By the time Nguyen Thi Thung, grey-haired and sporting traditional ba ba brown clothes, stops her motorbike near the gates of Ha Noi Cancer Hospital, patients, relatives and street vendors holding empty bottles are already queued up.
The 56-year-old Thung quickly opens the pot and begins to pour herbal tea for people gathered around and shouts out, “Free drink, free herbal tea, please!”
Wiping beads of sweat from her brow, Thung says she brings free tea and water to the people twice a day. She started the job when temperatures last month peaked at 40 Celcius and the number of sunstroke hospitalisations increased.
“People here are mostly poor and from rural areas. They stand here waiting for their turn to get treatment or for relatives who are suffering from all kinds of cancer. They are all feeling miserable,” she said.
Thung lives in a small house on Phuc Tan Street and takes care of a paralysed husband. She says she is also poor so she knows how much the other poor hospital dwellers suffer.
When she said she wanted to help the people outside the gates in the crazy hot weather, her son immediately agreed.
“He gives me VND100,000 (US$4.6) a day to buy bottled water and herbal leaves to make tea. It comes from his income, working as a xe om (taxi motorbike driver),” Thung said.
Thung’s water and tea have become a familiar sight to many at the hospital.
Phung Thi Sa, a cervical cancer patient from a Muong community in northern Phu Tho Province, says she always goes out to the gates for the free water.
She also brings an empty bottle for extra water which helps her save up to VND15,000 ($0.69) per day.
Sa pays VND3 million ($139.5) for each period of treatment so she makes the trek to the hospital alone to save money.
“Ten thousand dong can be a small amount to many people, but for cancer patients from rural areas like me, it’s really helpful,” Sa said.
Nguyen Thi Nhung, whose husband receives treatment at the hospital, says she feels thankful for every glass of water she drank, everyday.
“I get free lunch and water at the hospital,” she said, adding, “There’re many kind people in this life. I believe so”.
Thung’s free water motorbike has cooled poor people at the hospital and passers-by.
In many corners of the city, poor labourers also know the sweetness of a free cup of water. There are free “water can” locations set up voluntarily by generous locals on Hang Khoai, Hang Bong, Bao Khanh, Nguyen Thai Hoc and Giai Phong streets.
Tran Minh Huong, a fried doughnut seller at Hang Be Market, said she isn’t weary of the free water nearby on Hang Khoai street because it is bottled mineral water.
“The owner puts out new cups everyday. Some people use their own cups to assure hygiene. It’s totally fine,” she said.
Vuong Thi Theu, who supplies free water on Giai Phong street, says the banner ‘free drink, don’t hesitate’ didn’t help much at the beginning. She had to sit next to the can and invite people who approached.
“Many people were surprised and asked me why free water. I just replied that it’s hot so my two friends and I put it here for thirsty people,” she said.
Theu buys the plastic jugs of mineral water from a shop nearby and replaces them when they go empty.
Theu says she is not sure how long she can continue to do it, but she would try as long as there are people coming for water.
“I don’t think much about my action. I just feel happy when doing it,” she said.