Hanoi man lives in the wall's hole

By Dinh Tung, Thuy Quynh   November 20, 2019 | 05:49 am PT
A Hanoi man has been living almost all his life in a tiny loft as his family left one by one.

To enter his hole in the wall, 57-year-old Hoang Van Xuan has to go down a tiny alley off bustling Hang Buom Street in Hanoi's old quarter and climb a makeshift ladder comprising five iron rungs stuck in a wall.

It is between the first and second floors of an old dormitory, and he calls it a "matchbox" and "birdcage."

"I made those rungs myself. Iron is better than wood because it is less cumbersome, and allows more space for people to walk." The wall is full of tangled electric wires.

Xuan enters his house. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

Xuan enters his house. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

He has lived for 50 years in the five-square-meter room with a small closet, a TV, a fan, and a mat for sleeping.

Inside it is impossible to know whether it is day or night since there is no door or window, and a light bulb is always on.

There are septic and water tanks around. On rainy days the water seeps into the walls, creating a bad odor. Sometimes Xuan is hit by pieces of mortar while sleeping when someone walks upstairs.

The cracks in the walls are permanent though he has used cement to plaster them several times.

Living in loneliness

Incredibly, it used to be home for seven siblings. Six have married and moved out.

His condition made Xuan reserved and he finds it challenging to communicate, especially with women. Yet he fell in love and married a woman. The couple once wanted to rent another place to live in, but could not afford it on his income as a motorbike taxi driver and hers as a domestic help.

Xuan lies on his mat in the hut. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

Xuan lies on his mat in the hut. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

They have a son who moved out years ago since he could not stand climbing the iron rungs and using public restrooms every day.

Xuan’s wife too eventually left after 10 years of marriage. "I think she left because I failed to give her a decent home."

He now has difficulty finding customers in this era of ride-hailing services, but always keeps his phone connected to the mobile network, waiting for a call that might earn him a little money. The phone signal is not great where he lives, and so Xuan goes out and sits at the alley entrance all day.

He earns VND50,000–100,000 ($2.1-4.2) a day. He has never cooked after his wife and son left.

"I don’t know when I will have a real home with a door, a window and a bed to sleep without worrying about mortar falling from the ceiling," Xuan said.

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