Barely afloat: A glimpse of life on Saigon canal

By Thanh Nguyen   August 14, 2017 | 07:42 pm PT
This fruit-vending family cannot find customers in their hometown while the city is too expensive for them to rent a place.

There is a fleet of houseboats on the Kenh Te Canal not far from sparkling skyscrapers of Saigon's District 7. Nguyen Thanh Toan and his wife Nguyen Thi Kim Hanh, both 33, joined this neighborhood of Mekong Delta migrants more than 10 years ago. Three times a month, the couple and their three children sail back to their hometown in Vinh Long Province to buy fruit from its famous orchards to sell in the city.


Kha Han, the couple’s eldest daughter, burns a couple incense sticks every day. “I pray for my parents' business, for my brothers to be healthy and for me to do well at school,” the 9-year-old said.


The children join their mother as she sells banana, papaya and guava on the sidewalk of Tran Xuan Soan Street next to the boat. Their father drives a motorbike rickshaw carrying around 300 kilograms of fruit around the city. “We could not find customers back home, but the business here is also getting hard. We are usually shooed off the sidewalk,” Hanh said.


Vu Thien, the middle child who is 6 years old, was born with a heart disease and hearing impairment.


Han helps her brother take a bath.


The family manages to create living space around their altar in the 12-square-meter boat. They spend VND30,000 ($1.32) a day to buy clean water and depend on batteries for electricity.


The children’s toys from Christmas.


Hanh said she'd like a small house with a grocery store in her hometown. She said prices in the city are high and no matter how hard they work, they've nerver earned enough to rent a place.


With the summer ending, the couple is going to have to leave their children with their grandparents in their hometown so they can go back to school.


The family poses for a photo after Toan comes home at 7:30 p.m., apparently from a successful day.


The couple serves customers until late at night as they prepare for business the next morning, which starts at 6 a.m.


The family often has dinner at around 10 p.m.

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