Open sesame!

Duc Hanh meets the man who saves your blushes after you lose your keys or leave them inside the car.

For me the best place to find a locksmith is in Vu Huu Loi street. If you’re really in trouble, you can even invite the locksmith to your house and within several minutes, i guarantee, your door will be open as quickly as Alibaba could say “open sesame!” three times.

Tran Quang Dung is the street locksmith who cut keys for my grandfather for nearly 20 years. Dung was born in Ngu Hiep village in Thanh Tri district of Hanoi, as well-known village for its “Golden Handed Locksmiths” who can make, repair, adjust or install any kind of locks or make any kind of key.

In just 5-10 minutes, the most modern of locks on a motorbike, car or house can be opened wide. In under 90 minutes, top notch safety boxes can be violated. It seems nothing can thwart Dung’s talents – not even locks produced by Germany’s Zikon, America’s Yale or Italy’s Solex.

His tools are simple – a tiny machine to copy the form of the key, a bunch of draft keys, a steel file, a nipper, a hammer, and several bike spokes or iron wire.

Bikes spokes and iron wire are used as skeleton keys to open doors with the help of just a delicate touch and hearing.

One day, my two-year-old daughter locked herself in in my bedroom, a room for which we had lost the keys for.

I drove over Dung’s workshop, where a crowd had gathered around a hip young man sitting on a fancy motorbike worth nearly $6,000. The young man bet Dung couldn’t open his lock which was produced and insured by an international company. But only 10 seconds later, Dung had made VND200,000. Easy money.

My bedroom lock wasn’t even a challenge. With a prick or two from iron wire it opened instantly. Inside my daughter was still happily playing.

After dropping him back to his workshop, I decided to stick around to see what kind of clients he served on a normal day. He tells me he’s been asked by banks to open safety boxes, and police to open cases concealing evidence. He even claims the police offered him a job, but he refused.

“I like this job and I love the freedom of being a street vendor. I’m very happy to earn my living here,” said Dung.

For each new key, he earns VND5,000 – VND10,000. To open door locks it costs around VND20,000 – VND50,000. For top security locks, it costs at least VND200,000 and the same for opening cars.

As I chat to Dung a man in smart casual cloths jumps off a xe om. Rather flustered he tells Dung he’s left his keys inside his brand new Lexus.

The man’s carelessness is Dung’s fortune. He quickly says goodbye, grabs his bits and pieces and jumps on a xe om to follow his client.


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