A Filipino housekeeper (L) with a meal she prepared for the family that employs her in HCMC
A community of Filipino nationals is singing Ho Chi Minh City's praises for the opportunities southern Vietnam's economic capital has offered them.
Most women work as housekeepers for rich local families. Many others, both men and women, play music and sing at bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels throughout the city.
Each makes US$500-$1,000 a month, salaries they say they could never get at home, where the job market is strained and the economy slow.
Vietnamese employers say they favor these Filipinos over local hires as they are often better trained, harder working, and more humble.
"It was very difficult finding a job in the Philippines," said Syjuco, who has worked as a housekeeper at a HCMC home for six years.
Her job is cleaning, preparing meals for the family of seven, including three children and their grandparents, taking the old couple to morning exercises, driving the children to and from school, and helping them with homework.
Syjuco, 37, said that the family provides her with money for clothes and meals, plus a bonus of around $100 every month, which means she can save her complete net payment of $700.
Janeth, a housekeeper at a high-end apartment building, said most Filipino helpers in HCMC had been trained in home-helping, care giving, and first aid and fire fighting skills, by a year-long course offered in the Philippines before coming to Vietnam. Such courses are popular in the Philippines, which sends many home helpers to developed countries as well.
According to their employers, Filipino workers often help with many jobs and actively do extra work around the house, taking care of things outside their contract.
One of the employers, identified only as T.L., said his helper is not only good with housework but also knows how to teach English to children, give first aid, and can drive a car.
"She just knows what to do and I never have to give instructions," L. said.
T.H., a Vietnamese woman, ranks her Filipino helper as "beyond wonderful."
H. said that what she likes most about Cruytal, her helper, is that she never gossips with the neighbors or visitors about things happening in her house.
Cruytal is also helping her children with English lessons. She is paid $800 a month.
Many Filipino women are working as helpers at high-end apartment buildings in districts 2 and 7. Their husbands agree with the plan as the high income in Vietnam is worth the separation.
But some husbands have also moved to the city, working as xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers, private drivers for the employers of their wives, bar waiters, and tour guides.
Some couples say they've been able to save several hundred dollars a month this way. They consider HCMC "the promised land," an ideal place to live and make money.
Some Filipino women said they want to marry Vietnamese husbands so they can stay in HCMC for good.
Even more Filipinos in HCMC are singing at bars for money.
Phillip, a law school graduate, said he has earned a lot of money singing as a solo artist in the city.
He said he was unemployed for four years after graduating, and it was too hard to work as a freelance lawyer, so he went to HCMC to live off his guitar skills and some vocal techniques he learned as a student.
He refused to reveal his income, but said that "if I didn't earn much, I would have quit this job a long time ago."
Many Filipino musicians work for bands in the city. Some of them frequent downtown bars at leading hotels such as the Caravelle. Some choose bars in outlying districts, singing in their native language.
Bar owners said they prefer Filipino bands because their members can both sing and play instruments, and the bars only need three or four of them to put on a complete musical performance.
Meanwhile, a Vietnamese band needs more members as a singer can only sing and a guitarist can only play guitar, a bar owner said.
Good, but for how long?
Every Sunday, more than 100 members of HCMC's Filipino community gather at a church in District 2, staying after the mass to talk about the joys of living here. But some of the talk is also about troubles with formalities in Vietnam, such as visa procedures.
Most Filipinos are in Vietnam on tourism visas. Those who are doing manual or freelance jobs said they worry every day about being deported.
"If so, it would be very regretful because life in HCMC has given me so much," said one Filipino who asked to go unnamed.
Vietnam only grants work permits and long term residence cards to experts and business people, thus many Filipinos are registered for temporary residence as business people, teachers, or tourists.