Hanh was one of the many older women, roaming the streets of Hoi An in search of empty bottles/cans. There is not a lot of money in this, but a huge sack containing 10 kilos means 90,000 Dong ($4), or even less. She lived alone in just a single room, surrounded by bags of empty bottles and cans. I think I first met her in 2013. Her husband passed away just two years ago, in 2019. He was mainly sitting or lying on his bed. After his death his bed was replaced by even more bags.
On September 24, 2021 I went to her to deliver a huge bag full of empties. I always separate these from my trash because I know someone will be happy to receive them. Usually I leave them in front of my house and within minutes someone picks them up. Or I drive around with a full bag and give it to the first bottle collector I see. This time I had a lot more and decided to pay Hanh a visit.
I hadn’t seen her for a while, as due to covid my photo tours are not happening. When I arrived at her house immediately I felt something was wrong. Everything looked different. It turned out that she died just two days before, just after her 89th birthday.
Apart from being very photogenic she was quite a character. Often she was very friendly and smiling and on a bad day she was swearing, even in English. I supported her by giving her money whenever I saw her. That could be when she was sitting down somewhere in town, but mostly on my photo tours. She was either at home or out searching for empties with her typical walking cane and a bag. On tour she often extended her hand first to receive money up front and after that she was willing to be photographed by my students. Even when she knew I would always give something to her. She was happy during the photo shoots and loved to see the images on the screens.
Another icon gone. Bye bye Hanh, it was a pleasure to have known you.