Last weekend we made the move to the dreaded District 4. Ho Chi Minh City, is a pretty safe place compared to other world cities, but among ex-pats, District 4 has always been a place to be avoided. Apparently, in the past it was a major Vietnamese mafia neighborhood. After hearing this, I asked the landlord point blank, if District 4 was still dangerous. He said no because the Mafia boss was executed by the government a few years ago.
The neighborhood in which we live is what we would call in the west “A complete slum.” To get to my house, I have to maneuver through barefooted kids playing soccer, fish parts drying on tarps in the sun, and through a virtual maze of extremely narrow alleys where people have to get up against the wall to let me pass.
Moving there was also a bit hectic. As we are the only foreigners in the entire neighborhood, it seems the entire community brought their lawn chairs, laughed and pointed at us while we were offloading the truck. We were quite the spectacle indeed. We also couldn’t pull up right to the house because the alley was too narrow, and had to carry everything about five minutes into the maze.
As of today, we have lived there for a week and it’s not too bad. However, even for a seasoned ex-pat like me, I am having a bit of trouble with the entire neighborhood staring at me, making comments and whatnot every time I come or go. On the upside however, we have already made friends with our neighbors. The key was simply to smile as much as possible, and say hello in Vietnamese. They then invited me to sit down for beer and one of them spoke just a little bit of English. Then my roommate brought out some food and we had a grand old time.
So it looks like we have won over our neighbors which is not only good for the comfort level, but also for security since they will notice anything suspicious going on around our house and like us enough to perhaps help us out.
I forgot to mention the reason we moved there in the first place. We had to vacate our old house in February and I am leaving Vietnam in May. My roommate is planning on staying here indefinitely and had rented the house which was really cheap given the location and invited us to stay with him until we left. It was also good because I could furnish his extra room with my things, desk, bed, chairs and so on and would not have to worry about selling or getting rid of them when I leave. Further, so long as he stays in the country, I’ll always have my own room in Vietnam.