HanoiWhen she heard that she had a guest, Ms. Nguyen Thi Tinh groped step by step, touching the wall until she found the light switch.
The 15 m2 room of an 87-year-old woman, located in an old villa, was surrounded by furniture, so day or night it was as black as ink.
This is the place where Mrs. Tinh used to receive guests, the altar and also the bed. Half of the bench holds books, under the chair is a place to store medicines. Some paintings were placed on the floor because of lack of space to hang. The place where the table should be should make room for the reclining mattress of Mrs. Tinh and also the seat of the guests.
Ms. Tinh and her husband are both former officers of the Hanoi Department of Foreign Trade. Due to displacement, grandparents had to wander, so they were given a corner in the villa located on Phan Chu Trinh street, Hoan Kiem district. Although only 15 m2, this room was once inhabited by 6 people. In addition to the main loft, she and her husband built an additional loft on the roof of the kitchen for two sons and a daughter to sleep.
Her children all told her that she had to have her own house to get married, but this room “didn’t have any space to squeeze in”. Fifteen years ago, the eldest son bought a plot of land of more than 15 square meters next to it and got married when he was over 30 years old. Her second son and daughter also chose to leave the villa when getting married.
The plight of Mrs. Tinh’s house is no different from 12 other families living in this villa. All have only one bathroom, one shared toilet. “After work, rain or shine, we have to queue in front of the bathroom to wait for our turn,” said Mrs. Tinh, looking at three bathrooms covered in black moss because of mold. The hardest part is on heavy rainy days, you still have to wade to take a bath because the water is almost knee-deep. In winter, if you want to take a warm bath, each house boils 3-4 thermos of water.
Ms. Tinh said that for two years now, the flood scene has stopped because the city has installed a drainage system. Some households have built their own toilets, so there are no queues.
She is known to live in a villa, but Mrs. Tinh and her husband rarely invite guests to visit. Once, a few close friends took the initiative to visit, they were surprised by her cramped living space. “Why is your brother, who is a high-ranking official, lives like …”, one person left the sentence in mid-sentence. “I know they’re right and don’t mean anything, but I’m very moved,” Ms. Tinh said.
In the house, she hangs many photos taken at her brother’s and sister’s house, but has never taken any pictures in her own home. “What’s the point of taking pictures like this, whoever sees them will laugh,” sighed the old woman, who likes to take pictures.
Also in an old villa like Mrs. Tinh, the room of Mrs. Tran Thi Hanh, 64 years old, is larger with 20 m2 but life is not much different.
Ms. Hanh got married and lived in an old French villa at 57B Hang Bo, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi since the early 1980s. As a rented house since her parents-in-law’s time, she and her husband have to pay more than 200,000 VND per month. . The house is inhabited by 7 households, with a total usable area of about 100 m2.
Her family’s 20-square-meter room at the end of the corridor on the second floor is sometimes the residence of 7-8 members. The living room cum bedroom and the kitchen and bathroom are just enough for two people to stand with their backs to each other. When taking a bath, everyone has to pull the curtain to separate the cooking area. Water used is from a cement tank built in the early 90’s, where Ms. Hanh has to raise goldfish to kill bugs. Previously, the house did not have a toilet, so it had to be shared with many households. For seven years now, she asked for a corner at the foot of the stairs to build a toilet, but when it rains, the rain often gets wet.
Hanh’s family shares a one-square-meter balcony with the apartment next door, dedicated to drying clothes. Although the balcony faces Hang Bo Street, a busy neighborhood in the heart of the capital, this woman does not dare to go out to enjoy the fresh air, because she is afraid that the tiles will fall from the top. “The balcony door had to be closed all the time due to many rats. At one point, my family caught a few every day”, Ms. Hanh shared.
Rats are not the only fear. Leaking rain has been an obsession for her family for decades.
Before, in addition to husband and wife and two daughters, there were also sisters-in-law’s family and father-in-law living together. To expand the area, the family built more lofts, as a place to study for the children, but now their biggest use is to prevent rainwater from falling below. On rainy days, when water rushed into the house, Mrs. Hanh constantly used a broom to sweep the water out, but it couldn’t. “Without a quick sweep, the water was once ten centimeters high,” the 64-year-old woman said of the heavy rain over a year ago.
The family of Mrs. Tinh or Mrs. Hanh is typical of life in an old villa in Hanoi. The capital currently has more than 1,200 villas, including 367 state-owned, 732 mixed-owned between the state and households or between households; 117 units are privately owned. The old villas are mainly located in the districts of Ba Dinh, Hoan Kiem, Hai Ba Trung, Dong Da and Tay Ho. Most of them have been built for more than 100 years, many works are not maintained and repaired regularly, so they are degraded and damaged.
In mid-April, Hanoi intended to sell 600 old state-owned villas, with 5,686 households signing leases and sold to nearly 5,000 households. Currently, 713 households are renting in unsold villas.
Regarding the conditions for buying a house, the leader of the Hanoi Department of Construction said that only those who are using stable, have a previous house rental and distribution contract will be considered for purchase. However, the plan was later put on hold for review.
“I don’t know if I am eligible to buy it, what will the price be, my family can afford to buy it again or not,” wondered Mrs. Hanh. Both husband and wife are retired workers, with a total salary of more than 8 million dong a month. If she had to leave, she did not know where to go, because she was used to life here. This woman’s biggest wish is to have the villa renovated by the state so that she won’t have to worry every time the rainy season comes.
Mr. Tran Van Cao, the leader of Group 5, Hang Bo Street, where Hanh’s family lives, said that renovating the villa street is the permanent desire of people living here. “However, in order to proceed, it needs the consent of many agencies, units and people. This is not easy,” he said.
Like Mrs. Hanh, Mrs. Tinh, even though she lived a miserable life, did not want to leave. “This is a place to worship my father, my husband, a place where many memories are attached, so I will still stay. I just hope to be renovated to make it more spacious and clean”, Ms. Tinh said and said that it is a 10-minute walk from the house. Right out of Hoan Kiem Lake, you can go for a walk and meet friends.
Buying a piece of land to build a house next to Mrs. Tinh’s villa, 83-year-old Mrs. Tran Thi Hoa also lived in poverty in an old villa. She decided to move out for four years now to enjoy a free life, but not far from the old town. “I want to live out my old days, free and quiet,” said the woman, a former official of Hanoi’s Foreign Trade Department.
She hopes the city government has a solution to renovate thousands of villas in Hanoi, to keep the capital’s beauty both ancient and modern, but not out of date with civilization.
Hai Hien – Pham Nga