The Block

Five minutes scooter ride from downtown Ho Chi Minh City stands an old decrepit building in District 5 of the metropolis. This fourteen-story monolith is home to a large community of squatters, and my latest and greatest discovery here.

Some of the mailboxes at the base of the building. “Loi ra” means “exit”

OK, honestly, I’m not sure if they’re really squatters or if they’re actually paying to live there – the problem with my virtually zero Vietnamese language skills. In any case, it’s clear that these are not ideal living conditions, and once again my inbuilt poverty sensor has led me to a community of people who are making the most of their lives against the odds.

These two guys are actually sharing a hammock. I guess they’re close.

About a third of the residences in the block had been vacated and stripped of everything (including doors and window frames) and it appeared that those living there now had moved into these empty shells, refurbishing them with recycled furniture and even doors. The feel was very similar to that of the urban villages I had explored back when I was in China.

As I don’t really have any understanding of what I was exploring, I’ll just post some of the pictures I took of the place for now, as I need to do some research before I can tell the story of the place and its residents.

This is one of three atriums that brought light to each room of the complex.

The light that streams in is used by residents to dry rice. I have seen this quite a bit in Vietnam, but I have no idea what’s going on. Seems people take leftover rice that has been cooked but not eaten and dry it for reuse in some way. My Vietnamese wife doesn’t know, but I will get to the bottom of it, mark my words!

An older resident in the process of drying her rice.

The sunlight and flow of air make the hallways ideal places to dry laundry.




One of the local residents. One thing I notice in poorer communities: people always seem more friendly than their more affluent counterparts. I’ve read research that supports the idea that people in poorer communities are generally friendlier than those who are more well-to do, and my experience confirms the idea.

A couple more friendly locals, but then kids are always friendly. I wonder what happens to us to make us lose that quality?

One of the apartments that is still vacant. The word “Het” on the wall means “utterly used up” or “finished”.

Another vacant room.

When squatters move in, they bring with them anything the apartment lacks (recovered from demolition sites in most cases). In this case, a new resident carries in the front door.

This resident was waiting in the bike park downstairs for a relative to return from the market nearby. She must have wondered why this crazy foreigner would want to take her photo, but she was very friendly and had a radiant smile when she saw the picture.

It’s not only humans that have become residents here. I heard this guy’s voice calling out from the floor below and had to go down and honour him with a photo.


I really enjoyed exploring the complex, and I hope to return soon with an interpreter so I can really understand and appreciate the stories of some of the local residents. Stay tuned.