|Bike inspection: Le Long Vuong checks one of his bikes.
When Hai Long was young, owning a bicycle was an accomplishment. Today, he cherishes the two-wheeled vehicles. Thuy Ngan reports.
Le Long Vuong, who is also known as Hai Long, 63, has always been an avid collector of old bicycles in the past 30 years.
Almost everyone in Son Hoa Commune, Chau Thanh District, in the southern province of Ben Tre knows Long.
Hai Long riding his Mercier bicycle around Hoa Trung Village has become a common sight to the local residents.
Twice or three times a month, Long admires his collection by displaying a parade of old bicycles along his yard. His neighbours watch him silently contemplate the assortment of old knickknacks while contentedly sipping tea.
Long said that owning any kind of bicycle had been regarded as an accomplishment in poor villages when he was much younger.
"The image of people traveling to work using bicycles is deeply rooted in my memory," shared Long.
Long's father bought him a bicycle to ride to school when he was 12 years old. Since then, he has learned to attach indispensable significance to the bicycle. At present, he has encouraged his children and grandchildren to go to school by bicycle.
In Long's mind, the bicycle is a vivid representation of his childhood and early memories.
He had been financially capable of supporting his passion for collecting bicycles until 1980. He bought an old bicycle made by the French in 1940 - 1950 from a State worker with two-tenths of a tael (roughly VND7 million (US$330) of the present exchange rate). He reminisced about this bicycle whenever he had the time.
Hai Long's method of acquiring bicycles is also unusual. His collection includes 33 bicycles made in the French colonisation era, of which 13 have aluminium frames and 20 have iron frames. Only four bicycles are in their original condition, while he assembled the remaining ones himself.
Long refuses to spend money on buying a whole bicycle. He prefers to search for the different parts needed, and then he pieces them together to create a whole bicycle.
"The bicycle is not only old, but it is also assembled by me, which makes me cherish it even more," he explained.
Among all the different kinds of bicycles, Peugeot and Mercier are the most famous and difficult to find trademarks.
|Wheels on wheels: Le Long Vuong collects old bicycles. — VNS Photos Thuy Ngan
Each bicycle has specific characteristics.
"In spending time to observe the bicycles and study their history, we can find interesting and distinct features," revealed Long.
When the French invaded Viet Nam a long time ago, they brought with them bicycles used for travelling. However, the bicycles were designed to cater to the lifestyle or profession of the users. For instance, the bicycles for doctors were different from the ones used by students or workers. The differences could be seen from the stand, saddle and steering wheel.
"I think the French creatively designed such bicycles. They were able to make several variations of the bicycles using the same materials," described Long.
Long's first bicycle has the Peugeot trademark and an iron frame. The bicycle has been with him for several decades. Therefore, its parts were challenging to find. However, Long remains patient in his search for the different proper parts of the bicycle to set them up together.
Occasionally, Long must buy a whole old bicycle to obtain the parts he needs.
"Collecting old bicycles is not a simple hobby," he shared.
Long said that collecting old bicycles allows him to look back to the old days when he lived in poverty and had to search for the different parts to make a complete bicycle. He shared that finally finishing assembling a bicycle always made him indescribably happy.
"I like old bicycles because they have different features and have their own distinct characters unlike modern bicycles, which are mostly the same across the board," he imparted.
Long started purchasing bicycles made in France in 1980, and then he displayed them in his store. Whenever he accumulates all the necessary parts to create a bicycle, he begins to work on a model.
"The parts are invaluable, which makes the search for them very difficult," he shared.
Only a handful of local people living in a poor village appreciate the value of collecting old bicycles, especially the ones made during the French domination period.
Therefore, Long must leave careful instructions for people buying scraps, noting that he should be immediately contacted whenever someone sells an old bicycle.
Sometimes, Long's friends introduce him to people who want to sell their old bicycles.
"If you want to assemble a bicycle, you must know its exact structure. You must identify the parts between those made in France and Japan," he clarified.
A bicycle repairman taught Long how to do these things.
"An old bicycle repairman knows these concerns well. I listened to him and remembered every step he taught me," said Long.
Hai Long is fortunate that his youngest son shares his passion.
There was an instance when a man offered to exchange a motorbike for one of Long's bicycles, which he claimed he wanted to keep as memorabilia. Everyone in his family agreed to the deal, except for Long's youngest son.
He said, "A motorbike will soon turn into scrap iron, whereas the bicycle will remain useful despite the number of years that have passed. It's valuable. We can display this in our house to recall our childhood."
Half a century ago, bicycles served key roles in the nation's revolution by being used as the mode for transportation to deliver food, firearms and ammunition. At present, some people from urban communities still consider the bicycle as their passion.
Collecting old bicycles is a humble hobby. However, every bicycle serves as a remembrance of the events that transpired throughout the owner's life. The bicycle reflects its owner's pure soul and gives him or her a sense of purpose and added passion in their lives. — VNS