Finding true love in Việt Nam

Vân works as a director of a social enterprise that offers real estate marketing services and IT solutions for customers around the world. Her independence and determination is something he admires a great deal, and something he never wants to change.

By Lê Hương

There are many reasons people decide to pack their bags and move permanently to Việt Nam.

A new job opportunity maybe, or perhaps tourists who visit decide this is the place they want to spend the rest of their lives.

But on occasion, when Cupid fires his arrow, people move here for love.

That’s exactly what happened to Neil Bowden Laurence, an Australian divorcee who had started an online relationship with a woman in Nghệ An.

Neil, 57, knew Nguyễn Thị Vân was different than others. She had been upfront from the get-go, telling him all about her disability.

Vân suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and needs a wheelchair to get around.

Neil wasn’t in the slightest bit perturbed, and seven years later, the now-married couple are living their lives to the fullest in Hà Nội.

Neil admitted that he was attracted to Nguyễn Thị Vân because of the way she supports her community and her bright smile during their chats. She said if he came to Việt Nam, she would make tea for him every day. Then in December 2016, Neil visited Vân for three weeks.

“My first time to Việt Nam, the taxi could not find Vân’s apartment,” he told Việt Nam News.

“So the taxi dropped me off at another apartment in another suburb. And I’m like, they don’t know where I am. And I show some people the address. And they said, well, we know where that is. And they drive me to Vân’s apartment. Some strangers helped me. So that shows the first experience I had in Việt Nam was very healthy.”

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Neil Bowden Laurence and Nguyễn Thị Vân are happy together in Việt Nam. Photo Courtesy of Vân

During those three weeks together, they realised they had much in common, and shared the same sense of humour.

He returned to stay in Hà Nội for three months before deciding to quit his job in Australia and move to Việt Nam. They got married in June 2018.

“She’s very caring,” he said. “She likes to help people. So I like that a lot. She’s not selfish. She likes to help many people.

“She is very outgoing. She’s very social. So she always has a lot of friends. And she likes it. She knows how to bring the best out of people. She knows how to make them succeed.

“We’re very easy going. So it’s like, I let her do what she wants to do. She lets me do what I want to do. We don’t try and stop each other.”

Vân works as a director of a social enterprise that offers real estate marketing services and IT solutions for customers around the world.

Her independence and determination is something he admires a great deal, and something he never wants to change.

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The couple with relatives and friends in Australia. Photo Courtesy of Vân

At 37, Vân is 1.2m tall and weighs just 20kg.

Her strong character and achievements have been recognised on the global stage.

The BBC listed her among the 100 most influential women in the world while Forbes named her as one of the 50 most influential women in Việt Nam in 2019.

With her brother, Nguyễn Công Hùng, who suffered from the same disease, she set up a vocational centre named Will To Live Center that offers courses on necessary skills for people with disabilities free of charge. Hundreds of disabled people have been equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to work in various fields.

Many of the trainees have worked for her own company.

“She continued doing what she did, and she’s happy. I’ll do what I want to do and I’m happy,” Neil said.

Neil accompanies his wife everywhere. When she is working, he follows his hobbies like electronic 3D printing, and drinking coffee.

In their free time, they talk, play cards, and do other things just like other couples.

“I cook a little bit but her mum and dad also live with us,” he said.

Vân said the most important thing in an engagement between two people is that they find value in each other.

“People have different measurements for value in others. Some may account for career success or appearances,” she said.

“Some may take on feelings and soul as well as lifestyle.”

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The couple at an awarding ceremony for young business people in 2019. Photo Courtesy of Vân

Vân said she had much in common with her husband.

“We both live and think in a free and simple way,” she said.

“We respect each other’s differences. When we share those things in common, it’s easy to communicate and live together. He is kind-hearted, and takes care of others, which is like my job. I like to develop the community of disabled people, and support other people with more difficulties.”

Neil said the people in Việt Nam are very friendly and easy going.

“I’ve never had anything, no bad experience with Vietnamese people,” he said. “They’re very helpful.”

He joked that he seems to have the magic touch when crossing the streets.

“I just wave my hands and the vehicles give way to me,” he said.

He used to work as an electronics technician for the emergency services in Australia but now his home is Việt Nam, with his wife at his side.

“I feel more at home here,” he said.

Theo Vietnamnews

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The couple on a charity trip to a northern mountainous region. Photo Courtesy of Vân