Residents miserable as 'blockhouses' block community lifeblood

By Quynh Nguyen   March 7, 2023 | 10:52 pm PT
Hien is so shaken by the machinery racket blasting from a Hanoi “blockhouse” that she waits to come home until nighttime to ensure the machines have stopped before her arrival.

The woman and her family, whose house is adjacent the blockhouse on Luong The Vinh Street, have been leaving the house very early for a month straight to spend their days at other friends or relatives’ homes because they cannot bear the noise and the smell from a construction site in front of their house.

Vietnamese people call roadside construction sites working on electricity, water supply or wastewater treatment "blockhouses" because the sites are surrounded by metal fences.

"Blockhouses" appear frequently in big cities across Vietnam, especially Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and they often operate for weeks, months, even years.

They’re known for often making life utterly miserable for nearby residents, businesses and even just passersby.

A "blockhouse" with the presence of a water pump, a slurry and a power generator has existed in front of Hien’s house, on a 40-meter long section of Luong The Vinh Street, for nearly a month.

"Machinery at the construction site operates continuously from 7am to 5pm, and its so loud and noisy that it feels like there’s a jet plane flying right above my head. Not to mention that the burning smell of engine oil and motorcycle exhaust fumes blow straight into my house," the 50-year-old woman lamented.

According to Hien, a line of "blockhouses" have been erected three times to help the construction of the city’s new drainage system.

The first two lines of "blockhouses" existed for 10 days last September and 20 days last November, and the latest line have been present since early February 2023.

When operational, the "blockhouses" occupy almost the entire roadway, leaving only two small passages one meter wide, just barely enough for motorbikes to pass through.

A blockhouse occupies nearly 40 meters of the main roadway on Luong The Vinh Street, Hanoi on March 2, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A "blockhouse" occupies nearly 40 meters of the main roadway on Luong The Vinh Street, Hanoi on March 2, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

When the first two lines of "blockhouses" operated, mainly at night, the affected area experienced only traffic congestion. The noise from the construction sites was bearable.

"But this time it’s too much to bear. My head seems to explode when it is surrounded by noise from morning to night," said Hien’s husband Tran Nam, the owner of a motorbike repair shop on Luong The Vinh Street.

According to him, in addition to the deafening sound of machinery from morning to afternoon, the sound of motorbike honking, and pedestrians arguing because of the narrow passageway makes everyone in his house "want to go crazy."

At midnight, there is sound of transporting machinery and materials to the construction site. At dawn, there is the sound of running motorbikes of small traders, and of crashes between unlucky bike riders and the construction site’s corrugated iron fences.

Tired of noise, during the day, Nam and his wife go to their relative’s house to take refuge. In the evening, they go back home, close the door, and climb to the top floor to sleep.

But all solutions are ineffective, because even if they just open their window a bit for some fresh air, a series of noises still reverberate through the neighborhood, turning their normal talks into screams.

For nearly a month, his family has not had a single sound sleep.

Near Nam’s house is a nail salon run by Quynh Thu. She said she has had to take medicine for headaches, because the noise from the construction site and the motorcycle exhaust has made her dizzy like motion sickness.

"Whenever I open the door, I feel nauseous, and tired all day. I can’t work. And when I close my eyes, I hear the thud sound in my ears," she said.

A decrease in income has also been stressful for Thu. She has to pay a monthly rent of nearly VND10 million (US$423.7) for her premises, but now her nail salon receives only 1 or 2 patrons a day, due to lack of parking space and difficulty accessing the entrance.

Before the presence of the "blockhouse", her salon’s three employees were as busy as bees serving customers. Now, the salon operates on and off with only one staff.

The narrow, congested aisles have caused many drivers to jostle, sometimes crashing into signs or iron doors of residents’ houses.

"Both of my shop’s signboards have been damaged by drivers, and the canvas has torn. To avoid further damage, I have had to stretch protective steel wire around the signs," Thu recalled.

The blockhouse in the middle of the road has also caused the number of visitors to Cuong and his wife’s barber shop to drop rapidly and dramatically.

"For up to a month, the aisle is narrower, making the number of returning guests less than 50%. The income falls, while the rent is high, so I don’t know how long I can hold out," he said.

But not everyone tries to maintain their business like Cuong and Thu. Many businesses have had to move because the construction site’s fences shield their entrances.

Not only businesses and residents, but even passersby, especially women, are also miserable.

Twice a day, Ngoc Linh, 27, rides her bike through the narrow passages regularly. According to her, the traffic density in this area is thick with the presence of many universities and dormitories, making it difficult to avoid congestion at rush hours.

"Every time I go to the affected road section, I have to bend my bike’s mirrors inward, and slowly ride through to avoid collisions," Linh said.

Those who carry bulky goods or ride large motorcycles have been forced to turn around.

The passage on the sidewalk is less than one meter in width and is blocked by an electric pole, making it difficult for people to go through the blockhouse, on March 2, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

The passage on the sidewalk is less than one meter in width and is blocked by an electric pole, making it difficult for people to go through the "blockhouse", on March 2, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A leader of the People’s Committee of Trung Van Ward, Nam Tu Liem District told VnExpress that the construction sites are to serve the construction of the Yen Xa wastewater treatment facility built by a Japanese contractor from September 2022 to April 2024.

"This project is implemented to ensure the city’s drainage. Luong The Vinh Street is one of the construction routes", the official said.

A traffic police team in charge of Trung Van Ward said traffic congestion has occurred during rush hours since the blockhouses were erected.

Understanding that the project is to serve the society, Hien and her family hope the construction will be accelerated so that people can soon stabilize their lives.

"I am counting the days till this blockhouse will be demolished, and peace will be returned to this street," she said.

People have difficulty in going through a "blockhouse" on Luong The Vinh Street, on March 2, 2023

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