Ho Van Tan is nicknamed as “crippled Tan” because he had polio when he was three years old. He has had to use crutches since that time.
Asked by many people that why he, a man who is extremely good at diving into the rivers to find objects for other people, asks for just a little money for the job, he merely answers, “No one respects you for that.”
This answer satisfies all residents in his riverside neighborhood. They are pleased with him because he has spent almost 30 years working as a diver on all rivers in the area, devoted his life to recovering others’ lost properties, sunk boats and even drowned people.
Disabled, honest man with dangerous life
Ho Van Tan was born in Hue in central Viet Nam. After he became a crippled child after suffering polio at the age of three, his family moved to the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang for a new life. They resettled in Hoa My Commune, Phung Hiep District. Then his father died and his family drifted to the Phung Hiep market place. Many people thought that a “crippled Tan” would have no choice apart from becoming a beggar. But contrary to that, he borrowed some money to start earning his living as a bread vendor on crutches at the local coach station.
At 16, one day when he was wandering at the wharf, he saw a capsized boat in the river. The boat owner shouted an SOS message and Tan jumped into the river to save the victim. He succeeded and this was the milestone for him to begin his current life.
Tan said: “Thousands of people can be vendors but just few people are brave enough to swim and dive in waters to save people. This was my decision for a new life.” He said he has been living this way for almost 30 years and knows that his life is full of danger and he might die at any time.
After saving that man’s life, Tan decided to live by the river for his career. He borrowed some money to buy a motor and began cooperating with boat people and other divers in the neighborhood to lift sunk boats and barges out of the river. His equipment included just ropes, air feeders and an anchor.
The bigger boats are, the harder for these workers to take them out of water, he said. It is the most difficult to deal with ships of 100 tons or more. To lift up a 100-ton ship, 30 barrels used as buoys are needed. First, Tan fills the barrels with water. Each weights about 200 kilos. Then, he drops the barrels into the river, using the ropes to tie the barrels with the ship at the bottom of the river. Next, he uses the air feeders to push water inside the barrels out of them, making them empty. Thus, the barrels become buoys.
It takes many hours for him and his friends to finish the work. Many hours in the river make his eyes red and fuel from the ship pollutes his body. Sometimes, it takes him even a month to get rid of this pollution.
“But not all the jobs I’ve done are paid. There are cases I have charged nothing. For cases in which a rich and bigger boat collided with a poor and smaller boat and both sank, I charged the owner of the rich boat much more money and gave part of it to the owner of the poor boat.”
Tan continues, “I have lifted the salt boat of an amputee war invalid and his wife, all were free. They expressed their gratitude by kowtowing me.”
He says he cannot remember how many boats and ships he has taken out of rivers for almost 30 years, or how many drowning people he has rescued and drowned bodies he has taken out of rivers. “One interesting thing I’ve found out is that it is so happy for me to survive till now.”
“One time, my air feeder slipped out of my mouth but I did not die. Another time, I and another diver worked together but a sudden death came to him at the site. Police suspected me of killing him in the river and detained me four days. Then police discovered that a piece of garlic choked him to death, and this garlic was a thing he held in his mouth for longer diving.”
Vendor Cuong, 19, who also lives by the river, seeks to prove that Tan’s story is true. The man said, “I have worked with him, my master, many times. I have seen that he has taken tiny rings, necklaces and the like from rivers and returned them all to the owners. It is likely that some people would not do this, just keeping the properties for themselves. He is a rare person, very poor but entirely honest. He has no house, no money most of the time. For dozens of years, his sleeping place has been a place along the river here. When the water goes up, he has to stand. This month, he is broke and in debt, but he eats a little rice and bread every day.”
Ba, Cuong’s mother, said: “He’s been single for so many years and I want to help him get married. He declines all the time, saying that he’s a disabled man so the woman who will marry him will be not happy.”
Cuong’s mother told the reporter: “When you run his story on the newspaper, please tell the public to donate a boat to him, who will use the boat to help other people. This boat should be big enough for his work. You know, he has had to hire a boat for his work so far and in many times, his payments have been not enough for him to pay for hiring the boat.”
The reported has left Hau Giang province for Ho Chi Minh City with the images of a boat for him and his neighborhood, where exists a river and an alone man is sitting by the river dreaming of a boat of his own. The reporter does not know when his dream comes true. It is said that the province’s television has filmed a feature about him and promised to give him a boat, but this is still a promise.