Our house is a very very very fine house?

?but no cats in the yard, in fact no yard at all!

I have already posted images of our house at 337 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St in HCMC and it should be obvious that the zoning of this area is zero allotment. In fact, most houses in HCMC are built directly abutting their neighbours and can best be compared with inner city terrace houses in the major cities of Australia. The major difference is that here the houses are built tall, with some going up 6 stories and only 4 meters wide. Land is at a premium, and that is why maximum use is made of every available space. You know that a house is worth a fair bit of money if it is 8 meters wide and you can bet that it is worth a squillion if it is free standing and has some area of garden.

Our house is 4 meters wide, about 20 meters deep and is on three levels. However, the ceilings are so high that there is a feeling of spaciousness and having a stairwell in the center adds to this feeling as it really does open the place up. The construction of houses like ours is of brick and rendered concrete and in fact if you can imagine a three sided concrete shell with no front and two ?shelves? for each floor, that is what it is like. In fact, the built in wardrobe in the rear bedroom in the middle level is made entirely (not the doors and drawers of course) from concrete as it is a part of the overall shell of the building.

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Cleverly, our house has a large vent built at the right hand rear which goes from the ground floor up to the roof and is opened by pulling on a rope on a pulley. This rope runs the entire three levels up to another pulley which opens or closes a large lid. The lid slides on tracks and is constructed quite simply from angle iron and corrugated green pergola roofing material. The idea of it is that most of the time you have the cover open and it creates a flue-like effect for ventilation, at the same time letting in extra light not only to the ground floor level, but to the two back room windows on the first and second floors whose windows open into it. (They would otherwise be windowless as the back wall abuts the back wall of the house behind). The complete effect is similar to living in a very large fireplace. Imagine that the lounge room is the hearth, while the vent at the back is like a chimney, with the stair well adding to the effect. Needless to say, the vent needs to be closed when it is raining (haven?t seen any as yet) or we would be deluged below, and it has built in iron bars for security. The positive effect is that there is a definite draft created which aids in ventilation, however the sounds from down below and out in the alley are also drawn upwards which is a slight negative I have to say.

The front of this open concrete shell is filled in with large iron and glass doors. These doors on the ground and first level open completely if you want. The glass is covered in wrought iron which is decorative as well as for security. Each door is triple locked with one key lock and two huge padlocks. When you go out the padlocks are fastened on the outside. The front gate has a padlock also. Imagine if you will going out of the front door. First, you must unlock the double locking central key lock, unlock one padlock and re-lock it to remove the key, unlock the second padlock and keep it in your hand. Second open the door and put on your shoes. Third step outside and close the door, place and lock the first padlock, place and lock the second padlock, double lock the central key lock. Third, unlock the padlock on the front gate, open the gate, step outside and reach through the gate to close the padbolt, then slide the lock through and relock it. If after this you realize that you have left something inside, it can stay where it is for sure!

The house has a permanent water supply which comes in from a mains located out in the alleyway. I know where it is because I was shown where the main tap and water meter are located. To get to them I need to roll the television and entertainment unit forward, take a kitchen knife or something similar and prise up a loose floor tile to reveal the workings beneath. We need to do this on the 8th day of each month as, along with the electricity, the water usage is checked then. The deal is that I read the water usage and I read the electricity usage (that meter is also inside on the wall) and write both figures onto a piece of paper in large red lettering which I stick on to the front door in a clearly visible position. The meter persons come along and take note of the amount, then return one or two days later with the account, which is normally paid on the spot in cash.

The water pressure here from the street varies from weak to nil depending on how many people are using the water from the same line. I?m not sure where this water comes from, although I did see the water treatment plant and its tower at Bien Hoa just north of HCMC last June. I assume that this plant does the entire city, but I could be wrong. Nevertheless, there is a system in place within the house to deal with the fluky water pressure. It is very simple. The water from the mains runs directly to the right rear of the ground floor (at the back of the kitchen/laundry area, directly under the vent) and flows into an inside tank or well. It is a large fully tiled concrete well that has a ball cock valve mechanism controlling the height of the water. This fills irregularly as and when there is actually water coming from the mains. Meanwhile, up on the roof there sits a stainless steel tank. These come in all sizes around this city, but ours is a quite modest 500 litres (I can see others on house close by that are 2002 litres). This tank drops water back down into every outlet in the house and provides quite good pressure. As soon as the roof tank has 200 litres used from it, it sends a message to an electric pump which sits on top of the interior well and the pump refills the roof tank from the interior one. All of the piping and wiring for this system runs the full length of the vent. Quite simple really and works well once you get used to the pump running and water running at odd times. Unless of course you do what I did one day and turn off the master switch to the electric pump, but I will talk about the amount of electric switches in this place at some other time.

We have three showers, but only one (off our bedroom) has hot water. Because the hot water system is one of those instant electric types it is necessary to turn it on about ten minutes before you want a shower and remember to turn it off again to save power. It is quick to heat up and works very well. I figure that, because I see several houses with no water tanks on the roof and figure further that they probably don?t even have much in the way of running water at all, that a hot shower is something of a luxury for which I am very thankful.

Our cooking range is a bench top two burner gas affair which is fueled from a gas bottle under the bench. We purchased a small oven/toaster for ourselves and along with a microwave (which we have yet to use) we are quite well equipped. I notice that one of our neighbours down the alley still has to cook on a charcoal burner which she places out into the alleyway and cooks on in the open. Yet again we are well off and have nothing to complain about. Mostly, given the close proximity of so much good food and the fact that it is so inexpensive to eat out, we do just that and haven?t bothered cooking all that much. Although occasionally it is great to buy some Aussie Brie, French blue cheese, olives and a bottle of Vietnamese red wine and stay in.

Ok ? my fingers are tired from this damned laptop keyboard (still have to purchase a wireless normal size keyboard) and it is time to go and have a meal. I will write more on our happenings soon so keep tuned!