Việt Nam experience: Door, sweet door

There are two things you shouldn’t do in Việt Nam:

Primo, never accept food that you can’t identify.

Secundo, never tell your landlord that your main living room door is termite-infested and needs replacing.

Had I known it, I would have said nothing and waited another two years until the door frame became an embarrassment that the neighbors would giggle about.

The whole adventure speaks volumes about how much more modernizing Việt Nam has to do in how things get … sort of done…

I’d noticed it by accident, since the curtains hid the imploding paint job receding into the thick supporting beam.

It’s a monster of a door, about three meters wide and four meters high, opening outwards towards my front gate.

You could peel off splinters of wood quicker than running the red lights on an old Honda.

That was nine months ago.

From time to time some men in blue jackets would turn up to look at the door and mutter strange comments to each other.

I love the color schemes; blue jacket with plain pants – local jack of all trades.

Blue with matching trousers?

They’re usually the government labor force.

And my favorite, girls in paisley trousers with white rubber boots – house construction.

“Ooo… it could be a big job.”

“I don’t know about those upper windows…”

I’ve yet to get used to the idea that workmen never seem to have tools.


You mean like, with real training?) …

Of course, no one thought to bring the tape measure.

DoorWorkmen are pictured repairing the doors mentioned in this article 

Tools are expensive, and Vietnamese do tend to think some forms of equipment, such as water pumps carted around the neighborhood in a wheelbarrow from one farm plot to another, are community property.

“Can I borrow a screwdriver?”

Yeah, sure…

I’m the local hardware store, doesn’t everyone know?

The first bunch of dudes stuffed it up brilliantly.

Apparently no one thought to measure the inside of the doorway.

So when the first version of the frame turned out to be the wrong size, my poor landlord was left sitting there with dark clouds across his face.

It was quite a thing to see.

Three months later, I get the phone call.

As all expats know, we are the last to know about anything that the Vietnamese are planning.

“Stivi, we do your door.”

“Wow, when?”

“Don’t know – maybe Thursday, maybe Friday, maybe next week!”

Informing people of what is going on seems to be a long-lost soft skill.

One of the first cultural concepts I had to learn here was ‘rubber time’ – things simply happen when the critical threshold of people and material has been reached.

I cancelled classes and thought it would be all over in a weekend.

No such luck – this was a ‘2020’ project.

Friday morning and people are walking through the house as I wake up.

No one pays me any attention.

With a single ladder, two men and a small hammer rip out the old frame.

Day 2 to day 5:

Four days of sanding, grinding and banging the brick work for the next frame.

My young puppy dogs are grounded.

I let them out to annoy the workmen, who are beginning to annoy me.

I wish the dogs were older so they could bite hard instead of licking everyone to death.

Work falls into a routine.

Arrive – have breakfast, look around, do something, stop for water, look around, more water, work.

Stop for lunch at 11:00 am.

Sleep on my outside porch.

Wander in to ask for some spicy sauce for their rice.

Start again at 1:00 pm.

More dust, shouting at their phones, giggling at my stuff in the house, stop to ask me to buy more water for them.

Continue until about 4:00 pm.

The old doors are nailed across with a plank of wood – great security.

I can only thank my lucky stars this is a very safe neighborhood, we rarely get trouble around here as most of the families are inter-related.

Day 7 – frame is in.

Day 8 – doors arrive – unsanded and ready to be cut to size.

Again, no tape measure, just keep cutting until something fits.

I watch in awe.

Hinges are not yet fitted and another night with door frames looking like heaven to house thieves.

Again, the workmen laugh at my puppies, chatter a lot about why they are doing it this way to the poor landlord, and seem to take a long time to find tools lying among the wood and plaster mess.

That’s another thing – workmen never clean up the mess, why?

The doors took three days to prepare, undercoat, paint and install.

People were going over other people’s work, finding faults, making mistakes.

It’s another puzzle – why can’t the doors be prepared while the frame is going in?

Are they stalling for time and more salary?

Multi-tasking is also a mysterious skill it seems.

Finally the doors are in.

I spent a day cleaning and taking medicine for my shattered patience.

If this is the way they build, I’ll never build a house here – my sanity couldn’t take it.

My neighbors though it was a hoot and loved wandering around my yard just to pass the time with the laborers and drink all my water.

At no stage did I see a spirit level, a written design or plan, and only occasionally a tape measure.

Việt Nam seems like a “Do it yourself” construction, with little thought of what happens next or the consequences.

The door is in… but the walls are not sealed… those termites are laughing their heads.

I wonder what will happen in 2020.


I have my door… my sweet door.



(*) Stivi Cooke is an Aussie living in Hoi An Ancient Town in central Vietnam

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News


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