Instead of picking holes, a Mekong Delta elder fills them

By Phan Diep   November 4, 2019 | 09:40 pm PT
Rather than complain about the potholes in his alley, an old man decided he would repair them on his own.

That was six years ago. That sudden decision has since become an enduring passion for Cao Van Long, a 77-year-old resident of An Giang Province.

One sunny morning, Long piled up stones, kerosene and some tools on an old bicycle, then pedaled to potholes that he had spotted earlier.

"Are you not going to have lunch, uncle Long?" a young man driving by stopped and asked. 

"It is easier for me to fix the potholes under the hot sun like this," he replied as he patched up one pothole on the road at around 11 a.m.


Cao Van Long fixes a pothole on Nguyen Van Linh Street in An Giang Province on October 17, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

The resident of My Xuyen Ward in Long Xuyen Town keeps things simple.

"Many people tell me that I should let the government take care of the holes. But I think that if the holes are repaired immediately, it will be easier to fix them. If we wait till there are more holes, filling them would become even more difficult."

One day in 2013, Long was passing by a repair site where workers were scraping the old asphalt off a road surface when the proverbial light bulb lit up in his head.

He asked the workers to give him what they were throwing away and used it to repair the potholes that riddled the alley in front of his house. It took him a whole month to complete the task, but at the end of it, he was hooked.

He stopped farming and shifted his focus to patching up potholes all across town. Six years on, hundreds of big and small roads wear his patches now.

Stopping at an intersection that has three big potholes, Long quickly put down the sacks of stones from his bike, cleaned the potholes and then used a towel to dry the space "because the mixture would not stick together if it’s is too damp."

Next, he coated the space with a layer of kerosene, put the stones on top and pushed it down to help asphalt concrete solidify better.

"The mixture of asphalt, stone, kerosene sticks together better on a sunny day. I have compressed it a bit so when cars run over, it will get harden easier.

"It is also safer to work during noon when there are less vehicles on the street. Passersby try to avoid me since they can see that there is someone fixing the road. I am just afraid of drunk people. I feel lucky that nothing has happened to me yet after so many years."

Long’s typical day begins with breakfast and coffee with his son, and setting off on his bicycle, hunting for potholes. Depending on the number and size of potholes, he decides how much material he would need to fill them. He also goes around to search for available materials and divides them into small bags. The porch of his house hoarded nearly a ton of stones.


Long breaks old asphalt concrete to seperate stones and plastic before it can be reused. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

"I fix potholes throughout the dry season every year." It is the rainy season now, so he only goes out patching two or three times a week.

Last year, he saw two large potholes on the slope of a bridge. But since the bridge was small and had heavy traffic, he decided to start fixing the holes at 2 a.m. and finished the work after three nights.

"I had to be very careful trying to avoid young people going out late at night driving recklessly," he recalled.

Long also returned to check if his work was okay and fixed them immediately if the patches had been damaged in any way.

Being useful

At first, his family was very worried about his health and safety and advised him to give up this new hobby. But Long told his wife and children: "All my life I have worked hard to raise my children, but have not done anything useful for society. So let me do it."

His wife and children were persuaded.

A headshot of Long. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

Long is all smiles. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

Truong Van Chiem, Chairman of My Xuyen Ward People's Committee of An Giang's Long Xuyen Town, said: "Long must be the only person doing this, and for free."

In January 2019, Long received a letter of thanks from the Minister of Transport for his actions. People passing by would also give him cold water bottles or raincoats if they saw him working in rainy weather.

Around 1 p.m., Long's worn out shirt that sunny day in October was soaked with sweat after he had just finished restoring three potholes at an intersection.

He put the empty sacks on his bike then reached his hands into the kerosene can to wash away the mixture on his hands before cycled home.

At 77, he is not as strong as he was. He struggles when going uphill or scraping old concrete off the road.

But, he says: "As long as I can move around, I will continue to do this for the society."

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