Bulgarian bike repairer, Georgi Stoilkov, has visited many countries around the world but has chosen Hanoi, Vietnam, as the place to settle and start up his business.
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Georgi left his family to travel the length and breadth of Europe, living on bike repairs for decades.
He recalls when he was a child, he often rode a bike and repaired it himself. He dropped out of university after the first two years and decided to live on his own. He moved to Greece with his trusty bike, and it has not left his side since.
“I have at least 25 years of experience in bike repairs,” Georgi proudly reveals.
Living a long way from home, he worked incredibly hard to make ends meet. Many people wonder how he developed such a real passion for cycle repairs.
“I do not know. I could work on a broken part for a whole week without boredom,” he says.
Georgi eventually left Europe for the US where he hoped he would spend more time pursuing his satisfying hobby. He contacted bike shops and managed to find a job there. With a wealth of experience, he could fix almost any problem on any bike, leaving customers very satisfied with his work
“Perhaps, when I was in Bulgaria, I had no books or newspapers to read, instead, I spent time studying and working on my bike. I was curious about new technology, and when I had a new bike, I devoted all my time to it.”
“We have to work to earn a living, but money is not everything. We need a real passion for it,” Georgi confides.
Georgi is very careful about bike donation. He says he only gives or sells bikes to people he believes are genuine enthusiasts. “ A bike is a very individual thing, it’s like a companion,” he adds.
Two years ago, Georgi met Guim Valls Teruel – founder of a bike lovers club in Hanoi- and his Vietnamese wife who were on a worldwide tour. He said he had not been to Asia and only knew Vietnam through the internet. He told the couple he hoped to visit Vietnam one day.
His dream came true when Teruel returned to Vietnam and sent an invitation to Georgi to join them. He packed his luggage and set off a new adventure. He started working as a bike repairer for Teruel’s club.
“The idea sounded crazy, but why not?” Georgi says.
Having lived in Hanoi for six months, he found the living costs were not as low as he expected, but he had fallen in love with local people and the lifestyle.
“I didn’t realise how much I would love Hanoi. I should have come here when I was young,” he laughs.
Georgi says he was shocked by Hanoi’s chaotic traffic when he first arrived, but gradually he became familiar with it. Now he knows how to cross the road without fear.
He loves Vietnamese people and his colleagues because of their open-mindedness and hospitality. He also loves traditional Vietnamese dishes such as pho bo (noodle soup with beef), nem (spring rolls), and bun cha (noodles with grilled pork).
Georgi says he has travelled to Ha Long, Saigon and Danang, and feels there is plenty of opportunity in Vietnam.
“Vietnamese people used bicycles as the main mean of transport several decades ago. They later travelled by motorcycles, and are now turning to bicycles again,” he says.
Georgi says his customers vary and most of them are foreigners living in Hanoi. He is happy to bring new technology to Vietnam and hopes to stay here longer.