Remembering the man who lost it all

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The alleyway where Het used to live was quiet, during Wednesday's muggy, pink sunset.

The clicks of toy guns fill the lane as a group of neighborhood kids engaged in a mock shootout, pretending to die over and over again in front of the house where Het lost everything.

"I remember Het," said Duong Anh Hao, 11, as he holstered a plastic pistol in his shorts. "He used to give me money."

The old man gave all his neighbors money, Hao said. Some times it was VND200,000 (US$10.25), sometimes 300,000. Hao gave all his Het money to his mother. He doesn't know what she did with it.

Hao's neighbor, a dour middle-aged mother, appears in the alleyway. She puts her hands on her hips and scolds her own son for getting too wrapped up in the shootout.

She got money from Het, too, she says. "We all did."

Now he's gone. Totally broke.

"I don't care how he lost his money," she said staring at the locked gate of his house, which faces hers. "That's his own personal business. I don't care what happens to him either."

Last week, Thanh Nien told the story of a 97- year-old man who won $405,333 with a lottery ticket he'd bought from a local girl in February of 2010. His wife died the following summer and now he has next to nothing.


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Het told reporters he gave his money away to charities, the local government and an endless parade of people claiming to be his relatives.

Today, his neighbors say, the granddaughters he'd entrusted to manage his money and take care of him are gone. His daughter took him to her house in Go Vap District when Het began to complain of loneliness and said he dreamed of winning all over again.

No one here seems sure if he's crazy or not. Some thought of him as overly generous and others complained he'd given them nothing. Some said he came back every day; others said they hadn't seen him in months.

Today, the story of Het hangs in this small alleyway neighborhood like an old folk tale.

A faded Vietnamese flag hung from the slats in the house that the Ward charity fund built for Het years before he donated $30,000 to the organization.

Rickety handmade chairs lined his narrow stoop along with an old wicker broom, an empty ashtray and a small pile of assorted garbage.

No one could provide his exact whereabouts and no one seemed to know how the old man had managed to spend such an extraordinary sum of money.

An old woman named Ba Hai said Het's fickle grandkids had done him in.

"Now he doesn't have too many grandkids," the old woman said with a leg slung over a low plastic chair. "But when he was rich you couldn't believe how many grandkids showed up."

Ba Hai, 80, claimed that Het had lost his marbles by the time he began handing out all his winnings.

Pham Thi Cuc, 47, appeared on the back of her husband's motorbike as he rolled it out of their home and disagreed.

She wore bright yellow pajamas and claimed to have been Het's best friend.

"He was totally sane," Cuc said. "Before he hit the jackpot, I took care of him and his wife every day. I used to bring them rice and other necessities."

Cuc said she was disappointed in Het who, she claims, never gave her a penny. She stopped speaking to him, she said, until he ran out of all his money.

"When all his relatives stopped coming around, I felt bad for him," she said before her husband zipped off down Lac Long Quan Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 11.

As the sun disappeared on the neighborhood, the gunfight became a soccer game. Before stowing his sidearm to the house, Hao thought about the old man who used to hand him money, once more.

"I wasn't sad when the old man lost everything," he said. "But I did feel bad for him."

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