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In Lockdown, Saigoneers Draw Strength From an Unexpected Wealth of Support: Each Other

They largely didn't know each other, except for their flatmates. Then the COVID-19 outbreak began, and they got closer. They are now more accommodating, caring and loving.

As Vietnam's business and financial hub, Saigon draws many people from other provinces to work and live. As a result, long-term rental housing in the city is extremely crowded, and oftentimes people rent one room in a big house or a building. Many people inhabit the same place, but they generally live separate lives.

“Ordinarily, we rush to work every morning. Then, in the evening, we come home and rush to our room. When we see each other, we simply say 'hello' and give a smile. That’s all for such a busy day,” said Thương, a freelancer living in a terraced house in Binh Thanh District.

Hạnh*, a PR writer living in a lodging house in Go Vap District, shared: “After work, I regularly come back home and enter my room immediately. Then I spend almost all of my time inside. I don’t know much about the others who live here.”

In Hạnh’s building, people have an online chat group, but prior to the outbreak, it was only used to tell people about the monthly water and electricity bills.

“I am a member of that chat group, but I only knew that the other members were someone who lived in the same house with me. We had never chatted before, and I didn’t know anything else about them,” she revealed. Their group chat has become quite noisy since the latest COVID-19 outbreak began.

One time, residents were told to go to a COVID-19 testing site. “We started texting in the group chat to discuss going together because someone didn't have their own vehicle. We exchanged greetings and gave careful recommendations to each other. We chatted online with each other, and it had never happened before,” Hạnh explained.

The same thing happened to Nhâm, a bank employee living in Binh Thanh: "Since the strict lockdown began, our chat group has been filled with texts sharing about our lives, work, the food we have, vaccination information, and so on. This is so different from the past."

Nhâm shared that she hadn't even known the names of the other people who live in her building before, but she now knows way more. “If it hadn't been for the pandemic, I wouldn't have known that Uyên, who lives on the same floor as me, is very friendly and can cook very delicious bánh xèo. Duy, upstairs, is a skilled baker. Tuyết, downstairs, has a lovely smile and quite often smiles at others,” she said.

“Whenever Uyên makes bánh xèo, she always shares them with us. Duy occasionally bakes sponge cakes and gives them to us for breakfast,” Nhâm explained.

Food that Nhâm received from her neighbors. Photo provided by Nhâm.

In the lodging house where Hạnh lives, people also made a special market for sharing food. “We often put our food items in a corner in the hall. Then we text everyone in the group chat to let them know, and anyone who passes by can take some if they need it. It looks like a flea market,” she said.

Huyền, a teaching assistant, lives in a boarding house in District 7 that has a large rooftop common space. Prior to the outbreak, people generally visited after work, usually late in the evening. During the lockdown, people often go up there during the day to enjoy the fresh air, instead of staying in their rooms. Therefore, they started to meet each other and make friends.

"Once, I went up to see the scenery and breath the outside air. I saw a foreigner coming over, and I said ‘hello’ to him. Our conversation went further, and I learned that he was from Africa and he was stuck here amid the outbreak," she said.

Huyền continued: “After a while, a friend of his came up, and the three of us chatted for a long time. We got along and kept in touch after that. I got two new friends there, and I don't think this would've happened in the past.”

Hạnh also began to get along with a woman upstairs named Tuyền thanks to their similarities, which they only recently discovered.

“She was born in 1992, and I was born in 1990. Furthermore, she lives alone, whereas I only live with my son. We have similar ages and living situations so we got close easily. We often share food and help each other in finance,” Hạnh mentioned.

Sponge cake shared by Duy. Photo provided by Nhâm.

During the lockdown, in the terraced house where Thương lives, people often gather in the common yard to enjoy coffee and chat together. This never occurred in the past thanks to their busy days. “When our relationships become close, we trust our neighbors and we are more open with each other,” explained Thương.

Lately, whenever Thương notices that his neighbor’s door has been closed for a long time, he checks to see if they are ok.

Thương said, “I had never done something like that before. However, I put my neighbors in my heart during this time and spent more time thinking about them. I observe their daily life to see if they have any problem so that I can help them.”

*The subject's name has been changed according to their request.

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