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Down and out in Ho Chi Minh City

The global economic crisis bears down on Vietnamese workers.

Traditionally, Vietnamese workers who are laid off can fall back on their home villages for support. They return to their families, who divide the annual rice crop up into a few extra bowls. But this time around, that may be harder. Vietnamese agriculture has been gradually consolidating for greater efficiency, and many poor families have no land of their own.

“I can’t go back to the countryside, there’s no work there either,” said Cuc’s former coworker at Collan, Dinh Thi Ha, 21. Ha, who comes from the same poor area in Quang Binh as Cuc, was laid off on January 20, and returned to her village for the Vietnamese New Year, or Tet. Unable to find a job, she came back to Ho Chi Minh City, and has been trying to find a job since.

“Two years ago I used to expect I could save some money,” said Ha. “But that’s vanished into the sky now.”

Workers who can’t go home are pushed into part-time, informal jobs to make ends meet. Le Xuan Thong, 38, was making a steady $200 a month as a salesman at a Sanyo television store until he was laid off in November. Now he drives an "xe om," or motorbike taxi, on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

“On a good day, I might make 100,000 dong ($6). On a bad day...” Thong shrugs. “I have to work. I have a six-month-old daughter.”

For others, the fall into the informal economy is harder still. Thuyen, 23, grew up in a mountain village on the Chinese border, and moved to Hanoi in 2005 to work at a Japanese electric cable factory. She was laid off in December, but has yet to tell her parents where she is working now: a massage parlor.

“When I graduated from school, I just wanted to be a factory worker,” Thuyen said. “Now I’m worried someone I know will see me working in the massage parlor. But I don’t have any choice.”

For more GlobalPost Dispatches on displaced workers:

The end of the "Chinese Dream"?

Destitute, jobless, and on the move again

Financial crisis halts Central Asia’s economic boom