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Sad lives adrift on ‘floating slum’ near Hanoi’s iconic bridge

Friday, April 10, 2015, 07:56 GMT+7
Sad lives adrift on ‘floating slum’ near Hanoi’s iconic bridge
These shabby rafts are generally anchored near the Long Bien Bridge, one of Hanoi’s cultural icons and historical witnesses, which spans over the Hong River.

Dozens of households have lived on shabby rafts and in wretched conditions near Hanoi’s hallmark Long Bien Bridge over the Hong (Red) River for years.

Only a stone’s throw from the heart of the capital, twenty-six households with some 100 members in total have called a “floating village” adrift on a section of the river, one of the northern region’s major rivers, their “home-sweet-home” for many years, with some of them having lived there for over two and a half decades.

The residents’ rafts are generally anchored near the Long Bien Bridge, one of the capital’s cultural icons and historical witnesses, which spans over the Hong River and links Hoan Kiem and Long Bien Districts.

These people’s wretched living conditions are a far cry from Hanoi’s hustle and bustle and opulent lifestyle even though they reside just two kilometers from the downtown area.

The residents have no access to electricity or modern comforts.

None of the children there go to high school and most follow their parents’ footsteps as scrap scavengers or hired hands to eke out a meager living.  

As their parents are poor migrant workers, many of the kids do not have birth certificates.

They attend free night classes mostly to learn how to read and write and work by day to earn some money.

Each family has erected a small shed on the river bank near the place where their rafts are anchored.

The sheds, which are well shielded from rain, house the residents’ “treasured” scrap and garbage, which they have scavenged for several days.

When the sheds are filled to the rim, they will sell their contents to scrap dealers in town for some income.

As the tides on the Hong River retreat, these residents’ rafts tend to get stuck near the river bank.

Adults and kids wading in the waters near the bank to push their rafts further into the river is a common sight at this “floating village.”

A five-year-old resident at the "floating village" poses with her granddaughter with some dilapidated rafts in the background. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“We have no choice but to live here, which saves us rent and provides us with shelter though it’s quite ragged and unkempt. We can find no jobs in our hometown and it’s a great humiliation to return to our hometown empty-handed,” Nguyen Thi Hong, the village’s “vice leader,” said.

Elderly villagers, including septuagenarians, cannot enjoy their old age.

They brave biting-cold weather and defy declining health to pick up every piece of garbage or toil hard for some extra money.

Nguyen Thi Thuy, 76, and her 78-year-old husband, Nguyen Van Thanh, got married some 40 years ago.

The couple roamed from place to place across Hanoi and has called the “floating village” home since 2011.

They took shelter in a casually-shielded buoy and have collected garbage and done other grinding work for a skimpy living.

Moved by their story, many people visited the couple last year and helped them build a more decent raft.

Nguyen Dang Duoc, the village’s “head,” and his wife left their hometown for Hanoi in 1989 and “founded” the floating village.     “There were times when the village was home to some 30 families. Some later landed stable jobs and moved ‘onshore,’” Duoc revealed.

According to Le Dang Le, vice chair of the People’s Committee of Ngoc Thuy Ward, located in Long Bien District, the “floating villagers” do not have a permanent residency certificate and thus are not under his ward’s administration.

The residents are therefore not eligible for aid or loans, except for occasional token gifts.

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