Vietnamese ride boat for free thanks to local man

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Tran Van Khuong (right), 53, provides free ferry boat service to connect a Hai Phong village to the rest of the city. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

The Hoa River cuts Thuong village off from the rest of Hai Phong, leaving citizens forlorn from government services and businesses.

But luckily, the 100-plus families living in Thuong have been able to take free boat rides to the city thanks to the generosity of a local skipper dedicated to making sure they get to work and school on time.

Tran Van Khuong says his one wish is that he be replaced by a bridge. He's been ferrying people for free for five years "for the sake of the neighborhood," he told Tuoi Tre.

The 53-year-old starts running the ferryboat every day from 4 a.m. to send children to school and people to work, regardless of rains, shine or sickness.

Khuong used to drive boats for a private company from which he resigned after he underwent surgery.

"I have a boat driving license so people came to ask for my help. So I took an old boat provided by the commune government and fixed it.

"I don't charge anyone, just want to do some good deeds to earn rewards for my children," he said in a reference to karma.

But Khuong also said that his present-life reward is simply seeing children be able to get to school.

He said he's happy that his service has brought a modicum of convenience to an otherwise inconvenient situation.

Local Pham Thi Ngan said Khuong "was so enthusiastic with the boat rides he did not have time for a hair cut."

Ngan said there was a day Khuong was sick and his wife asked him to take a day off, but some people had an emergency so he took the wheel.

"And he never took money, including then. Such a kind man."

The woman said the villagers would do nothing but "cry" without Khuong's service.

He rushed one woman with severe belly pains to hospital a week ago upon a midnight phone call. He did the same for a pregnant woman in need of delivery early this year.

Khuong said he never made delays at such calls, as "seconds are precious then, you can't joke with lives."

His service is crucial during the monsoon when the water is high and rough, but it is most wanted in the harvest season as the village is home to the rice fields of people from six other villages.

But Khuong always makes sure his heavy boat is full of laughter and trips are light thanks to his jokes.

His sister Tran Thi Binh said Khuong is attached to the ferry boat all the time, not even having a full day for the death anniversary of his father or Tet, the Lunar New Year that is the country's biggest holiday.

"He just has time for the offering ritual, not even to eat.

"No one asked him to bear the cross, and no one will be able to persuade him to leave it," Binh told Tuoi Tre.

Neighbors said Khuong's unconditional interest in the job was taken for granted once when some locals forgot that he volunteered for it and complained when he was late, but he only smiled and asked for sympathy.

But Khuong not only devotes his labor to the 60-70 boat rides a day, he also spends his own money for diesel (more than VND50,000 a day) and pays VND150,000 a month to the commune government for boat maintenance. But the commune said he would have to cover the cost if the engine breaks.

He said sometimes he charged visitors VND2,000 to cross the river and that helped with a part of those cost.

Pham Trung Hien, a local, said he hopes the commune can set aside some salary for Khuong, at least as encouragement.

Hai Phong government last year gifted him a new boat plus 50 life bouys to keep him and his passengers safe.

But rather than a new boat or payment, only a bridge will solve the problem for everyone.

Khuong's wife Tran Thi Thuy said she almost lives alone, as their children live and work far away.

"I long for a day that there're few passengers and he can come home early to have dinner with me."

Thuy said she asked him to retire from the boat job once but he refused.

"He said it brings him joy, and he's also afraid no one will pick up the wheel, or they will charge money that locals cannot afford to pay to cross the river several times a day," she said.

Khuong said a bridge will bring locals even bigger convenience, and allows him to keep his wife company.

"She won't have to wait for me or worry about me every day.

"Everytime when I drove the children to school, I asked them to study hard so later they can build a fabulous bridge at home."

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