Under the bridge: Living on the margins of bustling Saigon

By Quynh Tran   January 12, 2017 | 12:51 am PT
The couple that resides beneath a bridge sends nearly every penny they earn home to their kids.

Nguyen Van Ta has lived in a simple shelter under Thu Thiem Bridge in District 2 for more than a year with his wife and brother. They all left their hometown in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap to work as builders at a nearby construction site.


Ta explained that they didn’t dare to hire a decent room for fear of high costs, while living with other workers in a camp made them feel uncomfortable. He said his best option was building a shack under Thu Thiem Bridge.


Ta returned to Vietnam from Cambodia 14 years ago. He and his wife don’t have an inch of land so they were forced to leave their three kids in their hometown and come to Saigon in search of jobs.


“Each month, we earn a total of over VND10 million ($440) but most of that is sent home to the kids,” said the 48-year-old man.


His wife, Nguyen Thi Thuy, is responsible for cooking and doing the laundry. She has to fetch water from the migrant worker camp since their shelter has neither water nor electricity.  


When there is little work on the construction site, Nguyen Ut Cuong, Ta’s brother, often casts his fishing net into puddles under the bridge.


“Fish are nearly the only thing we have. Sometimes we shop for other things at a market two kilometers from here,” Thuy said.


The three adults have only one form of entertainment: watching movies on Cuong’s mobile phone.


Other workers sometimes drop by to chat with the family.


Night falls and the shelter is plunged into complete darkness. The candles they use provide a weak glimmer of light.


“Rain and sunlight don’t come into our shelter but we have to struggle to fight mosquitoes,” Ta said, adding that the family goes to bed early as there’s nothing for them to do.


“I feel sorry for myself,” Ta said. “I wish I could afford a small plot of land in my hometown so that I could grow some crops and supplement my income by selling lottery tickets.”

Photos by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Related news:

Life, on the other side of Saigon

Big family shares tiny house in Ho Chi Minh City

go to top