Part 1: The working poor of Vietnam’s slums: Working, waiting
Part 2: Dream in slums
A woman who only gave her name as Nam lives in this slum of Binh Thanh District’s Ward 15, often forgoing clean water and sanitation.
“We always have to be ready to leave this area at any moment,” Nam said, citing concerns that local authorities could order a slum clearance with little notice.
In that scenario, families with proper paperwork would receive new housing, while undocumented migrants would be left to fend for themselves.
“I’m wondering where they would go and what they would do to earn a living if that happens,” Nam said.
She has reason to fear. Two years ago, a slum by Tau Hu Canal in District 8 disappeared following a clearance order, though several displaced locals stuck around because they couldn’t quit their jobs nor find new housing.
Tran Thi Be Chin and four of her siblings remain in the district, selling sticky rice from delivery tricycles. She said she bought a new place in Binh Chanh District with compensation from the city, but stayed in District 8 “because we do not know how to survive without a job at a new place.”
Like others living in the city’s ghettos, Chin goes where she can make a living.
Spread out among hundreds of temporary residences, roughly 190,000 migrants work in the city’s 14 industrial and export processing zones. Some of them pull in VND200,000 (US$9.6) a day for physical jobs like weaving rope.
In Ward 3 of District 8, roughly 500 families share a slum, including Le Van Hung and four of his brothers, who all work as laborers.
“We are willing to do whatever people want us to do to earn money,” Hung said, “except for illegal jobs.”
Scrap collecting is the common job of people living in slums (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Over the course of 40 years, that has meant construction worker, motorbike taxi driver, and rickshaw driver. Hung’s wife is hired out to clean the homes of wealthy families.
But that could change, because local officials ordered a clearance of the ward’s 500 households a decade ago, to make way for urban development. They have yet to act on it.
“That is a big worry for poor people like me,” Bui Thi Thanh, a local resident, said. “Well-off families in this area also dare not renew their houses for that reason.”
The same anxieties are felt across the city. Pham Thi Ut, 75, lives in the so-called “Darkwater Area” under Chu Y Bridge in District 8.
“I have lived here since I was a child and earned a living by selling noodles,” Ut said. “Slum clearance really worries me most.”
Back in Binh Thanh District, street vendor Nguyen Thi Thoi rents a tiny room accessible only after struggling through a narrow alley cluttered with delivery tricycles and the yokes of sellers.
Simultaneously cooking and shooing off brown, supersize rats, Thoi explained that she left the paddy fields of Tu Nghia District in Quang Ngai province 12 years ago. She now sells packed sticky rice to students and office workers on a sidewalk on Dien Bien Phu Street to earn VND100,000 to VND300,000, while her husband brings in VND150,000 a day as a barber.
Of their VND10 million ($480) monthly income, Thoi said she and her husband saves VND1 million to 2 million, after paying for food, school, and rent.
She said she puts up with the rats and odorous canal of Binh Thanh because she can’t afford VND2 million to 3 million in rent per month.
“If the area is demolished for urban planning, we have no place to go,” she said.
Thoi’s home is among 12 rented rooms housing 60 migrants from the country’s central provinces. Three of the families work in industrial zones, but most sell goods on the street. Despite the hardship, the slum dwellers say they never considered returning to their hometowns. But if clearances continue, they might have to start thinking about it.