by Hoai Anh
HA NOI — Seventy-year-old Nguyen Van Minh walks slowly along Ha Noi's two-kilometre-long Nguyen Trai Street with an old knife in his hand. Every now and then, he pauses, using the knife to remove illegal advertising flyers and large posters plastered on trees, electricity poles, bus stops and walls. He dumps them into a plastic bag.
|Nguyen Van Minh removes illegal advertising flyers on a public advertising board. — VNS Photo Quang The
Under the harsh summer sun, sweat drips run from his furrowed forehead. His threadbare shirt is also soaked in sweat. Minh patiently repeats his action as moves down the street. It's as if the more leaflets he removes, the more money he will get.
The elderly gent is not a public cleaner, but a conscientious citizen proud of his city. He hates the clutter of paper plastered everywhere so, in his own time and without any pay or support from anyone, he has been cleaning-up for more than 10 years.
After retiring from the city's Rang Dong Thermos Light Bulb Jointstock Company in 2000, he thought about doing something useful for his city, something he could perform regularly considering his age.
However, he did not figure out what he could do until he went jogging in a park near his house early one morning and saw ugly leaflets stuck on the trees and park walls. "I was irritated at all the illegal flyers stuck up in public places. These really make the city look dirty," he says.
Back then, this type of free advertising had just started to become popular. But it did not take long before illegal posters and advertisements could be found everywhere.
Minh realised what he had to do. Since then, he has cycled along Nguyen Trai Street, where he lives, to see where the latest batch of ugly advertisements have been plastered. And in the afternoons, he walks along the street slowly cutting and ripping them off.
Each week, he collects about 10-kg of leaflets and posters which he sells to raise money for charitable activities. A quick calculation reveals that this means Minh has removed about 35,000 kilos of leaflets in 10 years.
Tran Binh, a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver in Nguyen Trai Street, says many people, including himself, have asked Minh if he is mad. They say his efforts are useless because new leaflets are quickly pasted up in the same places where the old ones have been removed. Others claim he just wants to draw attention to himself.
But Binh says Minh offers no explanation and silently keeps doing his work. Other passers-by feel it is not Minh who is wasting his time, but the many illegal poster pasters who find, at the end of the day, all their work is undone. Thanks to Minh's endless efforts, fewer leaflets are now being stuck up on trees and electricity poles in the street.
Minh says: "I don't care what other people think because I get no benefit from this job, but the happy feeling of doing something for my street and my city. It also does not disrupt my life. In fact, it is part of my exercise routine.
"My action springs form my love for the place where I have spent all my life. Elderly Ha Noi people like me spent dozens of their early years in a capital city full of green trees, clean rivers and pollution-free streets. I miss that old city."
Minh is not be totally alone in his thinking. The municipal People's Committee has come up with several solutions to rid public places of the illegal advertising menace.
Several campaigns have been organised to remove the advertisements and stiff penalties adopted, including cutting off the phones of those whose numbers appear on the posters and flyers. But little has been achieved.
Putting his knife into his shirt pocket, Minh ends his "afternoon exercise" when the last rays of sunshine fade. He smiles and says: "I wish a group of veterans would form on each street to voluntarily remove these ugly advertisements and leaflets. This would eventually put a stop to the practice."
Although his wish has yet to become true, his story has caught the imagination of thousands of people on the internet. His work has inspired many groups of young people to come together to keep the city clean.
Nguyen Phuong Nam, a student at Thang Long University, now takes part in collecting rubbish in his residential area every weekend. He says: "We, as young people, sometimes are too selfish to pay attention to others and the city we are living in. What Minh is doing reminds us that each of us can do something useful for the city to make it cleaner and more beautiful." — VNS