Mystery guardian angel shines over British filmmaker in Vietnam

By Quynh Trang   May 11, 2017 | 05:42 pm GMT+7
Left broken on a road in Hanoi after being catapulted off his scooter, one man found out that heroes do exist. 

Paul Zetter, an expatriate who has lived in Vietnam for 18 years, would not be able to walk today had it not been for his unknown Vietnamese guardian angel.    

Nor could he have stayed to travel around the country, shoot documentaries and hold creativity and leadership workshops.

The British filmmaker and freelance educator has never left Vietnam for a reason that is largely different from the usual excuses about the country's street food, beauty and low cost of living.

In an emotional interview with VnExpress International this April, Zetter recalled the incident, a story that shocks many, but one he says was one of the most important moments in his life, next to marrying his Vietnamese wife.

“When you experience kindness from your loved ones, that reaffirms the relationship you already had," Zetter said. "When you experience kindness from a stranger in a large and important way like I did, it has a very different effect. It strengthens my faith in humanity.” 


Paul Zetter in Hanoi today. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang

The 35-year-old British Council’s assistant director was just in Vietnam for three months in 1998, when a brutal hit-and-run accident left him with broken bones, two surgeries and six months of physical, aqua and occupational therapy.

“I was driving up on Hung Vuong Street when two teenagers crashed their motorbike into mine from behind. My motorbike flew up and landed right on top of me,” Zetter recalled.

As adrenaline kicked in, Zetter realized there was a big crowd forming a circle around him, causing a traffic jam.

No one did anything.

Apart from a young woman who took the key out of the ignition from his stranded motorbike and put it in her pocket.

“Are you in pain?” the woman asked.


“Can you walk?”


To the man’s surprise, the woman disappeared only to return with a group of men who carried him like a wounded soldier into the backseat of a taxi.

“She managed the whole scene. She was the first-aid, the policeman, the ambulance, performing like a professional and she spoke perfect English - in 1998. I could never do that and I think it’s fascinating,” Zetter said.

As Zetter was pulled away on a stretcher he tried to reach out to say thanks, but the young woman had disappeared.  

A year later, the filmmaker put several short notices on some local print newspapers to find his good Samaritan, yet he ended up with a stranger falsely claiming the deed.


Paul Zetter during recovery in England. Photo courtesy of Paul Zetter.

When Zetter returned to England, everyone assumed Vietnam had been a terrible experience for him, but he replied: “It wasn’t terrible. It was the best experience I’ve had in my life. Of course, I’m going back.”

Two decades later, Zetter is still telling his students about the amazing experience and how lucky he feels.

“As I get older and stay longer in Vietnam, I realized how important she was in forming my view of Vietnamese people,” Zetter said, smiling.

VnExpress International would be thrilled to help Paul Zetter find his guardian angel. To the woman who helped Zetter in April 1998, if you are reading this, Paul wants to let you know he is forever grateful for your actions. If you want to get in touch, he would love to hear from you.

Please email

Trong Giap contributed reporting. 

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