Foreigners learn to coexist with HCMC's flooded streets

By Anh Hoang, Thanh Danh   August 17, 2023 | 03:30 pm PT
Tyler Maurice Kooy used to hate going out in the HCMC rain when streets are filled with unpleasantly smelling water.

Now he is a pro at riding his motorbike on the sidewalk to avoid the water.

Water reached the height of a motorbike saddle at many places in Thu Duc City after a short but intense spell of rain on August 14, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Water reaches the height of a motorbike saddle at many places in Thu Duc City after a short but intense spell of rain on August 14, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

American Tyler Maurice Kooy, 32, used to work in Thao Dien in Thu Duc City before opening his own restaurant, says he is familiar with the situation after seven years in the city.

"Every time it flooded in Thao Dien, which happened a lot, my motorcycle engine stopped working as water got into it, and I had to walk it to my workplace.

"Sometimes I had no choice but to leave my vehicle in a parking lot and wade through the water to reach my work or meeting place."

Many foreigners choosing to settle in Vietnam's largest city have adopted the new experience of driving on flood streets.

Kooy claims never to have experienced flooding in the coastal city of Seattle in the U.S., where he used to live, though it rained very often.

So he would feel uncomfortable at seeing dirty water with an unpleasant smell on every street after rain when he first came to HCMC.

The city Department of Construction said in 2021, when the implementation of its anti-flooding and wastewater treatment projects had just started, that there were 18 streets that often flooded in heavy rain.

It claimed to have improved the situation on five of the 18 after two years.

Tyler still remembers how HCMC was flooded during a 2019 storm, which prevented him from riding his motorcycle as water rose to the level of the knees. While returning home from work he had to leave his motorcycle at a parking lot and walk five kilometers.

He breathed a sigh of relief on reaching home safely, despite losing one of his shoes on the way.

"I did not know what to do back then," he says.

"Then I noticed how local people on motorcycles climbed the sidewalk to prevent the engine from stalling. I do so myself sometimes now."

He used to rely on Google Maps to go out during rains to avoid flooded areas, but no longer since he now knows the streets like "the back of my hand" after living in the city for so long.

"I think I will be an outstanding motorcycle taxi driver," he adds jokingly.

Joseph Sheehan, 45, emigrated to HCMC 15 years ago, and has a few bad memories of rains over the years. Like the one occasion when he got sick after having to walk his motorcycle home under the rain on flooded streets.

He later figured out a way to "keep moving" with his vehicle when caught in the rain.

"I simply find another route or ride my motorcycle very slowly when I cross flooded places," he says.

"To be precise, I’m not afraid of the rain, I only feel uncomfortable with the dirty water."

He hopes city authorities will soon improve the infrastructure, especially the drainage system. He also wishes that newly built places in District 2, where many foreigners live, are well planned in terms of draining water.

This idea seems to align with the city Department of Construction’s vision, which expects plans to improve the drainage system in the Thao Dien neighborhood to be completed this year.

A foreigner on the flooded Quoc Huong Street in Thao Dien Ward on May 8, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung

A foreigner on the flooded Quoc Huong Street in Thao Dien Ward on May 8, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung

Alex comes from a South American country and has lived in HCMC for seven years.

"My company once had to take a team of specialists from Thao Dien to our factory," he says.

"It was severely flooded on that day, which caused us to spend four hours to travel the distance."

Consequently, they did not have time to check everything since they had to catch a flight soon after reaching at the factory.

There was another time when Alex's company held a farewell party for a colleague who was returning to their home country. Not even one person, including the board of managers, could reach the venue on time as the heavy rain on that day flooded the streets.

But he does think the flood situation has improved "a bit" compared to when he first came, and believes it will improve even further if people do not throw plastic waste on the streets.

"I see trash piling up at the sewers, blocking water from draining every time it rains. The problem is people’s awareness, not the authorities’ fault."

While waiting for authorities to resolve the problem, foreigners seemingly have no other choice but to live in peace with the floods.

Tyler, for instance, has grown a more tolerant attitude toward it. He thinks he is more understanding of his employees, who fail to reach his restaurant on time on rainy days. He understands the risks involved in traversing flooded streets, but jokingly tells them they "probably prefer rainy [over sunny] days" so that they can get to work late.

"Coming from a temperate country, I think the weather in Vietnam is great [despite the occasional flooding]," he says.

"Floods are still better than freezing cold because I'd rather get a bit wet than roll myself up in dozens of coats to survive the cold."

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