Three-member Hanoi family calls 4 sq.m room home

By Dinh Tung, Thuy Quynh   November 16, 2019 | 05:00 am PT
A Hanoi couple and their teenage daughter live in a tiny room without a bathroom, and the woman is now expecting a second child.

Deep inside Ngo Gach Alley in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District a staircase leads to a four-square-meter room on the second floor of an old dormitory. This is where Nguyen Phuong Nam lives with his wife and daughter.

Its neat appearance gives the impression the room is more spacious than it actually is. A small oven next to the door doubles as the kitchen, while the room also has a TV, fridge and a table.

Hoa carries a bucket of water to her hut. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

Hoa carries a bucket of water home. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

They once moved out since they could no longer stand living in such a tiny place. He wanted to let it out, but no one wanted to rent a place without a bathroom. He could not afford a better place and they ended up returning.

Nam jokes: "My wife is expecting. We are waiting for the fourth member of the family. Then each of us will have one square meter."

There is no bed, but it is not simple to carry new furniture through the narrow alley. Talking about the fridge, Nam says: "It was a struggle to carry it to the second floor, it has dents and scratches, but luckily it works normally."

But they do not have space for a washing machine, which means Nam’s pregnant wife, Hoa, has to carries buckets of water and wash clothes by hand everyday.

This is the only household without a bathroom in that place. Every day they carry water from downstairs for use at home and bathe in an open space in the alley. Nam and Hoa have been used to bathing like this for years, but not their teenage daughter, who waits until all the neighbors go to sleep to take a bath.

The bathroom in the alley. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

The bathroom in the alley. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

Hoa says: "We are okay, but our daughter does not like this. I always tell her to wear clothes while showering, and she can change in the room afterward."

The family tried to build a bathroom in their room, but no one agreed to work after seeing how complicated it would be to install the pipes in that tiny place.

Winter is coming, making it difficult for them to bathe.

Na says: "We can’t shower in the alley with a [cold] wind blowing. I must do it in a neighbor’s house, my wife and daughter use public bathrooms or go to Saint Paul Hospital pretending to visit a patient and take a shower."

Summer brings other difficulties: The tiny room becomes cramped and hot. Hoa says, "Even the flowers in the vase wither because they cannot stand the heat."

The three-member family in their nest. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

The three-member family in their nest. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Tung.

Their biggest concern now is the coming of the fourth member. Nam plans to rent a more spacious room with water supply and a bathroom to take care of his wife and the infant.

But he thinks: "I am still lucky to have a house to live. We just need to overcome the challenges. Where can we move now? It is impossible to sell this house, and we cannot afford a new place even if payment is in installments. I am fine with this."

go to top