Historic market faces uncertain future

By Michael Smith, Thanh Nien News

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Business goes on at 2 a.m. at the construction-besieged Nancy Market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1.
Vy, 20, works on her family’s vegetable stand seven nights a week from 10 p.m. till 2 a.m.
Her friend often hangs out with her at the roughshod stall while Vy shreds green leafy vegetables for the restaurant table.
Nancy Market, which was given its name by the French during colonial times, was partially closed five years ago for a through road and bridge which still hasn’t gone through.
Nguyen Van Cu Street will eventually continue through the market and over the new bridge to districts 4 and 7.
The tattered end of the unfinished bridge, poised ominously at the Ben Nghe Canal end of the market, has been rusting for three years since work stopped.
Under the bridge, the massive Package 1 of the Saigon East West Highway construction project is making its way west along the canal to connect with the National Highway 1.
It began in 2005 as a joint venture between Obayashi Corporation and P.S Mitsubishi Construction, and is funded through loan aid from Japan.
At the other end of the market on Tran Hung Dao Street is the drain project that is taking over the major HCMC roads.
It is a complicated and troublesome task to drain away water from Saigon, for which inundation is only a heavy shower away.
Drains running the length of Nancy Market have been laid and re-laid multiple times by a company subcontracting for the same Japanese Joint Venture that is making the East West Arterial.
Marketers have shown incredible acceptance of the inconvenience and expense of making way for the work.
The food sellers, who were told to move in 2003 to make way for the long overdue Nguyen Van Cu Bridge project, have, as a result, worked among open sewer ditches and heavy earthmoving machinery for a long time.
Vy said the market has survived through adversity because it’s cheap: the low monthly permit fees are passed on to the customers, usually locals with their own small food stalls and families.
Now that the wet has started, stalls are covered with old umbrellas, tarps and clear plastic sheets, which need constant adjustments to stop the water pooling above.
The water pours off the tarps periodically throwing up splashes of mud.
Gum boots are more suitable than the sandals and high heels worn by many shoppers.
Vy’s family has lifted their stall’s floor out of the mud with a foot-deep layer of crushed bricks and masonry.
They run their lights with wires from a power pole.
Before they were connected, Vy worked her night shift in the eerie shadows of street lamps and passed the hours playing games on her mobile phone.
Some sellers at the market expect Nguyen Van Cu Bridge to come through late this year.
Many of the people who rely on the market for their livelihoods have been there for over 20 years.
They get what information they can about Nancy’s future from television news, not government notices.
The bridge work restarted in the market area in earnest a month ago.
The foundations for two bridge supports are being built with deep concrete foundations and super heavy steel reinforcing and shaped formwork.
An ancient mobile crane in constant need of repair lifts the steel formwork and reinforcing into place and the welding teams work day and night.
The steelwork for the span across the canal is almost complete, and awaits the concrete road.
Barges are used to get materials there up the black canal that has a killer smell.
A Hanoi company, PC14, is the bridge contractor and many of the laborers who are from the capital are living in temporary thatched shelters at the site.
An employee on the East West arterial road said Nguyen Van Cu Bridge won’t be finished until December 2009.
But the fact is nobody is really sure.
The site of Nancy Market is set to be part an important traffic pathway as Nguyen Van Cu will cross the Ben Nghe and Te canals to connect District 5 with districts 4 and 7.
It will change the face of Nguyen Van Cu Street, but most of all it will change Nancy Market, which may not survive the final incursion, though it has managed to scrape through this far.

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