“Sunlight is bouncing everywhere, it’s gorgeous,” Kurt Lender Jensen, a 78-year-old Dane, told his Vietnamese wife, 67-year-old Tieu Thi Ngoc Sang in rudimentary Vietnamese while admiring the sunshine from his shed.
Despite his slow movements, he pulled a hose and watered his trees and flowerbeds while his wife fed the chickens.
“Living in Vietnam is very, very interesting. I have chosen this place to spend the rest of my life,” Jensen shared.
Their cluster of four houses is nestled amidst lush vegetation near a cemetery on National Highway 1 in Tuy Phong District.
The houses, which are not very large, and the chicken coop are all built in a similar style by Jensen himself.
In front of the houses and along the paths are richly colored flowers, which are in sharp contrast to the surrounding sandy hills.
Love at first sight
Jensen shared that he used to work as a sailor on cruise ships around the world and as a fisherman before switching to construction work.
In 1992, on his first trip to Vietnam, he met and instantly fell in love with Sang, a fruit vendor, in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s economic hub.
Despite the language barrier, their love bloomed. Jensen returned the same year to take her to Denmark.
Four years later, the couple decided to return to the Southeast Asia country, where they will spend the rest of their lives. They purchased a coffee field in Bao Loc District in Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands.
The elderly, skilled builder
Seeing that there were no bridges over the raging streams where they lived, the couple decided to build one.
In 1996, Jensen returned to Denmark to raise funds. He also got 500m of used suspension bridge cables from a disassembled bridge in Denmark and had them taken to Vietnam for free.
He and his wife jointly worked with the local government and residents on building a bridge in Bao Loc District’s Loc Thanh Commune.
Jensen designed and constructed the bridge himself. One month later, his first suspension bridge, which was 1.2m wide and 65m long, was finished to everyone’s delight.
Jensen, who then served as a counselor for Denmark’s Embassy in Vietnam, was honored by Da Lat City’s government for his deed.
The first success spurred the couple to build more bridges.
With sponsorship from non-governmental organizations and the Denmark Embassy, he and his wife were instrumental in building 23 “Danish-style” suspension bridges in Lam Dong and nearby Dak Lak Province and five nursing homes for physically challenged kids in Lam Dong and Ninh Thuan Province, located in the central region, from 1996 to 2001.
“If I had more money and better health, I would build more houses and bridges on this land, so that physically challenged kids could go to the houses and enjoy themselves for some time each year. I also dream of turning this desert-like area into a place where tourists on coaches can stop by, refresh themselves and unwind,” Jensen shared.
Jensen’s wife said that he receives a US$1,000 pension from the Danish government each month, and the elderly couple now earns their living from selling grocery to locals.
Despite the couple’s good deeds, they lament that they sometimes do not receive kindness in return from local residents or government.
A number of tourists also behave inappropriately, as whenever a coach stops in front of his house, passengers hurriedly get off and urinate all over his well-cared bushes.
He then built a 4-toilet restroom next to the highway so that passengers can comfortably go to the bathroom.
“Sadly, shortly after the restroom was built, thieves stole all of the bulbs and water tanks. They also stole our entire flock of chickens and construction materials. There are bad guys, but I believe that good people are still out there,” the elderly man said.
His wife recounted that the couple have been cheated four times since they bought land to build their house.
Once they had to stay in a makeshift shed erected within the premises of a tourism complex in neighboring Ninh Thuan Province.
Also, the local government told the couple that the 1.5ha plot they had purchased and currently live on was illegal land, forcing them to file a 49-year rental contract that has yet to be finalized.
Another of the couple’s grievances is that every six months, Jensen’s wife has to travel some 100km to the province’s Phan Thiet City to renew his visa.