September 20 this year was a red letter day for 62-year-old Le Thi Thu Sao.
Almost eight years after she became a widow, she was ready to tie the knot again.
The native of Cao Bang City wore the traditional attire of the Red Dao ethnic minority that her groom belongs to. Trieu Hoa Cuong, 26, of Thach An Ward in Cao Bang Province gave his bride a gown that has been passed through three generations in his family.
Sao, who lives with two daughters and owns a spa and small café, saw her life spin into turmoil once it became widely known that her lover was much younger than her, and there was a huge gap in their socio-economic statuses as well.
While some people admired her gumption, most were disparaging. The person who leaked her personal information was fined. Sao filed a lawsuit, but decided to drop it to avoid the situation snowballing into a huge scandal.
So it was a not an easy decision.
“The community had very harsh words for me, and there were times I thought I could never overcome this. But my husband convinced me that the more the society brings us down, the harder we have to stand up and live for ourselves. If you have love, you have everything. ‘When we thoroughly understand each other, we can get married,’ he told me,” said the bride.
Sao, wearing a traditional Red Dao dress, waits for her husband-to-be. Photo by Trong Nghia
Sao said she has the support of her husband’s family who treats her like a member of their own, and this strengthened her willingness to have the wedding.
Cuong was a construction worker who became a regular customer of Sao’s coffee shop. A bond of affection developed. Sao would visit Cuong’s house, 30 kilometers from where she was, frequently, sometimes two to three times a week. She would cook for him. However, it never occurred to Sao that this man would become her life partner. She thought of him as a brother.
One day, in the middle of a field of flowers, Cuong popped the question. Astonished, she dismissed the proposal, thinking he was probably fooling around with her.
Cuong was disheartened, but he did not give up. Gradually, Sao realized that his intentions were genuine. In June this year, Cuong prevailed as the woman he loved agreed to marry him.
“Life is short, and we can’t really predict the future. We have to live in joy and happiness. That’s how we make the world a better place where people understand and sympathize with one another,” Sao said.
The couple get ready to cut their wedding cake on September 20. Photo by Trong Nghia
The walls in her house still carry pictures of Sao and her late husband, and Cuong is fine with it. He respects her past, he said.
The majority of the neighborhood has ridiculed the wedding. It is common enough in Vietnamese culture that an older man marries a much younger woman, but cases like Cuong and Sao are exceptions to the rule.
Amidst the ridicule, the couple have their supporters and admirers.
“I sympathize with her. Many people here have protested the wedding, saying it is completely ridiculous. But anyone who bothers to stand in her shoes would understand it. Her husband died a long time ago,” said Nguyen My An.
Sao said she was very grateful to her husband’s parents, although Cuong’s mother is younger than her, at 56. Sao’s parents passed away a long time ago, she has yearned for parental affection.
“I am just like any other woman; a normal human getting married,” Sao said.
Age is no barrier to enjoying a normal marriage life, she added.