Hole-in-the-wall home to aged Saigon couple for 20 years

By Phan Diep   September 18, 2019 | 07:54 pm GMT+7

He is 92. She is 88. They’ve lived in a two sq.m, dingy space in Saigon for 20 years now.

The tiny corner has been home for Nguyen Van Tam, 92 and his wife Pham Thi Ngung, 88 for 20 years on Do Tan Phong street, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC.

This cramped space on Do Tan Phong Street in Phu Nhuan District, HCMC has been home to Nguyen Van Tam and his wife Pham Thi Ngung for 20 years.

The house is situated in a bustling area in an alley by a railway. The couple’s daily activities all take place within this claustrophobic space: We are used to it, besides we don’t want to bother our children and grandchildren.

This claustrophobic space is situated in a bustling area in an alley by a railway line. The couple’s daily activities are confined to it. "We are used to it, besides we don’t want to bother our children and grandchildren."

Where is the medicine I gave you yesterday? Ngung (right) asked her husband Tam while searching in her shirt pockets.What did you say? Tam replied, bringing his ears closer to Ngung. It took a while for her question to be audible to him.While his wife is practically blind, Tam has hearing problems and could only hear things said at loud volumes. He would tell her what he sees, and she would recount what she hears to him as the two help one another manage in their daily lives.

"Where is the medicine I gave you yesterday?" Ngung asks her husband Tam while searching in her shirt pockets. "What did you say?" Tam asks, bringing his ears closer to Ngung. It takes a while for him to understand her question. While his wife is practically blind, Tam is hard of hearing. So he tells her what he sees and she recounts what she hears to him as they help each other get through life, day by day.

We have lived here even before 1975. After that, the government took our land to build the railway corridor and gave us compensation, the house got smaller. When I got really sick, we had to sell more land to pay the hospital fees, so for the last 20 years we’ve lived in this tiny space, Ngung told VnExpress.

"We used to live here even before 1975. After that, the government took our land to build the railway corridor and gave us some compensation, but the house got smaller. When I got really sick, we had to sell more to pay the hospital fees, so for the last 20 years we’ve lived in this tiny space," Ngung told VnExpress.

The couple uses a plank as an extension from their home where Ngung is lying on in the picture so she can stretch her legs. But the added plank does not suffice even a simple body stretch.

The couple uses a plank as an extension of their home. Even then, Ngung’s legs stick out as she takes a nap.

The two built a small toilet right next to their humble home on a land bit of the alley that does not belong to them. It is locked when unused.If we don’t lock it, random passer-bys would use it and not flush and get it all dirty, Tam said.

The couple have built a small toilet right next to their humble home on tiny piece of land in the alley that does not belong to them, strictly speaking. It is locked when it is unused. "If we don’t lock it, random passers-by would use it and not flush and get it all dirty," Tam said.

A tap is installed at the tiny entrance of their home where the old couple does any activity that requires water.

A tap installed at the tiny entrance of their home.

Ngung and Tam have five children. While two live faraway, two live right on top of them, which can be ascended using the staircase (picture) on the side of the couples two-square-meter home. Their other daughter, Nguyen Thi Lai, 60 lives on the other side of the railway with her husband and his in-laws.

Ngung and Tam have five children. While two live far away, two live right on top, taking the stairs (picture) on the side of the couple's two-square-meter home. One daughter, Nguyen Thi Lai, 60, lives on the other side of the railway with her husband and his parents.

Lai (right) brings food to her parents at noon. She cooks and does laundry on a daily basis.My siblings and I have a hard time making a living, so we don’t have the means to buy them a bigger place. It pains me to see them live like this, but there’s not much I can do. Besides, they are very difficult and they only like to live here, Lai said.

Lai (right) brings food to her parents at noon. She cooks and does laundry for them. "My siblings and I have a hard time making a living, so we don’t have the means to buy them a bigger place. It pains me to see them live like this, but there’s not much I can do," Lai said.

Sitting inside the house, Tam slides through his wife to get outside with a cane in his hand: I’m going to buy some iced water.Ngung is not as active as her husband. She rarely goes out and spends most of her time sitting at home: If I need to buy anything, I will ask my daughter Lai. My husband is stronger than I am, he can use his cane and walk around.Pham Thi Xuan Trang, vice president of Ward 9, Phu Nhuan district where the couple lives said that they are classified as near-poor. They are entitled to 100 percent health insurance, pension for the elderly, as well as gifts from the local authorities, according to Trang.Their children all have pension. They have brought the two to their places to live with them many, but they times after times returned to their small home because they think nowhere can make feel like home like it, Trang said.

Sitting inside the house, Tam slides past his wife to get outside, cane in his hand: "I’m going to buy some iced water." Ngung is not as active as her husband. She rarely goes out and spends most of her time sitting at home: "If I need to buy anything, I will ask my daughter Lai. My husband is stronger than I am, he can use his cane and walk around."

Pham Thi Xuan Trang, vice chairman of Ward 9, said that the couple are in the near-poor category. They are entitled to 100 percent health insurance, pension for the elderly, as well as gifts from the local authorities. "Their children all have pensions and have taken them to their places many times, but each time, they return here, because it is only in this small space that they feel at home," Trang said.

 
 
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