Present everywhere throughout Saigon's streets are kids looking to make a buck, mostly from foreigners. They have different specialities. Some shine shoes (like these great kids pictured on the left) but most peddle some product or other -- gum, books, coins, drinks.
The kids in the picture at left convinced me to shine my dusty dogs near the Notre Dame Cathedral in central Saigon. They were as curious as they are industrious. "Where you from? Are you married? How old are you?" are questions foreigners get asked a lot. One kid really reminded me of a Vietnamese Eddie Furlong, with his floppy hair, casual attitude and cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Hilarious kids. They all speak very good street English.
Although I'm pretty sure they never read "Power Negotiating" by Roger Dawson, they are natural negotiators. Asking "How much? will elicit a reponse that is 2x what you can get if you take the effort to bargain a bit. If you keep the bargaining process light and fun it can be a very entertaining experience. I like to do the "flinch" when they tell me the price, then make my counter proposal. Of course, I clown around and my expressions are totally exaggerated for effect (Dawn, you would call this the "cheese factor"), and I treat it like the game it is. Fun stuff. These kids asked for 20k dong at first, but settled for 10k dong (about 65 cents). But then they cleverly upsold me another 10k to fix the sole of my shoe. Their hardnosed capitalist instincts brought tears to my eyes...sniff.
While some kids are just trying to make a buck for themselves, there are younger kids (8-11 or so) who I get the feeling are impressed into service by their parents. They usually sell gum. For a while I was buying gum from every kid I met, which was unsustainable unless I wanted to enter the gum reselling business. If you decline their products some resort to tugging at your heart strings with well worn stories like "Why you no buy?! I need money for milk for me, um I mean my younger brother." One kid kept asking why I wouldn't buy and I eventually told him that I didn't like kids. I felt a little evil but it did the trick >:-).