Saigon man goes hammer and tongs at nail scattering

By Diep Phan, Huu Khoa   December 17, 2019 | 12:59 am PT
Saigon man goes hammer and tongs at nail scattering
Dinh Minh Canh with the magnet at the rear that he uses to pick up nails on a National Highway 1A section in Saigon's Binh Chanh District, November 21, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
A Saigon motorbike taxi driver has steadfastly braved many challenges for 15 years, removing nails scattered on a highway by miscreants.

He is doing the same at 11 o’clock one recent night with a machine with a magnet attached behind his bike. A group of young people with tattooed bodies follow him, revving their engines loudly.

"I dare you to continue doing this," one of them tells him.

But the 50-year-old remains silent, not wanting to give them an excuse to get violent. They are ostensibly among those who scatter nails on that section of National Highway 1A and then fix flat tires for unlucky drivers.

The following day he installs four cameras around his house, fearing the hooligans might return. "Is it better for me to stop doing this?" he asks himself.

But that night he receives a call from a passer-by. "So many vehicles here have flat tires, please come and help us."

After giving it some thought, he tells his wife: "I will go and help." He turns on the light, grabs his jacket and heads out. Half an hour later he is back home with nails and spikes.

And so his 15-year-old battle with the nail culprits continued.

It began one day in October 2004 when Canh, a resident of Tan Quy Tay Commune in Saigon's Binh Chanh District, noticed that he and others got their tires punctured when driving a section of National Highway 1A near his house.

Suspicious, he parked his motorbike and walked along the road to discover many diamond-shaped spikes scattered there. They had been scattered on a stretch of several kilometers.

A bag full of sharp nails that Canh has collected in the last three years. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

A sack full of nails and other sharp objects that Canh has collected over the last three years. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

"I was frightened by the number of nails. A puncture in a tire could make an inexperienced driver fall off their motorbike, and it was a terrifying thought since large number of trucks drive along this section."

Since that day Canh has been observing the road and picking up nails if he sees any. The idea of using a metal detector came to him. Every night passers-by could see a man with a flashlight wandering on the street looking for nails.

But he soon realized he could not pick up nails one by one since large numbers could be scattered along a 10 kilometers stretch. Besides, walking on the middle of the highway was not an option.

He fabricated a small cart-like vehicle with wheels, attached a large magnet to it and hooked it up behind his motorbike.

On its back, he has a sign saying, "Sorry to bother you by going slowly; hope you understand."

"People insult me and some call me crazy since my vehicle is cumbersome and I drive slowly which makes it harder for other drivers to pass."

He drives up and down the car lanes two or three times a day. In recent years he has been increasingly finding nails in these lanes.

No fear

Luong Thi Het, 48, Canh's wife, says: "At first I was afraid and would not let him go. But he was very stubborn and said 'we should not be afraid of those crooks.'"

It was not long before she and their daughter also joined the Samaritan in his nightly public service. In 2006 he caught two guys scattering nails on the road and handed them over to the police.

Canh shows many nails on the magnet even after the third round he made on November 21. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Canh shines a light on the nails picked up by his magnet after several runs in a day. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

But over time the culprits have become more sophisticated. "They often hire people from other areas to spread nails, which are hidden under their shoes, in cigarette packs and elsewhere. They even spread them at different times of the day to make it more difficult to detect them," Canh said.

In 2014 he saw a motorbike accident in which a woman and her son lay unconscious on the middle of the road. Finding their tires were punctured, he told himself, "This wouldn't have happened if only I had gone out a bit earlier today."

Since that day he has been going nail-hunting early in the morning and late at night even during holidays.

"When people return home for three days for Tet (Lunar New Year), I am here, going around looking for nails."

He has been confronted by nail scatterers at least 10 times and injured several times. They would follow him right up to his house. "If I open my mouth, they have an excuse to fight; so I remain silent."

Nguyen Thi Thu, 52, a neighbor of Canh’s, said: "This is the main road from Saigon to Long An Province. People living in the area know this is happening, but only Canh dares to collect the nails from right in front of their eyes.

"Once he was severely beaten and had to be hospitalized. But when he was discharged, he went back to collecting nails."

He earns around VND 150,000 ($6.46) a day as a motorbike taxi driver. "I can only contribute labor since I do not have lots of money. I reduce my meal portions a bit of and use that money for gas to go around collecting nails."

Last year local authorities honored him for his selfless actions.

The law prescribes a fine of VND30-300 million ($1,300-13,000), non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of six months to 10 years, depending on the consequences, for a person found guilty of using sharp objects or other things to obstruct road traffic.

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