Saigon sewer cleaners keep life flowing

By Quynh Tran   August 16, 2020 | 04:00 pm GMT+7

No matter the weather, Ho and his son spend hours immersed in Saigon’s pits to clear out mud and sludge.

On rainy days, Nguyen Phu Ho, 53, and his 31-year-old son Nguyen Thanh Son must enter pits and clean local sewers to facilitate water flowing in Saigon. Working at Ho Chi Minh City Urban Drainage Company, Ho has 30 years of experience while his son has 12. On the morning of August 14, under a pit on District 12’s Nguyen Anh Thu Street, the duo, equipped with helmets, flash light and buckets, etc., is working constantly.  Ho’s team is assigned to work in Districts 12, Go Vap, Hoc Mon and Cu Chi. Normally, they have to take out trash once a month. But on rainy season, it becomes a daily mission in order to prevent floods in the city.

On rainy days, Nguyen Phu Ho, 53, and his 31-year-old son Nguyen Thanh Son are required to clean and unblock sewers across Saigon. Employed by Ho Chi Minh City Urban Drainage Company, Ho boasts 30 years’ experience and his son,12.
On the morning of August 14, inside a pit on District 12’s Nguyen Anh Thu Street, the duo, equipped with helmets, flashlights and buckets is working diligently. Ho’s team is assigned to work in Districts 12, Go Vap, Hoc Mon and Cu Chi. Normally, they have to take out trash once a month. But in the rainy season, they have to do it daily to prevent floods in the city.

Inside the pits, 3 meters underground, the father and son have to wait for the rain to finish so the water level would decrease, making it easier for their job. Having their faces close to the filthy water, the duo use buckets to take out mud and stinky sewage.

Inside the pits, three meters underground, the father and son have to wait for the rain to finish so the water level could lower, making it easier to work. With their faces close to the filthy water, the duo use buckets to scoop out mud and assorted types of unsavory trash.

Trash or mud are not the most terrible thing. What I am afraid the most is working in sewers near companies or factories, their wastewater contain stinky and toxic chemicals, Son said while carrying a bucket of mud, adding those chemicals make his skin itchy and blistered all day.

"Trash or mud are not the most terrible thing. What I am afraid of the most is working in sewers near companies or factories,since their wastewater contains toxic chemicals," Son said, carrying a bucket of mud. He added that the chemicals made his skin itch and blister.

When I finished high school, I did not take the university entrance exam and had no idea what to do. My father mulled that I should work as a sewer cleaner, I gave it a try and stick with it until now, Son said. The heat under the pits his father and him them sweat. They do not wear masks as they can be suffocating.  According to Son, the job is hard and dirty, but it gave him a stable source of income (around VND10 million per month).  Working together with my father is also convenience.

"When I finished high school, I did not take the university entrance exam and had no idea what to do.When my father suggested I should work as a sewer cleaner, I gave it a try and stuck with it," Son said.
The heat inside the pits can be ferocious. They do not wear masks as they can be suffocated. Son said the job is hard and dirty, but affords him a stable income (around VND10 million [$432.8] per month). "Working with my father is also convenient," he added.

Ho holds a iron stick he picks under a pit. The man is scare of used syringes as he has been hurt by those several time, forcing him to be vaccinated to avoid infection.

Holding up an iron spike, Ho said he has been hurt by used syringes,forcing him to be vaccinated to avoid infection.

After a round 10 minutes, Son pushes a bucket of around 100 kg of mud and trash for his colleagues to pull up. A sewer worker like him must stay in the filthy water for around five hours in each shift, he said.

After around 10 minutes, Son supplies a bucket of around 100 kg of mud and trash for his colleagues to pull up. A sewer worker like him must stay in the filthy water for five hours per shift, he said.

A mud bucket is taken to a manhole before being carried to the ground. Mud is okay, sewers near markets are normally full of smelly food waste with a lot of maggots and bugs, we must hold our breath while taking them out, Ho said, adding he could not have his daily meal when he started the job around 30 years ago.

A mud bucket is taken to a manhole before being carried above. "Mud is okay, sewers near markets are normally full of smelly food waste with a lot of maggots and bugs. We must hold our breath when taking it out," Ho said, adding he could not eat at first after starting this job around 30 years ago.

Leaving the pits, Ho gets on a vehicle and helps pulling up the buckets before pouring it to the massive tank. Each day, his eight-member team collect around four tonnes of trash and mud. They take turn to enter the pits, which is the heaviest work.

Leaving the pits, Ho helps pour the sludge into a massive tank. Each day, his eight-member team collects around four tons of trash and mud. They take turns to enter the pits, which is the heaviest work.

Son showers himself in the rain. Taking a shower on the streets is not a rare thing among sewer workers, who normally shower themselves up to five times after their shift.

Son showers in the rain. Taking a shower on the streets is not a rare thing among sewer workers, who normally wash themselves up to five times after each shift.

Ho hangs his shoes and clothes on a fence before resuming his work in the afternoon. Every day, we have to bring shampoo, soap and some clothes. This job required us to shower several times per day, or else out body will be itchy, Ho maintained.

Ho hangs his shoes and clothes on a fence before resuming work in the afternoon. "Every day, we have to bring shampoo, soap and some clothes. This job requires us to shower several times per day, or else our bodies would be itchy," he maintained.

Son (middle) and Ho (behind) have their lunch at a local restaurant.

Son (middle) and Ho (behind) have their lunch at a local restaurant.

The duo is currently living in a 30-square-meter house on Go Vap District’s Le Duc Tho Street. After work, they spend time relaxing with their family members. Perhaps there is no job which are as filthy as sewer cleaning, but it is our duty so we try our best to support our family. We will try to keep the city clean, and just hope that people will reduce littering, Son said while playing with his daughter.

The duo is currently living in a 30-square-meter house on Go Vap District’s Le Duc Tho Street. After work, they spend time relaxing with their family members.
"Perhaps there is no job as filthy as sewer cleaning, but it is our duty so we try our best to support our family. We will try to keep the city clean, and just hope that people will reduce littering," Son said while playing with his daughters.

 
 
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