Australian expat David Mark, 55, was on his first business trip to Vietnam when he spotted an interesting young lady out of the corner of his eye at Tan Son Nhat Airport five years ago. He knew he needed to grasp the opportunity.
He made contact with Hue, now his wife and mother of 21-month-old twin daughters, but that was just the beginning of a courtship lasting a few years. As the company director of Industry Travel Asia, based in Tan Binh, admits, “I had to knock off a few competitors” before he finally had Nam Dinh Province-born Hue under his spell.
“It took a long time for Hue to realise how lucky she was,” he jokes. “The first thing I said was, ‘Do you speak Vietnamese?’ I thought she was Chinese and I know a little, so I suppose I was trying to show off. We exchanged contact details and promised not to say goodbye. I came back to see her a month later for her birthday. I came to Saigon 20 times in 20 months to try and woo Hue. It took me two years to convince her. She almost upped sticks to England to marry a rich oil guy, but she finally came around.”
However, David was a little worried when he couldn’t get in touch with Hue just a few months after their first meeting. He was frantic by the time he found out she had been in a motorbike accident. This was in the days before helmets were mandatory and most motorcyclists took huge risks.
“Fortunately the injury was to her knee and she was lucky she wasn’t killed,” he recalls. “I was upset because I hadn’t heard from her, but then felt guilty when I found out why and because I wasn’t there and wondered that maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had come to see her.”
Vietnamese women are a superstitious breed and Hue admits she took advice from a fortune-teller about the numerous men chasing her.
“I went to a fortune-teller and she said I must marry David because we were married before in a previous life,” she says. “David is a western man but is very eastern in everything he does and his outlook. He is more family-orientated than most western people. I think in his past life he was Asian.”
Not Just Cultural
Many young Vietnamese men look on in fury at what they feel is the cream of the crop hooking up with Western men. One such city worker Thanh, 22, remarks, “Why do all the Western men steal the most beautiful Vietnamese girls? I think it is for money as most Vietnamese men don’t earn a lot of money. How can we compete with the offer of a better life?”
Hue has encountered a lot of jealousy from her single and married friends when they meet her husband David. Some even lick their lips and bat their eyelashes as they believe they can prise him from under her grasp.
“On our first date I took David for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant on Pasteur,” Hue says. “It was very busy and there was only David and me at a table for four. Two pretty girls asked if they could sit at the table — well they asked him and ignored me. David asked, ‘Why do they want sit here?’ I said, ‘Because they want to steal you’.”
Hue admits David being teetotal and the fact that he doesn’t smoke is also a huge plus as she has a friend who is pretty miserable because of her local husband’s snoring and terrible habits.
“My friend has to cover her face with a towel because of the noise and her husband’s terrible breath from alcohol and cigarettes,” Hue adds in some horror. “I ask her, ‘How can you survive with your sexual life?’ She says she just pretends to be dead for a few minutes.”
David adds trust, loyalty and the fact that Vietnamese ladies look long-term to the equation. When they marry it is for life and their future family, whereas western people think of the moment and the day. Hygiene is a real positive in the situation.
He says: “Vietnamese, in general, have a much better diet than any other race on the planet. They are physically attractive, their skin is so beautiful and they rarely eat food that is not good for them, which explains why they are very slim.”
The couple resides in Tan Binh District with both their mothers, and David accepts the fact that he will be surrounded by ‘his women’ until his dying day.
“My mother Faith just turned 90 and Hue’s mother also lives with us,” he says. “There is a never a dull moment in our home, that’s for sure.”
Lightning Strikes Twice
Another David, Mr. Robinson, has also found love in Saigon in the shape of 20-year-old Yi. The two are determined to keep their flame alight despite many cultural and linguistic difficulties.
The Australian native is fascinated with life in his adopted home in the backpacker’s district of Bui Vien — it was there he met his dream girl. A few months later, he proposed. It was Christmas Day. His girl is so smitten she is even talking of having a baby next year.
“We actually lived in the same building,” says David. “I met her many months before and said hello. Yi’s boss is the landlord’s daughter-in-law and the owner reckoned I should teach Yi English. As part of teaching I would show the students English movies. So we watched some movies together and then I asked her to go to see a movie with me together on a date. Luckily she said yes.”
Here he gets a bit sentimental. “She actually used to sleep in the lobby at night and every night when I came home after we started dating, I would [bring her] a red rose and lay it by her side. That was my nightly ritual.”
Kien Giang native Yi interjects: “He’s a good man. My boss said David was a good man who goes out drinking beer a lot but he comes home alone. She was right.”
David has a daughter from a previous marriage in Brisbane, Suki, who is now four years old, and his family still lives in Queensland. Yi has a sister in Melbourne, and both her and David have talked about a trip down under.
His home town was actually the unlikely starting point of his Vietnam adventure.
“I actually came to Vietnam because I lived in a Vietnamese neighborhood in Brisbane, and a friend of mine asked me if I had a passport,” he says. “I said yes. He said, ‘Want to go to Vietnam?’ I said, ‘When are you going?’ He said, ‘Two days’ time’. He didn’t even tell me how long I was coming for and I had a quick turnaround for a visa. His son booked the ticket and he didn’t tell me, but the return flight was six weeks later and I thought we were only going ten days. Six weeks turned into six months and I am still here.”
A first trip not only to the Mekong Delta but to ask for the family’s ‘okay’ to marry Yi was a nerve-wracking occasion — meeting the parents is never easy, especially for a foreigner, a stranger who has only known the parents’ daughter a short time.
Yi says: “I warned David that my family live a very simple life, we have outside toilets and eat simple, Vietnamese food. I suggested David take some food with him just in case.”
David laughs. “She brought out crabs and said, ‘Have you eaten them before?’ I said, ‘Come on, I have caught them before in Australia’. She is surprised I can eat local food and simple food.”
He adds: “Yi’s sister actually asked me if I had eaten rice before, oh my god.”
Robinson is a teacher and prolific writer, while Yi works in Ben Thanh Market selling gifts to tourists. Her boss is closing up her stall there, so her future career path is unclear.
Ever the optimist, the 34-year-old knows there is a big age gap and many other differences, but he also knows they have a real spark which will keep their relationship on track.
“I hate actually going to Ben Thanh Market even though I have to drop Yi off at work,” he says. “I avoid it like the plague. We don’t really have common interests, which is funny. I am a computer geek and she hasn’t touched a computer. She loves iPod games though. One time I was on the bike and she was on the back and I couldn’t feel her arms and I said, ‘What you doing?’ and she was playing Fruit Ninja on my back in traffic. She has taken photos of me in the bath; I haven’t dared to get her back for that one. We have a lot of fun. Vietnamese have a wicked sense of humour, we are always teasing each other.”
David admits he tests Yi’s patience with his rituals to wake her up at the crack of dawn, so he can drop her off at the market.
“I am really brutal getting her up in the morning,” he says. “I use loud music, put the air conditioner up really high and sometimes I use water, but that normally gets me into a load of trouble — she always gets me back. We fight in Japanese and make up Korean as we both love to learn languages. We can say ‘I love you’ in five languages.
He laughs. “Yi is always threatening to kill me but so far I’m okay. I joke about it to my friends all the time and on Facebook about how she wants to kill me and the conversations we have.”