In suburban Ho Chi Minh City, a one-legged man and his able-bodied wife have been through thick and thin together for almost five decades now.
Nguyen The Ngoc, who also goes by the nickname 'Teo the crippled,' had lived a lonely, poverty-stricken life until he met his wife during the early 1970s in the midst of a war-ravaged Vietnam.
The elderly couple have stuck together even through rough patches to prove that if they can make it through the storms, there is nothing that will get in their way.
Ngoc, 70, and his 65-year-old wife’s love, which has thrived and endured the test of time after nearly 50 years, is not only heart-warming but also inspirational.
Crawling toward love
Ngoc's mother passed away when he was only seven months old.
Ten years later, he lost his father to the American war in Vietnam, and was raised by his paternal grandmother in Binh Chanh Commune.
Tragedy again struck as he came down with polio when he turned three, leaving him walking with a limp since.
The boy, his grandmother and aunts eked out a meager living by peddling boiled corncobs to make it through the war.
As he reached adulthood, Ngoc found a job at a pig slaughterhouse.
Fate, however, had its own plan.
The young man had his disabled leg broken in a road accident and was admitted to a local hospital for treatment.
“I was then worried sick about who would care for my grandmother if something wrong happened to me,” Ngoc recalled, adding at the same time he was grateful to be still better off than those writhing in agony on the hospital floor from appalling combat-related wounds.
Among the seriously injured patients was a man lying on a stretch nearby whose arm was almost severed when a bomb exploded.
Ngoc offered his own hospital bed to the man, with him making do with the floor.
The kind-hearted man was dealt blow after blow as he got his already-malfunctioning leg amputated after suffering post-accident complications including necrosis.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
It was during his two-month hospitalization that Ngoc met the love of his life, Gai.
The then-17-year-old girl turned out to be the younger sister of the injured man who Ngoc offered his bed to.
Touched by the young man’s optimism and willingness to help out despite his own plight, Gai gradually grew fond of him without even realizing it.
“At first, I just planned to help him around the house and look after his elderly grandmother," Gai shared.
"But I was head over heels in love with him in no time at all.”
|Nguyen The Ngoc, or Teo, and his long-time wife in their ‘love nest,' built nearly 50 years ago in Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre|
“I was embarrassed at first, but she was infatuated with me," Ngoc said jokingly.
"What else could I do? So, I crawled toward her.”
As her feelings deepened, the girl, originally from Ho Chi Minh City's outlying district of Cu Chi, insisted on marrying the physically challenged man and was lucky to get her family’s approval.
In 1973, two years before the war drew to an end, the couple tied the knot with only a cozy, private home reception.
Gai’s arrival glorified Ngoc’s life that would be otherwise confined to solitude and poverty.
The newly-weds settled down in Binh Chanh, where Ngoc grew up. The area was overgrown with weeds and dotted with deserted mounds back then.
He earned his living with different jobs, including lottery ticket peddling and construction material sales before switching to bike fixing and parking to provide for their five children.
In the darkest of times, there were days when the couple went with very little food and saved the meager portions for their children to keep them full.
Gai even worked as a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver to supplement her husband’s income.
Despite living in poverty back then, Ngoc and Gai are happy about their big family.
“Soon after our marriage, our two sons and three daughters came along. I’ve never thought I would be so happy blessed with such a cozy family,” Ngoc shared.
Tragically though, his two sons later died of illnesses, one by one.
Cute old-timers’ abiding love
Many years on, the couple still shower their other half with love and affection and keep the romance going in their relationship.
“She’s my ‘nugget of gold,' Ngoc shared, lovingly referring to his wife of nearly 50 years whom he holds dear.
"We’re always in passionate love, since our youthful years until now.”
With their children’s financial support, this pair of old cuties now enjoy a more comfortable life, but Ngoc still sticks to his bike fixing job for an extra income.
Every afternoon, Ngoc travels several kilometers on his wheelchair with his wife biking alongside to Go Den, a locality in the Mekong Delta province of Long An, for exercise.
It all comes down to showing each other how much they value their lifelong love.
“Sometimes after he lashed out at me, I stomped off for half a day," Gai shared of their love story as if they were newly-weds.
"By the time I returned home, he was already tearfully leaving every nook and cranny unturned for me.”
“Gai devotedly takes good care of her disabled husband without feeling ashamed of him," said Dam Vu Tri, Ngoc’s long-time friend.
"When things go sour, especially during Ngoc’s hospitalization, she’s always there for him.
“We really admire their lifelong bond, they’ve supported each other through the bad.”