Foreigners stranded in Vietnam by Covid find livelihoods to overcome ordeal

By Long Nguyen, Hoang Huy   December 17, 2020 | 05:19 pm PT
People who had been visiting Vietnam for business or travel when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out were stranded but found jobs to survive.

In the last few months people passing by the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Tran Dinh Xu streets in HCMC have got used to seeing five Indian men working as valets at a parking lot.

The men, in black uniforms and hats, carefully walk customers’ motorbikes and give them tokens with big smiles.

"I have worked here for nearly four months and will keep working until I have enough money to go home," Ashok Kumar, 40, says, explaining he and the others were stranded in Vietnam due to the pandemic and ran out of money.

As the Covid-19 hit, foreigners were stranded and some living in Vietnam lost their jobs, and survival became an ordeal.

Arun Kumar walks a motorbike at the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Tran Dinh Xu streets. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

Arun Kumar walks a motorbike at the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Tran Dinh Xu streets. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Huy.

Ashok Kumar came to Vietnam to look for products to import and met Arun Kumar, a tourist who had been stranded and became a cook in Saigon before losing his job, and the two decided to ask around for jobs.

From an Indian neighbor’s Vietnamese wife, they knew about Tran Thien Phuong, who manages Leosix, a security firm.

Phuong agreed to employ them at his parking lot at the corner of Tran Hung Dao and Tran Dinh Xu Street.

"Everyone is in difficulties due to this pandemic, but these men are far from home, so they face more challenges," Phuong said when VnExpress International asked him why he decided to employ the men.

He also wanted foreigners to have a good impression of Vietnamese, he added.

Since they did not have the money to pay rent, the Indians were once thrown out of their rented places.

They met three other Indians through the neighbor, and all of them now work as parking attendants in the evenings, earning around VND7 million ($303) a month.

They watch over the motorbikes of people who hang out at nearby bars and coffee shops.

In Hanoi, Alex Azbel, an American computer programmer, was in dire straits before starting to tutor an acquaintance’s children in English and math in Long Bien District.

He was visiting Vietnam, one of many countries he had planned to travel to, when there was a mass layoff and he lost his job.

He had been working remotely in March and April [from Vietnam], "and so everything was okay until May," he said.

He had planned to leave for China or South Korea but had to canceled them because of the Covid-19 outbreaks.

Tran Thien Phuong (third from left) and his Indian employees. Photo courtesy of Tran Thien Phuong.

Tran Thien Phuong (third from left) with his Indian employees. Photo courtesy of Tran Thien Phuong.

For these foreigners, having a job to get through the Covid-19 ordeal is a blessing that brings them both money and new experience and friends.

Working at a parking lot is a totally new experience for Ashok Kumar and his friends, who used to be cooks or businessmen.

"My job here is good, the boss is kind, I feel lucky to have a chance to earn money amid the pandemic," Kumar said.

John, one of the other three Indians and who refused to reveal his full name, had been visiting Vietnam when the pandemic came.

He said, "The work is simple, and I feel better when working with my Indian friends who share the same problem."

Phuong has let them work together, and they can travel from their rented studios on Bui Vien Street to the parking lot together.

He said: "They are friendly and punctual and work carefully. I made the right decision to hire them."

He knows it is illegal to hire them, but ignoring them would have been "even worse and heartless," he said.

John, Ashok and Arun have always wanted to return to India, but said they could not afford the flight tickets at the moment. They plan to work overtime and save money to go home.

In Hanoi, Azbel has temporarily given up the idea of returning to the U.S., where the pandemic has killed more than 300,000 people.

After working as a teacher for more than four months he discovered that working with children was an interesting job which "reminds me of my five-year-old nephew in Chicago," he said.

Teaching three groups of children a week he earns nearly VND13 million ($564) a month, but has recently started looking for IT jobs so that he could remain in Vietnam until next year.

"I will return home when the pandemic is contained. Now, living in Vietnam with a decent job is more than a perfect thing."

Ashok, Arun and John will also return home soon, according to Phuong. But they have realized they have a second home in Saigon, where people treat them with kindness and open hearts.

Ashok Kumar said before starting the night shift with his friends: "No matter where I go in future, I will return to Vietnam. This has been a true home."

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