’d saved enough to invest in a trolley on which they sold meat-pies and egg sandwiches in front of the Gia Long Lycee (now Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Secondary school).
Their hard work and perseverance paid off again. In 1971, they bought a booth to sell bread in the old Ben Thanh Market, now popular as Cho Cu (Old Market) in Ton That Dam Street, off Ham Nghi Street.
Now they were on a roll. It was not long before they were able to buy a house at the 66 Ham Nghi Street in District 1, close to the Cho Cu Market.
Recalls Nguyen Thi My, the younger of the sisters, now in her late fifties: “First we just sold sandwiches. Then my sister (Nguyen Thi Dau, 60 years old now) said why don’t we hire some bakers to make the bread in our house itself, since we had some space and, moreover it would be more profitable.”
Even as she spoke, My took down orders that some restaurants were placing with the highly popular Nhu Lan Bakery, a landmark on Ham Nghi Street.
Her staff were all busy with customers coming in and leaving with loaves of bread, meat pies, ham or other snacks for their lunch.
The amazing self-made success has not dampened the sister’s enthusiasm, more than three decades later.
My says that her daughter, a doctor at the Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital, helps them improve upon their recipes and introduce new ones, translating from cook-books in English.
The number of motorbikes, cars and cyclos that are always lined up in front of Nhu Lan Bakery, and especially during Tet (the Lunar New Year festival) season, is eloquent testimony to the quality and teste of its products.
My and Dau are not the only entrepreneurs taking advantage of the prime location that they now hold in the heart of the nation’s commercial hub.
Nguyen Phuong Mai, a resident of the General Department of Geology Living Quarters on the street, says many use their houses facing the streets as shops or offices and return to larger houses on the outskirts of the city in the evening.
“Houses here are quite small, but very convenient for businesses and travelling to different parts of the city,: she says.
55 year-old Mai, a retired State employee, and her husband, a geologist, moved into their apartment in this American-style building in 1985 when the couple decided to move to HCM City from Hanoi. Many other residents of the quarters are also those who moved south from other parts of the country.
Close to the harbour and the city belt, the street, together with Ben Chuong Duong (Chuong Duong Harbour) Street, used to be the old Saigon Wall Street where most of the banks and exchange centres in town were located. Some of them still have their offices here.
Running from Ton Duc Thang Street to the Quach Thi Trang Square in front of the Ben Thanh Market, the 1km-long, 56km-wide street also houses many other State-owed companies and corporations including the Fisheries Economics Institute and the Ha Long Fisheries Corporation.
The street also provides trucks and other means of transport access to the city centre.
Looking at the asphalted three-lane street with its ceaseless traffic, it is difficult to imagine that it was on this exact spot that the gurgling sound of water flowing could be heard-more than a hundred years ago.
In the early days of HCm City, Ham Nghi Street was one of the three canals in town, the other two being Le Loi and Nguyen Hue.
The canal then two roads running alongside-called Rue No.3 by the French when the colonialists began numbering the streets in the city in 1862.
They later named the one-way road stretching from Bach Dang Harbour to the Quach Thi Trang Square Canton, and the opposite road Ayot.
In 1870, the canal was filled up and in 1877, the two roads were merged together and called Canton.
The governor of the southern region in 1897 decided to separate the road with a divided to separate the road with a divider, and the road were called Krantz and Duperre’.
In April 1920, the two roads became one again as Boulevard de La Somme. Since 1955, this has been called Ham Nghi Street, after a king of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Patriot to the end
King Ham Nghi (1872-1943) was one of the kings in the Nguyen Dynasty who refused to “sell the country” to the French colonialists. He was born Nguyen Phuc Ung Lich into the family of a high-ranking court official and later became an adopted son of King Tu Duc. Lich was made king king 1884 after his older brother, King Kien Phuc, was poisoned by two powerful regents Nguyen Van Tuong and Ton That Thuyet.
The new king was persuaded into launching a surprise attack against the French in the then imperial capital city of Hue in mid 1885 by Thuyet. The attack failed and Hue Citadel fell to the French. The King and his regent fled to Tan So in central Quang Binh Province and then Huong Khe in the neighbouring Ha Tinh Province from where the young king issued an appeal asking the general population to join the freedom struggle. The Can Vuong (Save the King) Movement attracted a great number of patriots, among them many famous scholars like Ton That Dam, Ton That Thiep and Le Truc. The Can Vuong troops inflicted great damage on the French, and were a constant worry for the colonialists.
In 1888, King Ham Nghi was captured by the French, betrayed by one of his own servants, Truong Quang Ngoc.
When their efforts to have Ham Nghi become a lackey failed, the French exiled the young Vietnamese king to Algeria in Africa, where he lived until his death aged 71 in 1943.
Because the family has the unique distinction of having three brothers made king, each with a different story, a popular folk song of those days goes thus.
A family gives births to three kings.
One survives, one dies and the other loses and flees.
The surviving king was Ham Nghi’s younger brother King Dong Khanh.