Nocturnal ragpicker carts old mother along for the ride

By Quynh Tran   November 22, 2019 | 05:15 am PT
Nocturnal ragpicker carts old mother along for the ride
Dung takes his mother along in his tricycle cart. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
His 77-year-old mother got lost once when she was at home alone. Since then, the ragpicker takes her along in his tricycle cart. 

More than a year ago, Pham Duy Dung, 31, decided to move from his native province of Ninh Binh in the north to warmer climes in the south for the sake of his mother.

"My mother is already old and becomes very weak whenever the weather turns cold in the north. It's warmer here, I decided to move. During the day, I work as a security guard for VND4 million ($172) a month. At night I collect empty bottles to try and earn some more money." 

Dung lives in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Thanh District along with his mother, Tran Thi Diem. Her legs tremble and she has weak eyesight. One day, she got lost when she was at home alone. 

"Luckily, some motorbike taxi driver found her and was kind enough to bring her home. Since I cannot leave her on her own at night, I decided to bring her along at work," Hung said.  

Hung spreads his collection of toys he has been picking up on the street to entertain his mother. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Hung spreads out a collection of toys he has picked up from the streets to entertain his mother. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

When she’s feeling well, Diem will help her son collect and sort the trash collection. Hung is the youngest of all her four children. Her other children lead difficult lives farming. 

After it gets dark, the son cycles around for about 10km with his mom sitting in front, looking for useful things to pick up from the streets, including trash bins. This activity lasts from around 7 p.m. until midnight. On lucky days, their earnings can top VND100,000 ($4.3).

"On lucky days, we will get some scrap iron, secondhand goods or newspapers given by people. Once, I came across plastic chairs, light bulbs, sockets, still usable", Hung said as he looked for plastic bottles among trash bags dumped along the road. 

Once they are done, they retire to the 10 square meter room on Nguyen Xi Street in Binh Thanh District. On the wall of this room is a special photograph of Hung’s father, who passed away in 2005. The photograph was the only belonging they brought when they moved to Saigon.

Hung does not have big ambitions for the future. He only wants his mother to be healthy.

"Every day, I want to finish my job early to be with my mother. I talk with her about all kinds of things and find ways to make her happy. As long as she is healthy and cheerful, poverty and other obstacles don’t bother me."

Hung pushes the cart carrying his mom around, at work. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran. 

Hung on his trash collecting tricycle with his mother in front. Bags that are used to store different kinds of trash and scrap are hung around the cart. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

In the faraway land, the only way the mother and her son can communicate with their relatives is by using a basic mobile phone, given to them by a kind stranger while they were picking up scraps. 

"When I first moved south, my children came here several times persuading me to come back, yet Hung did not want to. Ever since I moved here, my health got better, I no longer have such scorching backache every time it gets cold as before," the mother said. 

It has been two years since Hung came to Saigon to settle, yet he still maintains the habit of watching TV before going to work every night, while Diem often chews betel nuts, a joy since her youth.

In his free time, Hung spreads his collection of toys he has been picking up on the street to entertain his mother. "Many items are still new and usable, I don't understand why people discarded them. I still recall my childhood. I was so envious of the neighbor girl when she had toys to play. I even cried and demanded it. My mom promised she would buy me some, yet there never were any," the man said.

Hung was talking to his mom at the end of the day. They often recall their memories in their home village. 

"If my mom is well, I plan to bring her home to pay a visit. Nevertheless, we have to wait until the Tet holiday (Lunar New Year Festival) is over since the train fares are so expensive," he shared. Outside, it's getting darker. As usual, Hung started to push the cart carrying his mom around, at work.

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