In late June, our next-door neighbours started to rebuild. They own a nha nghi, a cheap guesthouse, and their first step was to raze the construction to the ground.
It took a month.
The dust and the noise was intolerable. But I was away, so it was my family who suffered with the pain. They weren’t happy, but not working nine to five and having time for a lunchtime siesta, it didn’t affect them so much.
When I arrived back the work had stopped and all that was next to me was a flattened building. Our balcony overlooking the place was heaven. A cool breeze, shade in the afternoon, a nice place to work or relax.
Then overnight it restarted. In the early hours of Saturday morning the piles arrived. The following day the sound of 15-metre long slabs of concrete being driven into the ground was intolerable.
So, I popped the question.
“Are you working tomorrow?”
“7am? But it’s a Sunday. How will I be able to sleep?”
“What, you’re asleep at 7am?”
“On a Sunday, yes, of course. Every other day I’m awake, but on a Sunday I sleep in.”
“Please don’t make any noise tomorrow morning.”
Still no answer.
“If you make noise I will la lon — shout at the top of my voice and cause trouble.”
No answer, except that 10 minutes later they turned on the music. Vietnamese pop blasted loud into our house. And the next morning, bang on 7am the work started. As loud as can be.
“Thong cam — please sympathize with us,” said the foreman again and again.
“You should be sympathizing with me!” I shouted back. Once again I was ignored. Then I got angry.
To Accept and Not to Accept
Like everyone living here I understand the way this country is changing; the expansion of the cities, the drive to bring Vietnam into the modern, developed world. It’s positive. It’s needed. It’s necessary.
So, I understand the need to build — to build out and to build high. I also understand how noise levels are high here. This is a noisy country.
What I find hard to accept is the lack of concern for residents, the people affected by the noise and the debris of construction. Everyone says, “phai chieu — just accept it!” But why should we? It’s wrong. And it’s not my ‘this is how it works in the West’ mentality that says it’s wrong.
Vietnam has strong, employee-friendly labour laws. Terminating a contract, for example, requires either redundancy for economic reasons or a system of two written warnings in the space of a month if the employee doesn’t fulfil their work according to the terms of the contract. You can’t just fire someone on the spot.
Yet when it comes to legislation to protect the rights of the resident, there is almost nothing. It requires a disaster for anything to be done.
Many years ago I lived in an apartment block in District 1. Next door a new office block was being built. Deliveries of construction materials took place every evening after 9pm. Then the workers would continue throughout the night. We complained, we shouted, someone threw rocks, but nothing could be done. It was only when the bottom apartment in our block began sinking into the ground and cracks appeared in the holding walls that the tide changed.
The police got involved, the story hit the press, the TV cameras turned up and the building work came to an abrupt halt.
All the residents were evacuated, and for the week we had to spend living elsewhere, we received compensation — VND12 million per household. After that the construction company were much more careful with their work. No overnight shifts. And certainly nothing that affected the residents next door.
One friend, a resident at Estella in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, has found his own way to combat the noise. His apartment lies directly opposite the construction of two new tower blocks.
“I told my landlord that if he didn’t reduce the rent, I would have to move,” he says. “The landlord said no. So I created a spreadsheet and showed the landlord how much money he would lose if the apartment remained empty. I also explained how impossible it would be to find a new tenant. Eventually he reduced the rent.”
“So how do you deal with the noise?”
“I bought special earplugs from France. So when I’m at home, I have them in all the time. That way I don’t hear anything.”
We’re now doing something about the inconvenience of the building work next door. Maybe we’ll move, maybe we’ll see if the local authorities can get involved, maybe we’ll try and get the landlord to reduce our rent. Or maybe, as I've been told, just accept it.
But our chances of the building being constructed with a modicum of respect for the people living next door is slim. That is wrong. — Nick Ross