Elderly Hanoian does his part to keep city clean

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Nguyen Van Minh, a 70-year-old war veteran, removes illegally posted ads from a bulletin board in Hanoi

A 70-year-old man in Hanoi walks around five kilometers every day to remove numerous ads illegally posted on utility posts and walls in his neighborhood, and hopes to make his city cleaner, greener and more beautiful.

Nguyen Van Minh, a war veteran living in Thanh Xuan District, started the "trivial" job ten years ago.

The illegal ads irritated Minh, who was born in the capital and grew up with clean streets and uncluttered surroundings.

"In those days Hanoi was very clean; there was nothing like this chaos of advertisements, as every shop had just one signboard," the man said.

Minh said he decided to take on the task of removing the illegally posted ads, thinking that since he was too old to contribute anything big to the society, this "small" job would partly help keep his city green and clean.

Every morning he rides a bicycle along Nguyen Trai Street to check places where ads are newly posted as well as popular places for the illegal ads. He can be seen often around the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, and the So intersection where factories, supermarkets and universities are located.

At 4.30 p.m. he leaves his home again for a walking exercise and removes ads along the way with a knife.

"People now use glue or ink that is terribly sticky, so I always have a knife in my pocket," the man said. "On each round trip, I can remove ads on both sides of the street."

At the end of the day Minh goes home with his pockets full of papers. He said every ten days he would collect all the papers and sell them to a scrap trader for some VND10,000 (US$0.47) which would be spent on beers with his friends, or cakes for his two grandsons.

Even though Minh does the job every day, his families and friends are totally unaware of it. For motorbike taxi (xe om) drivers and  street cleaners, however, he is a regular sight.

"Generally no one knows and I don't want to tell anyone about it. The job is not that sophisticated," he said.

"I'm old already, so recognition does not mean anything. What matters is that I live healthily and do something good for my family and the society."

However, things have changed since a couple of months ago when young netizens posted photograhs of Minh doing his job online. They called on young people to remove any illegally posted ads whenever they see them.

Minh said he was surprised when a journalism student came to ask permission to follow him as he removed street ads, and then it became "tiring" when newspapers and TV stations came to take photos and film him.

He said many people must think that he is crazy to do such a "useless thing", because after he removes the ads, others will be posted again.

"But I think differently: when I remove the ads, the street becomes cleaner. Passers-by would love to see a clean tree or utility post rather than those dirtied with messy ads."

He said he hoped that the government will hunt down people who illegally posted ads in the street and fine them, and that in every neighborhood some other veterans will do the same job of keeping local streets clean.

Minh may not be aware of it, but he has inspired many young people.

Vu Viet Tuan, a junior student from the Academy of Journalism and Communication, said he does not know who first posted the photo of Minh on social networks, but many young people appreciate it and have left positive comments.

"Honestly, my first thought was that Uncle Minh must have quite a lot of spare time. But after meeting and talking to him, I truly respect him," Tuan said.

"Perhaps we young people are so into our busy life that we ignored many things. Uncle Minh is an example for all of us to follow."

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