Viet Nam News
CẦN THƠ — Focusing on the heap of sand and rocks in front of him, the grey-haired man in a faded shirt—gradually darkening with sweat—took little rest as he worked to fill in a road pothole. Next to him was a tricycle carrying his supplies, lying beneath a white board saying “Road under repair. Please slow down”.
The road fixing man was no Cần Thơ City construction worker, but rather an ordinary citizen who sells lottery tickets to passersby for a living.
The life of 49-year-old Nguyễn Hồng Dân, called Uncle Ba by his familiars because he was the third child of the family (ba means three in Vietnamese), changed forever ten years ago.
Despite his disability—an unusually small leg, caused by muscular atrophy due to polio when he was two years old—Uncle Ba strived to become the owner of a successful business in his hometown. He does not talk much about his past, but locals have learned the vague story that his business incurred massive losses, forcing Uncle Ba and his wife to shut the business down.
The couple decided to leave for Bình Dương Province and lived as lottery ticket sellers. Bình Dương is a well-known highly industrialised province with several industrial parks clustered in certain areas, hosting thousands of workers coming in and out every day. Uncle Ba tended to bike to these factories in the hope of selling more lottery tickets to the workers.
A decade ago, Uncle Ba began to notice something deeply unsettling. Many workers and vehicle drivers fell over several potholes in the decrepit roads, and suffered a gruesome death under the tires. These accidents occurred over and over again.
Those accidents obsessed him. He knew he had to do something. He decided that if no one else would fix the potholes, he would.
Uncle Ba used some of his rather tight profits from selling the lottery tickets to buy sand, rock and cement. Riding his bicycle around on his daily work, he stopped whenever he spotted a pothole and repaired it.
“If I saw a pothole and I had enough money, I would buy sand and cement right away and fix it. Otherwise I would mark the location of the pothole in a notebook so I could come back to fix it when I had the money,” Uncle Ba told Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper.
Realising that the bicycle was not convenient for carrying the materials needed for the road repair, Uncle Ba discussed with his wife plans to buy a tricycle. He could continue selling the lottery tickets, and at the same time was able to load the construction materials on the tricycle, ready to begin repairs wherever he saw a pothole.
“I could earn some VNĐ200,000 (US$8.8) from lottery sale on a lucky day. After spending for food and living costs, I would use the rest to buy the (repairing) materials,” he said.
Uncle Ba and his wife never stayed in one place too long. For the last decade, they travelled from Bình Dương all the way down south to Rạch Giá in Kiên Giang Province, then headed east to Cần Thơ City.
They have been living in Cần Thơ for almost two years now, depending on the income from Uncle Ba’s lottery tickets and the small grocery store run by his wife. Some ask the couple why they did not try to save some money to buy a house and settle down instead of renting one house after another while spending so much on the pothole fixing work.
He had inherited a lot of land from his parents in his hometown, Uncle Ba explained, and a small shack there would be more than enough for him when he got old.
He only hoped that he and his wife will still be healthy to earn some money to fix the roads for the people, Uncle Ba said.
Nguyễn Thị Hồng, a resident of Trà Nóc Ward and a neighbour of Uncle Ba, said that everyone knew about his work.
“He went out to fix roads all the time, regardless of rain or sunshine. Many offer him money but he rejects it all, saying that all his good deeds would then lose their meaning,” Hồng said. “His soul is more of a saint than anyone’s.” — VNS