Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

By Quynh Tran   September 14, 2021 | 05:15 pm GMT+7
A family in HCMC has been living under a staircase in an apartment complex in District 10 for the past 34 years.
Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

Pham Van Lieu and Nguyen Thi Hue have been living in the An Quang apartment complex in Ward 9, District 10, since 1987.

After getting approval from the apartment management, the couple built a door to their tiny room and made some other adjustments. The space beside the staircase is meant to park residents’ vehicles.

Hue, 53, the wife, says: "We've been living in the complex since 1983, but we became poor and had to move under the staircase. Back then, my parents and two brothers lived with us. I used to sleep outside on a mat. Twenty five years ago when I got married, my two brothers moved out."

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

The door is barely a meter tall, and the room inside is merely five square meters in size, and always requires a light. When Hue cooks, Lieu often has to step out to make room.

"We have not had any income lately, but our neighbors and local authorities give us vegetables, rice and oil, and so we still get by," Lieu, 56, says.

For 30 years the couple have been making a living as street vendors selling items like sweet potatoes and crab soup. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they have had to stop selling for over two months now.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

Amid the social distancing, the two often stay inside and close their door to avoid contact with other people. Their neighbors place food on a stool outside for the couple.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

Lieu sits and bends as he puts away a bag of vegetables at the corner below the end of the staircase.

"At its highest the ceiling is only 1.5 m, and so I often knock my head if I don't bend down," Lieu says.

The couple boil water and store it in small bottles instead of buying large tanks.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

They do own a refrigerator, but due to the air conditioner getting in the way, its door can only be partially opened.

They bought the air conditioner around a year ago. Lieu says before they bought it, sometimes it would get too hot at night, forcing them to sleep outside.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

At night the couple often watch TV. In front of it is a small wardrobe and altar.

The two rely on their neighbors for electricity and water, and pay around VND300,000 ($13.23) a month. They have also had to use the bathroom in somebody else's house for decades.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

When it gets stuffy the couple often go out and sit in front of the complex. Their guests have to do the same.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

In her spare time Hue goes to an apartment on the second floor, where her 85-year-old mother lives with her 24-year-old daughter, who is married with two children.

Hue and her husband saved up money to buy the apartment for her daughter in 2019.

"I still owe hundreds of millions of dong for the apartment but watching my old mother, daughter and grandchildren have a spacious place to live is enough for me," Hue says.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

As their living space is too small for a mattress, they lay out a sheet on the floor to sleep. Before the pandemic, the couple usually sleep early so they could wake up at 3 a.m. to begin cooking food to sell.

Couple spend decades under staircase in HCMC apartment

"My daughter and her husband often tell us to come live with them, but I've been too used to this staircase and don't want to move out. We don't have to move around a lot here, so it's good for business. Even if we wake up at night to cook, no one would be bothered," Hue said.

Tran Le Thu, head of the An Quang apartment complex's management board, said there's another family in the complex who's also living underneath a staircase. The board helped both families to the best of its abilities so they could live normally, only collecting sanitation fees from them. Amid social distancing orders, the families were also supported with necessities like any other.

The An Quang apartment complex, built in 1968, is home to around 900 families. After over six centuries, the complex has been degraded and damaged over time.

 
 
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