At 70, bicycle mechanic becomes stickler for rules

By Thien Ly    November 8, 2018 | 03:12 am PT
For 40 years, a bicycle mechanic devoted himself to his family, but his eyes never wavered from a law degree.

It has been quite warm in Phu Yen Province in central Vietnam. In a small house in the province’s Tuy Hoa City, Hoang Tien Mai repairs a bicycle with great care. In the front yard of his house, many bikes are lined up, awaiting their turns to be fixed.

Opposite a tea table in the "garage," a blackboard leans against the wall. This place also serves as a space for Mai to study.

At 70, very few people expected this elderly bike repairer would go on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Laws from the Hue University.

On October 25, however, the veteran donned his graduation gown and tassel and proudly held his degree in his hands.

Mai received bachelors degree in laws in October. Photo courtesy of Hoang Tien Mai

Mai received his bachelor's degree in law this October. Photo courtesy of Hoang Tien Mai

In 1971, Mai passed the high school graduation exam in Binh Dinh Province, and enrolled in Saigon Law University. However, family problems stopped his academic advance. 

He longed to continue his college studies, but once he got married, it seemed an even less feasible task.

As the main breadwinner of the family, he tried several jobs to make ends meet before opening a bike repair shop. "At the time, demand for bicycles was high, so I earned enough to sustain my family," said Mai.

In 1991, Mai tried to register for a college law course, but he was not qualified. "I was so sad, but I could not do anything. I just bought some reference books to read," Mai recalled.

Mai repaired bicycles during the day and read books at night. He used the blackboard to note down the key points, so he can look at them to revise even as he worked.

"I am old, I often forget some parts I have read," he said.

Back to school

Twenty-three years after his last effort to attend college, when his children had grown up and life got easier, Mai was thrilled to learn that Hue University had opened a distance learning course in law, in collaboration with the Phu Yen Continuing Education Center.

He rearranged his old files and successfully enrolled in the course this time. "Fortunately, my wife and children supported my studies."

Returning to school after decades, it was not easy for Mai. His handwriting was sketchy. He tried his best to stay focused during the lectures and take detailed notes to review at home. He repaired bikes with fail, and attended classes without fail. His earnings were used to pay tuition, so that he would not have to depend on his children.

Mai repairs the bike to pay tuition fee. Photo by VnExpress/Thien Ly 

Mai repairs bikes to pay his tuition fees. Photo by VnExpress/Thien Ly 

When his wife, Trinh Thi Ly, was told of his decision to study laws, she was a bit worried, but decided to support him. "Sometimes when he sleeps, he would dream and talk about law in class, maybe he was feeling stressed," she said with a smile.

Nguyen Thi Bich Tram, Mai's classmate, said that at first, students mistook him as father of a student. When they found that he was eager to learn, they were filled with admiration. And when he received his bachelor's degree, the admiration increased manifold, Tram said.

Now that he has got his degree, the old man has bigger plans. He wants to study more and become a real lawyer. "Then when people around here need consultation on legal issues, I will advise them."

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