Covid forces HCMC conductors to sleep in buses

By Quynh Tran   October 25, 2021 | 08:30 pm GMT+7
After months of unemployment following HCMC’s suspension of transport services, many out-of-pocket conductors have taken to sleeping on the bus.
Since the end of June, when the city stopped operating buses, many drivers at the Ho Chi Minh City National University station (Thu Duc City) lost their jobs. Not having enough money to pay for accommodation and return to his hometown, Mr. Mai Thai Cuong (52 years old, from Hanoi) had to stay in the car. Life in the countryside was difficult, he moved to Saigon to work as a bus attendant for 2 years. When the epidemic broke out, it took more than a month for anyone to think that the trains had not yet rolled. In the past few months, my colleagues and I have been trying to hold out and eat every meal, said Mr. Cuong.

Many bus attendants working for Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City (VNUHCM) in Thu Duc City lost their jobs at the end of June when the city stopped bus services to curb the spread of Covid.
Mai Thai Cuong, a 52-year-old from Hanoi, has been living inside a bus since he doesn't have enough money to rent accommodation or return to his hometown. Life in the rural area is difficult, so he moved to the southern metropolis to work as a bus conductor two years ago.
"I thought the Covid resurgence in late April would be stamped out after one month and didn't expect bus services to shut down this long. In the past few months, my colleagues and I have been trying to hold out in these buses," he said.

He lives alone, so the equipment on the car is quite simple, only a few clothes, a mini gas stove, a water tank, a bed to sleep on... Water is collected from the bus gutter or purchased from outside. There were times when there was not enough water, so he bathed once every two days. Shrimp noodles with eggs are a long-term resistance dish during the pandemic. Now Im tired of those foods, fortunately the city lets them take home, so the meal has improved, he said.

Since Cuong lives alone, he only has a few clothes, a mini gas stove, a sleeping mat and a few jugs of water.
He collects rainwater for daily use or purchases some to drink. When there isn’t enough water, he would bathe once every two days.
"Instant noodles and eggs are the dishes I eat the most to help me stay afloat during the month-long lockdown. Now I've gotten tired of eating those. Thankfully, I now have more options to choose from as the city allows takeaway services," he said.

For the past 4 days, Mr. Cuong and 3 other flight attendants have applied for a job as an assistant, working from morning to afternoon at a construction site 4 km from the bus station. For him, he now has a seasonal job to pay for while waiting for the bus to return.

In the past four days, Cuong and three other bus conductors got jobs as construction workers at a site four kilometers from the bus station.
While waiting for the bus service to resume operation, Cuong said he would take on any seasonal job to earn a living.

At 5:30 p.m., after returning home from work, Mr. Cuong cleaned his house - bus number 53, from the National University to Le Hong Phong Street (District 10), where he has been living for 4 months. Now that I have to hide my house, life here is still fine. My family in the countryside is also difficult, but I am unemployed, so I am very sad because I cant send money to my children, he said.

At 5:30 p.m., after returning home from work, Cuong cleans his "house", bus number 53, which usually runs from VNUHCM to Hong Phong Street in District 10.
"I've been hiding from my family that my life here is still fine. My family in the countryside is also poor. Now I am unemployed, I am very sad that I can't send money home to my children," he lamented.

Along with Mr. Cuong, after work, Thach Cham Pha (37 years old, Khmer ethnicity) took advantage of picking some home-grown vegetables to prepare dinner. From Tra Vinh to Saigon to earn a living for more than 15 years, he did all kinds of jobs such as painting and repairing before becoming a flight attendant for two years. I have a heart condition and cant do heavy work, so its okay to follow the bus profession. My salary is about 6 million dong, its not enough to pay for accommodation, so Ive been on the bus before, he said.

Similar to Cuong, after work, Thach Cham Pha took advantage of his free time to plant some vegetables to incorporate into his meals.
The 37-year-old of Khmer origin moved from southern Tra Vinh Province to Ho Chi Minh City to earn a living more than 15 years ago. For the first two years, he has done many construction jobs to survive.
"I have a heart condition and can't do heavy work, so I switched to working on a bus. My monthly salary is around VND6 million ($264.34), which is not enough to rent accommodation. So I've been on the bus since before the Covid outbreak broke out," he said.

The main dish of Mr. Phas dinner is fried food from noon. With a long seniation at the bus, his tools are quite complete. In addition to using kitchen tools and spices, there are also rice cookers, fans, thermos, blankets... During the months of separation, a few other bus attendants pooled money to buy food together, making use of the corner of Mr. Phas kitchen to cook together. The food they hoarded was sent by the neighbors refrigerator next to the bus station.

Pha's dinner mainly comprises fried leftovers from noon. On the bus, he has installed a rice cooker, fans and blankets.
During the social distancing period, a few other conductors pooled money to buy food, making use of the corner of Pha's kitchen to cook together. They asked a neighbor living near the bus station to let them store food and produce in their refrigerator.

