Bohemian Rhapsody

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 (From R) Stephane Laporte, Daniel Burand, Catherine Tran and Peter Vawter (violinist, a guest from Japan) getting together during the weekend at the terrace living room at their sharing house

Amid the endless drone of motorbikes, tropical heat and foreign tones, members of Ho Chi Minh City's expat community have sought refuge in European-style communal living arrangements - sharing their lives and saving their dough.

Thanh Nien Weekly visited a pair of these homes to see how they're living.

Catherine Tran, a 35-year-old Vietnamese-French woman, acts as the "mum" of her house in Binh Quoi, Binh Thanh District, just half an hour from the city center. She gathers the rent from her four flatmates, British, French and Canadian.

The fifth floor walk-up boasts a sizeable, homey living space dappled with natural light. The rooftop terrace contains a fantastic panoramic view of the curving Saigon River. On a recent visit, Tran and her four roommates sat basking in the sunset, relaxing at the end of a long day like a bunch of old housecats.

"The rules are simple," said Daniel Burnand, Tran's housemate. "Lock the door, don't be late paying the rent and do not use other people's stuff without asking them. So far we haven't had any big problems. We respect one another's privacy."

Stephane Laporte, a fitness teacher, offers Burnand free lessons in stretching and nutrition. Burnand says the group is so happy they may stay together ever after getting married.

"We are far from [our] families and we only have our friends," Tran said. "Sharing a house is very good for networking. But more, it makes us feel warm. It is easier to have an extra friend at home. We are very close, sometimes I even share a bed with Donia, my housemate from France. I hardly ever feel lonely here."

Each member of the household pays just VND4 million (around US$210) per month for a bedroom with private toilet. They share a kitchen, motorbike parking area, two common rooms and the terrace.

For the most part, lonely expats harried by the dinge of cheap hotel rooms can seek out housemates online.

House hunting online

"I share my house with one Vietnamese guy and a Korean girl," said Federica Paudice, a project manager for the Italian Trade Commission. Paudice says she met her roommates on www.expat-blog.com.

Eric Llouquet found his first shared HCMC apartment through the French Consulate's website www.mfe.org. The 29-year-old, French-Vietnamese IT manager shares a five-floor furnished house on District 1's Dien Bien Phu Street with four friends from Canada, Japan, and France.

"We follow common sense," Llouquet said of the arrangement, which seemed slightly more exacting than Tran's household. "Everybody works so we agree not to have parties during the week and not to come home too late (after midnight). There is no commitment except the rent payment. But when one member of the house leaves they will be in charge of finding someone to replace them."

The whole place costs $900 per month. Though he lacks a native contingent in the household, Llouquet feels as though he's having a special experience all of his own.

"Sharing the house with people from different countries may improve your life somehow," he said. "Your social life improves, for one. You meet so many different people through your roommates."

Xavier Duchatel, a 25-year-old intern at Archetype Vietnam lives with Llouquet. Duchatel plans to get his own place when he returns to France six months from now. "Sometimes when you are tired and don't want to see anyone it is better to live on your own," he said. "I want to choose my own furniture; sharing a house is nice but I prefer to have my own private place, designed by me."

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