Viet Nam News
by Bạch Liên
Two weeks ago, I was invited to a new modern well-equipped apartment of a friend in Hà Nội’s Royal City, a super modern apartment world smelling of luxury.
My friend was happy to leave her old apartment in Kim Liên living quarters where the infrastructure was poor and many neighbours were too curious about her private life.
But the main reason she left was the noise created by aerobic classes every evening in her block.
Every evening, from 8 to 10pm, residents attended aerobic lessons. The heavy music prevented her children from concentrating on their studies. Other neighbours were also upset, but the management board of the block said the classes brought in a lot of money as space was hired at a high price.
I have also lived in this kind of apartment building in Hà Đông District, 10km from the centre of Hà Nội, for more than 20 years.
Strange enough, while I live in a big city, I often feel I live in a village as the community spirit is very strong.
From early morning, I am woken up by a group of aged people who do morning exercises with loud music in the communal house.
Most inhabitants in my living quarter come from different northern provinces. Many grandmothers come from the countryside to help look after their grandchildren. They sit together on the benches, and talk with each other every day.
In the afternoon, some families bring their coal stoves to a corner of the yard to cook. All the living quarters are enveloped in charcoal smoke.
The Soviet-style flats first appeared in Hà Nội in the 60s. They are often three to five storey buildings.
Condos mean to me yards full of children playing and families spending time together to make traditional sticky rice cakes for Lunar New Year festival, a strong community spirit shared with friendly neighbours.
When they first appeared, the condo became a symbolic representation of modern life, with all necessities grounded in one enclosed space – something rather luxurious when people were discontented with the involuntary shared accommodation of the villas or tube houses in the Old Quarter.
This old flat buildings has lasted for more than 50 years with various transformations, both in terms of façade and structure. It’s easy to notice these apartments with their “tiger cages” that residents build to extend living space.
From the sixties to the end of the eighties, thousands of these apartment blocs were built in big cities in northern Việt Nam. They were devoted to public employees.
Hà Nội houses more than 1,200 old collective building covering an area of five million square metres. Most have been downgraded.
An apartment with an area of 25sq.m to 40sq.m in a four-story or five-storey collective housing was a dream of many families of workers and civil servants.
But during the last 10 years, Việt Nam has changed a lot. Many modern apartments have been built to satisfy the needs of the multitudes now living in big cities.
Those apartments were originally for high income families, but their owners changed constantly. After living there for years, many succeeded in buying larger flats in more modern areas.
Most new owners come from other provinces. They do different jobs, speak with different accents and have different lifestyles. Some are keen on preserving their habits in the countryside and this sometimes causes disagreements between neighbours.
While many young people who grow up in a big city are sometimes upset at living in this type of condo, many aged people enjoy their lives there.
“I was lucky to be owner of this apartment when the country was very difficult in a subsidised economy,” said Nguyễn Hải, 80, who has lived here for 30 years.
“I have often new neighbours and try to adapt. Life here is quite easy and interesting for me as I have nice neighbours, we spend lot of time together enjoying a bowl of phở in a small restaurant in front of the living quarters or on a bench.
“However, to live in harmony with them, I have to know what I should tell to my neighbours and what not.
Hải said that he enjoyed his life as he had the feeling of being close to his neighbours, as he used to live in the countryside when he was young.
“This lifestyle in a community spirit can comfort those who left rural life to live in the cities. When they come here, they again find a village with friendly neighbours,” he said.
As we move toward to a civilised urban life, I think neighbours should live together with a warm heart but strict rules should be imposed and respected in one flat building to make sure that its members are safe, free and private in their living space.
When everyone knows the limit between caring about others and being too curious, life will be perfect. VNS