On the morning of October 10, Danh took the car to the street again. It has been 10 days since Saigon ended the distance, even if there is nothing, Danh goes every day to “breathe the street air”.
The first destination of Nguyen Danh, 29 years old, is Notre Dame Cathedral in District 3. For the 5th time in a week, a freelance photographer has been here. “It’s been many months since I came back, the grass in front of the church has grown taller than before. There are even squirrels climbing from the trees to the street to find food,” he said.
“My general feeling is that everyone is excited after four months of being confined to their house. Walking across the street is always fun, everyone smiles at each other with their eyes,” Danh said. He also feels happiness in the noisy sounds of the city, in the street lights, honking car horns, crowded streets when walking on the pedestrian street on the evening of October 8.
Every day, Danh’s route starts from Notre Dame Cathedral, pedestrian streets, alleys, Thi Nghe market, City Post Office… move again. Characters in Danh’s photos are gym goers, delivery people, families taking their children to the park for a walk. One day, when he woke up early, Danh “caught” the scene of crowded roads during the morning rush hour – something he thought was a “luxury” during the months of social distancing.
“Once I met an ice cream vendor, I was surprised and touched,” the photographer said.
This morning, Danh visited Nguyen Van Binh book market, district 1. The street was still quite few people, scattered with a few customers buying books, taking pictures to check in and then return, no one lingered for long. It has been 10 days since it opened, but it seems that people are still quite cautious because in fact, Covid-19 is not clean, there are still more than 1,000 new infections every day. The fourth wave of Covid-19 has sickened more than 410,000 people and killed more than 15,000.
Ho Chi Minh City has experienced 120 days of social distancing at many levels. On May 31, the city started implementing Directive No. 15. On July 9, Ho Chi Minh City applied social distancing according to Directive 16 and lasted until the end of September 30. Accompanying Directive 16 are strict isolation regulations such as only going out for essential purposes or the “who is where, stay there” recommendation that most people just stay at home.
Covid-19 has changed many things in Saigon. Although the street is crowded again as in the photos of freelance photographer Nguyen Danh, overall “the city is not normal”. Many places are still deserted and the epidemic is still an obsession for many people.
Hoai Thu, 30 years old, lives in District 7, is one of them. On October 1, Thu’s boyfriend texted her to ask her to go for a walk and date, but she refused because “still afraid to go out”. That was the beginning of an argument, causing the two to break up.
The female office worker “crying and laughing” talked about a broken love relationship. “When the city opened, he texted right away,” she said. Thu’s boyfriend lives in Tan Binh district, intends to “drive a luxury car to pick up the pedestrian street in District 1”.
Thu has had two vaccinations, but she thinks that when there is no necessary reason, she will not go to crowded places, regardless of her boyfriend’s “need to meet face to face”. “My company won’t go back to work until mid-October. From now until then, I’ll just stay at home,” Thu insisted.
Not only afraid to go to the street, many people are also afraid to go to the company to work because they are used to working from home. About 13 km from Thu’s apartment, in Go Vap, Ngoc Tram, 25, did not hesitate to choose the answer “work from home” in the survey of the human resources department.
After months of struggling to adapt to the distance, Tram is half excited and half worried about the 1/10 milestone. She works in the service of air tickets and visa applications for guests. The nature of the job is not required to join the company. “Staying at home for 5 months now, now I’m afraid to go back to work. Most of our employees continue to choose to work from home,” Tram said.
In addition to the reason “working from home is more comfortable”, Tram said that she is still afraid of traveling and coming into contact with many people because at home there are children under 18 who have not been vaccinated.
Saigon is open, but for business people, it is difficult to return to the way it was. In recent days, Hoang Vy, 28 years old, lives in Binh Thanh, a law office worker cum owner of a children’s fashion brand, busy reopening the store. The girl in one hand holds the phone to contact old customers, the other hand hovers the mouse on the laptop to inventory inventory, plan discounts, advertise new campaigns on e-commerce platforms.
The extended closing time caused the shop’s revenue to decrease. After the city eased the distance, the purchasing power of customers after the epidemic was still hesitant, the tailors at the factory had not returned to Saigon. “Opening sales after the epidemic is like starting a business,” Vy confided.
With no customers to buy clothes, Vy trades in the apartment for extra income. “I sell vegetables and fruits. These days people only buy food, not anything,” she said.
At first, Hoang Vy thought selling vegetables was a light job, but it was difficult to start. Every day, she is “flooded” with tasks such as loading and unloading, composing orders, delivering goods, and cleaning.
Saigon has become more vibrant, but many people still feel deprived. They are longing for the “busy, noisy” sound in cafes and restaurants. Like the story of Tran Tam, 27 years old, when he stopped in front of a coffee shop in Phu Nhuan, waiting to buy a glass of water to take away on October 10.
“At the time of separation, I just wanted the shop to reopen to order home to drink. But now I realize that what I really need is not coffee, but the atmosphere of sitting at the shop,” the guy working in the media industry shared. .
Tran Tam is an introvert. Last year, when people complained about staying at home for too long, Tam felt comfortable again. But the past four months have brought him a very different experience. “I haven’t been on the street for a few months, now I just want to go out and meet people. Even though I can buy food and drink, I still feel unsatisfied, because I’m still just sitting in the four walls of the house. Stop it,” Tam said.
For Ms. Vo Mo, a preschool teacher in Binh Tan district, Saigon is open, but she still feels confused and doesn’t know what to do, after being unemployed for 5 months. “30-year-old female, had 2 vaccinations, needs to find a part-time job at home”, is the message she sent to a job search group in Ho Chi Minh City, on October 8. From now to January 2022 – when Saigon students are expected to return to school – Ms. Mo still has to find a job to cover living expenses.
“My wife and I have had no income in the past few months, so we have to borrow money from relatives and friends. I’m looking for a temporary job at home, like folding paper, or processing something,” said Ms. Mo. “But finding a job is too difficult, I have a small child, I can’t go out.” The mother of two children hopes to return to teaching soon, but does not expect too much. “There are still a lot of F0 in my area,” Mo shared.
When Saigon is open, there are still worries about the epidemic, there are still people in difficulty, there are still shortages and inconveniences in material and spiritual life. But Saigon people are distilling every little joy, about a city gradually revived after a “gray” time.
“Thinking positively, the pandemic has helped me adapt better, from being a lawyer, selling clothes to selling vegetables, loading and unloading… They can all do it,” Hoang Vy shared. She admits it’s still hard for the business to get back to normal now, but “as far as it goes”. “At least I’m still healthy enough to manage my money,” Vy said.
For Nguyen Danh, the thing that makes him feel most deprived when describing Saigon in the days after the lockdown is the lack of bus horns and the sound of planes flying in the sky.
“Without those things, it’s called the new normal Saigon, not a normal Saigon, in the true sense of the word,” the young man shared. “Anyway, the city is slowly coming back,” Danh said.