A team of poor, chivalrous xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers in southern Long An province’s Ben Luc town are always around to catch robbers they happen upon, as well as help those in distress.
As blatant robberies in broad daylight are alarmingly rampant in Vietnam, these intrepid men have become household names among locals for the help and reassurance they provide.
Once, at midday, when Mai Van Luom, a 44-year-old xe om driver, was waiting for clients, he heard a scream from a person being robbed, and without any hesitation he immediately raced after the robber.
While Luom was trying as hard as he could to close in on the robber, the latter dumped his bike and fled on foot.
Luom instantly pounced from his bike onto the robber and overpowered him before handing him in to the police.
This is one of the feats frequently performed by Luom, who, together with his colleagues in town, has silently assisted local residents and police, as well as those from neighboring countries, in busting robberies over the past several years.
They have received scores of merit certificates for stopping almost 100 robberies and burglaries, some of which involve notorious gangs.
Following Luom’s first robbery bust, blood was streaming from his arms and legs; and his bike, his only way to eke out a living and provide for his family, was seriously damaged. A local policeman offered Luom money for hospital and bike repair fees, but he refused.
“I didn’t want locals to think I did it for money and look down on me,” he explained.
Luom became an active street robbery buster then, and his deeds won admiration from local police and many of his colleagues, who then followed his footsteps.
Among them is Tran Cong Tuan, 41, who has two young kids and is the youngest member of Luom’s team.
“Initially I was a bit apprehensive about bringing danger to myself and my family, but then I thought, if Luom and others can do it, why can’t I?”
Tuan recently seized a man who had stolen dozens of buffaloes in town.
“Driving all day, I know the area quite well. Besides, as a veteran, I can apply my military and kungfu training to deal with the bad guys,” Tuan humbly said.
Bui Tan Si, another team member, who is in his 50s and has only one eye left, typically uses his remarkable physical strength to lift the back of a robber’s bike to overpower them.
A kungfu fanatic, Si would roam around arenas with his younger brother to learn the art and point out the weaknesses of his brother’s opponents to help him defeat them.
Back in 1991, Si borrowed a lot of money to buy a three-wheeled vehicle to peddle watermelons. Once, when he dozed off from fatigue, his vehicle was stolen.
Back home, he saw his poor neighbor sobbing as the sack of rice which she had been saving for her entire family had also vanished.
“I then swore to myself that I will never allow any bad guys to get away with their crime,” Si confided.
Good deeds for nothing in return
Apart from busting robberies and helping victims out, these chivalrous, heroic drivers have also lent a hand to countless people in need.
Many have offered them rewards as a token of their gratitude, but they adamantly refuse.
Two years ago, when Luom received a VND800,000 (US$39) reward from the local government, he donated it to a needy primary school girl, who was suffering from blood cancer.
They have also resolutely turned down the robbers’ bribes to let them go.
Luom recalled that once, he seized a notorious gangster who had carried out nearly 50 robberies and burglaries. The criminal offered him VND10 million (US$482) in return for his release, but Luom was determined to give him to the police.
In another bust, Luom remained unmoved by the VND40 million (US$ 1,927) offered by a robber, and also unfazed by his threats to take revenge.
“If we received that money, sooner or later we would spend it all, but the criminals as well as locals will look down on us,” Luom explained.
“The only reward I cherish is the sound sleep I have every night,” Si added.
In 2010, Luom was credited as an exemplary citizen by the Ministry of Public Security, and his colleagues’ deeds were also highly recognized.
According to Colonel Nguyen Huu Tri, vice head of the Tien Giang Police Department, Luom and his team provide considerable help in apprehending criminals on their run to Ho Chi Minh City, roughly 72 kilometers away.
“They form a shield against the prevalent criminal wave in the area,” Tri noted.