Hanoi develops an extra appreciation for trees in summer, when it gets hot. Then, it is a common sight to see motorcyclists take every chance they get to stand in their shade, especially at traffic signals.
In a residential area not far from downtown Hanoi, the appreciation has gone a lot further. Big trees have been incorporated into the homes of hundreds of residents of the Kim Lien Living Quarters in the downtown Dong Da District.
Built in 1959, the Kim Lien Living Quarters is one of the oldest residential buildings in the capital city.
A house extension built around the roots and trunk of a large tree. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Tung.
Since the 90s, as the demand for housing space increased, residents started building extensions to their homes at all levels from ground to the highest floor of the building, usually the fifth. This has meant that some trees have become part of many homes, going from a garden in one house through the roof in another, and in several other spaces in between.
Another house extension that has a large tree in the centre. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Tung.
Several generations of residents in these homes have grown up with the trees inside their house and are used to it. Some who want to rent their homes out have even found that the tree is a bonus feature.
The trunk of a living tree shares space with a water tank, an air conditioner and other appliances in one house. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Tung.
Thu Phuong, one of the residents in the building, told VnExpress: “I’ve lived here for a long time, so I know humans and trees lean on each other in life. We rely on the trees for shade. And because the trees grow inside the houses, they are not easily uprooted by storms.”
A large tree snuggles up to several house extensions. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Tung.
Khanh Hue, another resident introduced the tree as a family member who has been part of her life since her father was a boy. When Hue was born, the near 50-year-old tree, a kind of mahogany, was already so big it took two people to embrace its trunk.
The tree is part of a kitchen shelf in another house, hosting pots and pans on nails. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Tung.
Of course, having a tree in the house has its problems, too, especially during the rainy season. Hue has had to repair her roof three times after branches dropped and cracked it. Some trees also grow diagonally along the walls, so several families fear that if they fall, their houses would go with them.
“The tree is growing bigger and bigger every day. We have to trim the roots often so they won’t stretch around the house. Now the tree is about a quarter the size of our kitchen. I’m afraid if the tree grows fast, it will take up the entire kitchen and we won’t know where to cook,” Hue said.
“If we ask permission from the authorities, they would allow us to cut the tree down, but nobody dares to do it. Partly because of feng shui (Chinese geomancy), partly because it is expensive to hire someone to do the job, so we have desisted,” Hue said.
One tree is the epicenter of a row of streetside shops set up in the Kim Lien area. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung.
Not too far from Hue’s apartment, a shop owner is not too happy about the big tree that she has built her shop around. She said the shop’s roof leaks every time it rains because of the position of the tree. Many families use big-sized plastic bag and foam plastic to cover the roof and wrap around the tree roots to prevent water from flooding their homes.
Residents wrap the trunk of a tree with canvas sheets to prevent roofs leaking when it rains. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Tung.
The trees also shed a lot of leaves, blocking the sewage system. The residents here have to unclog the system many times to prevent flooding during the rainy season.
However, most residents are also fond of the trees they have grown with, despite the nuisance and danger factors.
One resident said: “Now, if we live in our house without the tree, it would feel that a family member has gone. I would feel empty inside.”