Tet may bypass poverty-stricken Vietnamese village

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Thieng Lieng village in Ho Chi Minh City may count as its residents some who have been paid among the largest Tet bonuses this year, but many others here are barely scraping a living and hoping they have some money left to celebrate the biggest holiday in the calendar.

The village is situated in the flooded mangrove forest of Can Gio District on the city's outskirts, and most of its houses are covered with old rusty iron sheets.

Of its 206 families, almost half make a living on salt fields, which have been badly affected this year by the heavy, unseasonable rains.

"We are still struggling to earn enough for every day while Tet is almost upon us," a villager told Tuoi Tre a week ahead of the Lunar New Year which falls on January 23 this year.

Nguyen Van Yen, who owns a salt field, said he is trying to borrow money to pay his workers before the holiday.

"It has been raining and the salt fields remain just ponds of salt water "¦ The salt has not crystallized."

By the same time last year, he said, his field had produced nearly 10 tons of salt.

People usually have at least four da s off for Tet, including the last day of the old year, but Tuoi Tre quoted Yen as saying that if the sun came out during the holiday, the villagers would have no choice but to work as usual.

Do Thi Tam, another local, said using sign language that she has yet to plan for Tet shopping since her son has not been |paid at the salt field he joined recently after dropping out of ninth grade. She was born with impaired hearing.

Tam's family is among the poorest in the area, with an annual income of less than VND8 million (US$380), mostly earned by her son, village head Nguyen Hong Huynh said.

The family received a Tet gift worth VND600,000 ($28) from the commune government and Tam said it is all she would have for the holiday if her son is not paid.

Most older villagers earn a little money from catching snails and fish in the forest.

Tam herself caught two kilograms of snails in the last week, and she hoped it will fetch around VND200,000.

Vu Tien Phuc and his wife Tran Thi Loc are old and also count on catching fish and snails for an income, often earning a mere dollar on some days. The couple has a daughter who is bedridden for the last 20 years after being born disabled due to Agent Orange to which Phuc was exposed to during the Vietnam War.

The three of them live in a charity house.

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