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Three Nha Trang Residents on How Covid-19 Affected Their Livelihood

Normally, Nha Trang is one of Vietnam’s most famous tourism destinations.

During this pandemic time, amidst this COVID-19 scare, the windy beach city seems to be much cooler, and I reckon that this is because of the enormous amount of empty space that allows the wind to freely settle in.

The emptiness was quite overwhelming as I recently traveled around the city. The central roads were missing their normal daily rhythm, and these spaces seemed to be wider and larger. On an empty street, a motorbike driver waited patiently for passengers.

His name is Lê Đình Dũng, and he’s a Nha Trang native. In his mind, he knew that there were scarcely any passengers, but he was still trying. He shared that his income now is just a few thousand dong per day, far less than what he was earning before the pandemic.

Lê Đình Dũng waits for passengers on Hung Vuong Street, Nha Trang's backpacker area.

“This city's center was crowded before, with a lot of tourists, but now it looks so quiet," he said. "I have driven around but found no passengers. So I’m standing here hopefully waiting for some calls from my regular local customers.”

The stores, restaurants and coffee shops that were open were empty and quiet. While walking around town and along the beach, whether during the day or early in the evening, I could sense the deafening silence and quiet moments of places without people.

“Nha Trang is a beautiful city, but it's so sad that there are just a few visitors at this time. Furthermore, I can not make a living anymore as a cyclo driver in this city,” shared Đặng Phước, who owns an electric cyclo. He is 65 years old and hails from Phu Yen Province. Ten years ago, he moved to Nha Trang for work.

Đặng Phước waitings for passengers on Tran Phu Street.

He currently lives in a rented room with nine other cyclo drivers. A long time ago, he was a construction worker, and as he got older he shifted into driving an electric cyclo due to his health. However, the pandemic has left him with a meager income. “There are days when I don’t earn anything and I can hardly support myself. Hence, I had to borrow money from my fellow cyclo drivers," Phước said.

Many businesses were closed as I walked around two weeks ago. Street vendors sat alone, waiting hopefully walk-up customers. The sidewalks were empty, and families in Nha Trang are feeling the impact. They lack financial resources simply to buy basic needs.

“I sat here from 2pm until 9pm, but I just sold a few things for about VND80,000. I don't have enough money to pay school tuition for my two children. Therefore, they haven't gone to school for months,” Đặng Trường Hân, a street vendor, said.

Đặng Trường Hân waits for visitors next to the empty beach.

Hân, meanwhile, was once a fisherman, but due to spondylosis — a painful condition of the spine resulting from the degeneration of the intervertebral disks — he had to stop his work at sea. Last year, he decided to start business as a street vendor, selling food and drinks, just a few weeks before the first wave of COVID-19 started and spoiled his plans. His wife worked as a room attendant in a hotel, but she lost her job due to this difficult time.

While we talked, I noticed that his two children were sleeping on the nearby benches. He said: “I quit school when I was in 3rd grade to become a fisherman. I want my children to be well-educated so that they will have a better life and future. But because of the pandemic, this wish for my children might not come true.”

In a gust of wind, I could smell the fresh air coming from the beach, filling the empty space. Without any noise from crowds, I could clearly hear sounds that I didn’t often notice, such as the melodious pattern of waves hitting the sand on the shore, or the sound of coconut tree leaves as they swayed and overlapped each other. In the absence of noise, the “sound” of silence taught me something. Amidst these beautiful natural sounds, I realized that many people in this city could not peacefully enjoy them. I felt more compassion for what the people of Nha Trang are experiencing.

Shuttered tourism businesses.

These interviews were conducted during Vietnam's latest COVID-19 outbreak in 2021 that affected Hai Duong, Quang Ninh, Saigon and other provinces.

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