THE STORY OF PHUC TAN [05:00]
The story unfolds in Phuc Tan ward, one of the 18 wards of the wealthy metropolitan Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi. However, its proximity to the business and cultural center of the capital city is cut sharp by the dyke on the Red river. It looked nothing like a developed urban area. Houses in the ward were shabby among the weeds growing high, burying underneath heaps of needles and rubbish left by the drug users. The locals dared not build doors overlooking the river, let alone the kids dreaming of having a safe playground.
Poverty and loose community fabric were palpable primarily due to a complicated population breakdown, mostly consisting of immigrants. The number was approximated to fluctuate between 1,000 and 3,000 people, or 6-20% of the whole. They earned their poor living with temporary jobs like fruit sellers and porters. The shared mentality of temporary settlement meant a slack community attachment.
Bearing such a negative way of thinking was Ms. Chat, the lead character of the story. She was a Hanoi born-and-bred citizen and spent most of her life in a cramped apartment in the crowded old quarter. Phuc Tan, in her intention, would be a temporary shelter before she could find out a better place. “Who dares to live in the land of the homeless and immigrants?” she thought. Anyway, with her innate enthusiasm for social work, she joined in the Red Cross of the ward, just for fun as she initially supposed.
Ms. Tam, another character, was on the contrary a perennial dweller in Phuc Tan. As a housewife, she spent most of her day in the kitchen and avoided being involved in social activities. After a few random conversations, Ms. Chat and she became close, which then influenced her decision to join the Red Cross of the ward. Socialization, as she realized, turned out to be more enjoyable than she ever expected.
At the time, Ms. Chat was serving as the president of the ward Red Cross. Under her leadership, a number of the ward residents joined the team, Ms. Tam included. Community work, the feeling of being helpful and the new acquaintances helped soften the inherent toughness of their immigrant lives. At the same time, Ms. Chat felt increasingly close to the people around. She began to think of changing the surrounding no matter what.
She called for sisterly friends in the Red Cross to clear out the weed-covered river bank. People, like Ms. Tam, Ms. Mui, Ms. Xoan, responded enthusiastically. In the boiling heat of 35-40oC, they joined hands together to uproot the weeds, throw away the rubbish, and revive the land. But there needed further care to prevent weeds and rubbish from invading back. With that thought, Ms. Chat and her sisterly friends asked for approval from the local authority to plant vegetables on the bank. Each participating household would take care of their assigned sections.
The outcome was positive beyond expectation. The scenery was beautified, the environment was improved, family meals got more nutrients while the crime rate was significantly decreased. Some of the harvest was even for sales, bringing income to the planters. Both the authority and the locals got more engaged. Increasing households took charge of the bank land based on their labor capacity. More profoundly, the bond that held the whole community together became tighter and tighter. The riverbank and vegetable garden have become a common house. Gardening time became a blissful breakout from the hardships of the day, when people came to share bits and pieces of their lives, seeking compassion and seeking advice, and building a strong community for all.
For now, the riverbank has fully been covered green. Seeds of plants and of hopes have grown up strong and high. So has the tie between Ms. Chat and other Phuc Tan residents and this reviving land.