Bridge promised to Vietnam highlanders who cross stream in bags

Thanh Nien News

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A cut scene from a teacher's video shows a local man pulling a teacher across Nam Po stream in a plastic bag near a remote village of Dien Bien Province during the flood season
The Transport Ministry has promised a bridge to a northern highlands village after a video went viral showing locals being pulled across a stream inside plastic bags.

A Tuesday statement from Minister Dinh La Thang said the ministry will build a suspension bridge for locals, students and teachers in Sam Lang Village, Nam Po District, Dien Bien Province.

The video recorded by local teacher Tong Thi Minh and published by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper shows students and teachers crossing rough water in last flooding season by putting themselves in plastic bags.

The bag is pulled across Nam Po Stream by some strong local men swimming with one arm and using the other to grasp up the bag above the head of the person inside.

Vice Minister of Transport Nguyen Hong Truong told Tuoi Tre  that the ministry has asked the province’s transport officials to examine the area and immediately provide locals some safer solutions to cross the river.

“We believe that the bridge construction for the area will be carried out soon… I think it can be done in four or five months,” Truong said. A concrete bridge is estimated to cost around VND3.5 billion (US$166,000).

The bridge promise followed a call on action by the public since the video was posted on YouTube Monday.

Minh, a 23-year-old nursery teacher, told Tuoi Tre the village doesn’t have phone signals or electricity for television or radio, so she was unaware of the public attention to the problem until she had attended an event at the district center Tuesday night and was shown the video on another teacher’s computer.

“I was so surprised. I can’t say how happy I am,” she said of the bridge plan.

Tong Thi Minh, a 23-year-old nursery teacher at Sam Lang village, Dien Bien Province who recorded a video of her colleagues and students crossing a stream during the flood season by being pulled across in plastic bags. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Minh was transferred to the village last September and she regularly crosses the stream by plastic-bag.

She said that when she first came to the stream, some local men standing around asked her if she had brought any plastic bags.

Then one took out his own bag and instructed her to step in.

Minh said she hesitated at first but her colleagues who had been there before said there was no other way.

“They said we couldn’t wait for the flood to recede.”

She recalled that the first voyage was “shaky and scary.”

“I did not dare open my eyes. Only when he said “arrived” did I believe that I was still alive.”

She said some of her female colleagues wanted to back out of the journey at first and one had to receive a lot of cheers and encouragement to step into the bag.

But it has become a normal routine for all of them now.

“Local people told us it’s the only way to cross the stream because no bridge could weather highlands flooding,” she said.

Some students were pulled across by their parents.

There’s a makeshift bridge across the stream but locals remove the part above the stream every monsoon to save it from being swept away.

Vice minister Truong said the ministry is also proposing to the government a larger plan to build suspension bridges in remote and highlands areas. If approved, around 186 first bridges in 28 provinces in the northern and central highlands will be built by the end of 2015.

Questioned about the technical faults that were blamed for the collapse of a suspension bridge in Lai Chau Province that killed eight people, Truong said suspension bridges so far are under full management of the city/provincial authorities, but given the accident, the ministry will issue regulations and standards for their construction.

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