Posted by: sharemore1 | January 28, 2011

Constructing a Building One Brick at a Time


Building Under Construction

IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO SLEEP LATE in our Hanoi apartment.  If we did doze off after government announcements and songs blared through our neighborhood at 6:45, even a pillow over our heads couldn’t mute the daily construction noise.

Bam, bam, bam, from dawn to dusk and sometimes longer, workers were slowly erecting a new apartment building on our block.  Like most buildings in the city, it was tall and narrow, one room wide with one apartment per floor.   The new building would have six stories, one more than ours.  Since land is expensive in Hanoi, developers take maximum advantage of small building sites.

The workers in the first crew were all young men, who looked more like high school kids than construction workers.  Safety gear was nowhere to be seen.  They didn’t wear hard hats, hearing protection or safety glasses.  Instead of steel-toed boots, they worked in open-toed sandals.  Even the workers at the top of the building had no fall protection.

Since we passed the building everyday, we kept close track of their progress.   The

Construction Worker

men were always there, working seven days a week and living on the construction site.  Alongside the hammers, shovels, sand and gravel were the basic necessities of housekeeping:  a small stove, pots, and blue and green plastic tubs.  The tubs were used to wash dishes, clothes and even themselves.

Living on the Job

On the second floor I could see a simple bedroom, with rattan mats on the floor and clothes hooks on the wall.  They had a cooling fan, but nothing to keep them warm when the temperature dipped into the 50s.  The front of the building was open to the wind, rain and curious stares from passersby.  During the day, the site was quiet only after lunch when the workers took a nap, like most everyone in Hanoi.

Day after day the men worked, constructing the building with simple tools.  To get sand, gravel or bricks to an upper floor, they shoveled the material into one or two metal buckets hooked to a pulley.  Using a small motor, one person raised the buckets to the floor where they were needed.  Boards were secured by a rope and sent aloft with the pulley.

Filling the Buckets

One day when we passed the site, the workers we’d come to know had vanished. They had been replaced by another crew that included a woman.   She shoveled sand into buckets all day, working as hard as the young men.

Toward the end of our four months in Hanoi, the rickety scaffolding and billowing tarps were gone and the building was being closed in.  Although it didn’t yet have windows, there was a large metal door that locked the first floor at night.

The racket no longer bothered me as much.  Perhaps I had just gotten used to it, or maybe I had a new appreciation for my comfortable life.   If the construction crew could work so hard seven days a week, I guess I could put up with a little construction noise.

New Building, Nearly Done


  1. but wasn’t the new building worth it?

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