Saigon octogenarian retains love for shoemaking over seven decades

Saigon octogenarian retains love for shoemaking over seven decades
Trinh Ngoc, nearly 90 now, is one of the few shoemaking artisans who have still pursued the occupation of hand-making shoes in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

An octogenarian in Ho Chi Minh City has earned people’s respect for his passion for making leather shoes, a job he has pursued for over 70 years.

Trinh Ngoc, nearly 90 now, spends every day manually making footwear at a small store on Ly Chinh Thang Street in District 3.

Ngoc is one of the few shoemaking artisans who are still loyal to their job despite it hardly earning them enough to get by in the city.

Trinh Ngoc, nearly 90 now, has always kept his love for making shoes alive during the past 70 years. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Trinh Ngoc, nearly 90 now, has always kept his love for making shoes alive during the past 70 years. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Many others have given up, as customers increasingly prefer imported shoes over local handmade ones.

Ngoc entered the world of footwear at the age of 14, working at a shoemaking workshop in Cambodia.

“In 1970, I returned to Vietnam empty-handed and had to start my career from scratch,” Ngoc recalled.

“My connection with shoemaking was too strong that I always tried to live with this occupation no matter how hard life was.

“Then God gave me luck so that an old man like me could make a name for myself in this job.”

Ngoc could not remember how many shoes he had made with his own hands during his 70 years in the occupation.

He said he used to make shoes for the late King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, as well as members of the Cambodian royal family.

In Vietnam, his customers include big names in the show business such as singers Quang Linh and Dam Vinh Hung.

Molds used to made shoes for Vietnamese singers Quang Linh (front) and Dam Vinh Hung (back), two of Ngoc’s celebrity customers. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Molds used to made shoes for Vietnamese singers Quang Linh (front) and Dam Vinh Hung (back), two of Ngoc’s celebrity customers. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Sometimes the octogenarian also wanted to quit his job to spend more time for himself, but could not resist running back to work after only a few days of resting.

“I came from Hanoi to ask him to make me a pair of shoes,” Nham, 28, who got to know about Ngoc’s store by word of mouth among his friends.

Nham (left), 28, flew from Hanoi to meet Ngoc and order a pair of shoes from the artisan. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Nham (left), 28, flew from Hanoi to meet Ngoc and order a pair of shoes from the artisan. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

“It’s really interesting listening to the stories he tells,” he added.

“I love nostalgic things, so this shoe store really excites me.”

Ngoc’s shoes are sold at a reasonable price although people have suggested him to price up his works.

To this man, making shoes is an art that he does not want to put a price tag on.

Vietnamese shoemaker Trinh Ngoc (left) measures a customer’s feet before making a pair of shoes for him. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Vietnamese shoemaker Trinh Ngoc (left) measures a customer’s feet before making a pair of shoes for him. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc sketches shoes on paper before making them by hand. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc sketches shoes on paper before making them by hand. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

It takes around ten steps to complete a handmade pair of shoes. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

It takes around ten steps to complete a handmade pair of shoes. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Shoes by the old artisan are made with sophistication and in great details. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Shoes by the old artisan are made with sophistication and in great detail. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc is able to make one to two pairs of shoes a day. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc is able to make one to two pairs of shoes a day. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Trinh Ngoc, nearly 90 now, has always kept his love for making shoes alive during the past 70 years. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Trinh Ngoc, nearly 90 now, has always kept his love for making shoes alive during the past 70 years. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Despite his age, Ngoc said he will continue doing his job for as long as his health allows him to. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Despite his age, Ngoc said he will continue doing his job for as long as his health allows him to. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc is seen making shoes on the fourth floor of his house in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc is seen making shoes on the fourth floor of his house in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

Ngoc is seen making shoes on the fourth floor of his house in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Duyen Phan/ Tuoi Tre

Ngoc is seen making shoes on the fourth floor of his house in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

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