At 6:30 p.m., just finished cooking, he took the opportunity to shower and wash clothes. Buckets of water are bought from a house next to the bus station for 50,000 VND a month. Mr. Pha said that the water here has alum, so it is only used for bathing and washing. To cook and drink, you have to catch rain from the car gutters or buy enough bottled water. Electricity is also fished by peoples houses for 100,000 VND per month.

After finishing dinner, he takes a shower and washes his clothes at 6:30 p.m.
He pays a household next to the bus station VND50,000 a month to use their water, which he puts in buckets and carries back to use for bathing and washing, and VND100,000 per month to share their electricity bill.
To cook and drink, he has to collect rainwater or buy bottled water.

Every day, I only dare to spend about 50,000 VND, and I also save money to buy medicine. In the past few months, I have been supported with little food, only enough money to endure. About half a month, the bus has not run, money is not available. Accumulation is probably not enough to live on, said Mr. Pha.

"Every day, I only dare to spend about VND50,000. I also have to save money to buy medicine. In the past few months, I have been supported with some food by donors.
"If bus services won't resume operation soon, I don't think I could hold out much longer with such little savings left," he said.

Opposite Mr. Phas bus is the home of Mr. Tran Phu Quys father and son. Two weeks ago, he picked up his youngest 4-year-old son from Long Thanh district (Dong Nai) to stay with him to ease his memory. Quy has two children, the oldest is 12 years old and lives in the countryside with his grandparents in Dong Thap. The wife works as a worker in Dong Nai and raises the youngest child. Because of work, each person has to stay in one place. In the evening, Quy often hangs out in a hammock with his son to watch the phone or call his mother. The cooking is done in Mr. Phas kitchen. The boy likes to stay on the bus because he can run around everywhere, so he doesnt want to go home. In the five years of doing this job, I have never thought of the car as home, but Im used to it, the 41-year-old man said. .

Opposite to Pha's bus is the "home" of Tran Phu Quy and his son.
Two weeks ago, he picked up his youngest four-year-old from Long Thanh District, Dong Nai Province, to feel less lonely.
Quy has two children, the oldest is 12 and lives in the countryside with his grandparents in Dong Thap Province. His wife works at a factory in Dong Nai and raises the youngest child. Due to the nature of their work, Quy and his wife have to stay far from each other.
In the evening, he often hangs out in a hammock with his son to watch something on the phone together or call his wife.
The cooking is done in Pha's kitchen.
"My son likes to live in the bus station because he can run around everywhere. So he doesn't want to go home. During the five years of doing this job, I have never thought I would be living and sleeping in a bus one day. But I'm used to it now," the 41-year-old confirmed.

The inside of the bus is stuffy, so during the day people often go to the park near the bus station to play or go for a walk. When night falls, they often sit and drink tea and chat around a homemade wheeled table.

Since the inside of the bus is stuffy, conductors often go to the park nearby to relax or go for a walk.
When night falls, they often sit and drink tea and chat around a homemade wheeled table.

Life here is very boring, when it rains, sleep early from 9 pm. This bus is old, cant close all the doors, so mosquitoes come in a lot, have to sleep under a net, said Mr. Pha.

"Life here is very boring. If it rains, I will go to sleep early at 9 p.m.," Pha said.
"This bus is old and can't close all its doors all the way, so mosquitoes come in a lot, meaning I have to sleep under a net."

Quys father and son also turned off the lights, preparing to go to bed quite early, some lying in a hammock, some on the floor. His car is new, the doors are closed so there is no need to have a curtain. He said, the most expected thing is that the bus will soon run again and be as crowded as before, in order to have money to pay the debt of 20 million VND borrowed to take care of his children during the pandemic. Nguyen Vinh Tung, manager of the bus station of Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, said that there are about 80 buses here and nearly 50 drivers and flight attendants stuck due to the epidemic. Most of the stranded people rent a motel room near the bus station to stay temporarily, more than 10 people because it is too difficult to stay on the bus. Recently, the transport unit also helped drivers and flight attendants with a million dong each. Others received state relief packages or were given as essentials, said Mr. Tung. From October 4, Ho Chi Minh City has reopened 4 bus routes operating in Can Gio district. On October 25, another 4 routes will be run with frequency and operating time depending on the situation and actual needs of each area.

Quy sleeps on the floor and lets his son sleep on the hammock. Since his bus is new, the doors can fully close so there is no need for a net.
He hopes bus services would be allowed to operate again soon and be as crowded as before in order for him to have money to pay a debt of VND20 million.
Nguyen Vinh Tung, manager of the bus station of VNUHCM, said there are about 80 buses parked here and nearly 50 drivers and conductors staying here due to the epidemic. Most of the stranded people rent a motel room near the bus station, while more than 10 people are allowed to stay on the bus due to poor circumstances.
"Recently, the bus station also gave each driver and conductor VND1 million. Some also received additional state relief packages and food support," Tung said.
From Oct. 4, Ho Chi Minh City reopened four bus routes operating in Can Gio District. On Oct. 25, another four routes would be allowed to resume service, with frequency and operating time depending on the situation and actual needs of each area.

 
 
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