Life about to get tougher for Saigon's death creepers

By Thanh Nguyen   July 17, 2017 | 07:00 pm GMT+7

While some call it a graveyard, others call it home and rely on this land of the dead to make a living.

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Binh Hung Hoa is the biggest cemetery of Ho Chi Minh City with around 75,000 graves, but for some people it's a place to take shelter and make a living, mostly from taking care of those graves. Now a plan to clear the cemetery to make way for a residential area has left their futures up in the air.

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This photo shows Dao Thi Luom's 20-square-meter makeshift house. “We’ve been staying here for nearly three years. We only have to pay for electricity here. My son and grandchild live here with me, even when they don’t like it, but it costs a lot to rent a proper house elsewhere.” the 63-year-old woman said.

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Next to Luom’s place is a smaller house measuring only 15 square meters belonging to Vo Thi Thu, 61. Thu lives here with her husband and mother, and earns VND500,000 per month ($22) from cleaning graves. “I was really scared at first but it’s been 20 years and it just seems normal now. I heard the news that the cemetery is going to be cleared, so I’m worried about where I'm going to live after that.”

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For these kids, every open space is simply a playground.

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Ly Chi Cuong, 64, said he has been taking care of the graves at Binh Hung Hoa for more than a year. “If the graves are clean, I get paid enough for a coffee and that’s it. I'm not that concerned about the plan because I’m old enough to retire.”

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Nguyen Thi Hong cleans a grave, something she has been doing for the past 15 years for VND1.5 million each month. “I’m very concerned because the city is going to move the graves and I don’t know where to go or what to do after that,” she said.

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This scrap collector uses a grave to stash his findings.

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A man melts copper wire in the graveyard to sell. “This place is getting more and more polluted,” said a nearby street vendor.

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The pond next to the cemetery is where locals come to relax at the weekend. The 44-hectare (100-acre) graveyard will lose its current occupants to make way for high-rise buildings, parks and public works.

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Two people look at an announcement outlining plans to clear Binh Hung Hoa.

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Binh Hung Hoa was built on the outskirts of Saigon in 1975, but rapid urbanization has letf it in the middle of a residential area. The city decided to clear the cemetery in 2008, but work to remove the graves only started last year. The plan is to remove 16,500 graves this year.