American lensman, Miss Deaf Vietnam’s silent love story

By Pham Nga   March 30, 2024 | 12:27 am PT
When Jose Saldana first met Bui Lan Anh in Vietnam, he was immediately smitten, but Lan Anh, initially, saw him merely as a friend, even finding his baldness less appealing.

Jose Saldana came to Vietnam in 2019 to continue his journey of exploring the world. Deaf since the age of two, Jose's camera lens served as his voice, capturing the world's wonders one snapshot at a time. He came to Vietnam on his schedule to explore Southeast Asia.

On that occasion, Jose connected with American friends living in Vietnam. They invited other deaf friends, including Anh, 29 years old.

That day, as the group engaged in animated conversations through sign language, Jose found himself captivated by Anh, who stood out with her beauty, wit, and vivacity.

Capturing the moment with his camera, Jose couldn't help but laugh when he noticed Anh playfully teasing him. "In that instant, I was certain Anh was my other half," Jose reflected.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, Anh had been crowned Miss Deaf Vietnam in 2015 and was the second runner-up at the Miss and Mister Deaf International contest in the US in 2016.

Originating from the northern province of Vinh Phuc, Anh, who was born deaf, completed her education at the Central Pedagogical College. She is a well-known figure within the Vietnamese deaf community.

Having mastered international sign language during her participation in the Miss Deaf pageant in the U.S., Anh has a wide circle of international friends. This ease of communication meant she could interact with Jose effortlessly, though she regarded him simply as a new acquaintance.

When the American photographer said he loved her just after meeting for the first time, Anh remained aloof. She later candidly confessed to VnExpress her aversion to Jose's bald pate. "I told him straight that I didn't like a bald man."

Anh and Jose on a trip to Phu Quoc Island in 2022. Photo courtesy of Anh

Anh and Jose on a trip to Phu Quoc Island in 2022. Photo courtesy of Anh

After his trip ended and Jose left Vietnam, the American man "bombarded" her social network accounts with messages, even after Anh rejected his friend request.

"For half a year, he called and texted to inquire without missing a day," said. "I kept waiting to see how long he could keep it up," she said.

Undeterred by rejection, Jose continued his journeys across continents and time zones.

"Sorry, I still can't forget you, please reconnect me," he texted after more than 7 months. Anh was moved and accepted his friend request. Jose immediately called her back on video, showing off that he had grown out his hair and was no longer bald.

"I burst out laughing, feeling a bit fonder of him," she said.

After that, they began calling each other every day.

"There was no one I could talk to and confide in so many things," Jose said. "Every day I loved her more and more."

Lan Anh said it was the way his jokes could make her laugh that finally broke her unsympathetic attitude towards him.

"Not only his caring words and gentle inquiries, but also the fact that he’s so funny and likes to do tricks for me...melted my heart," she said. "In him, I find harmony."

On Jose’s birthday at the end of 2021, because of the Covid pandemic, the couple celebrated his birthday via video. This time, the Vietnamese girl prepared a beautiful cake and blew out the candles with him on a video calls. On the call, he finally proposed marriage to the woman he loved.

"He confessed his love again," said Anh. "Seeing me nod, seeing his tears fall, I knew I had chosen the right person."

But Covid-19 continued to lengthen the distance between two lovers.

However, their love story, punctuated by virtual rendezvous and heartfelt confessions, weathered the storm of a global pandemic, emerging stronger and more resilient than ever.

In May 2022, when the quarantine policies were lifted, Jose immediately flew to meet his girlfriend. Lan Anh texted that she couldn't go to the airport to pick him up. "I was a bit sad because my girlfriend couldn't come, and planned to travel by taxi to my rental apartment," he recalled.

But when the photographer walked to the exit, he saw Anh waiting outside, and his eyes beaming. So much longing, sadness, worry, and love poured into one tight hug. "That moment was the most beautiful moment of my life," Jose said.

Anh and Joses wedding in Vietnams northern province of Vinh Phuc, 2023. Photo courtesy of Anh

Anh and Jose's wedding in Vietnam's northern province of Vinh Phuc, 2023. Photo courtesy of Anh

Anh's family, particularly her older sister Bui Phuong, initially harbored concerns upon discovering Anh's affection for a foreigner. However, their apprehensions were alleviated when they observed the joy and playful banter shared between Anh and Jose, which not only bonded them but also radiated positivity to those in their presence.

Phuong noted Jose's attentive care for Anh's well-being and his encouragement for her personal and educational growth. "Jose's thorough care for Anh, coupled with their mutual determination in their relationship, has earned our family's full support," Phuong said.

After their wedding at the end of 2023 in Vietnam, Jose returned to the U.S. to continue working, and Lan Anh completed her studies in Vietnam. She planned to go to America to live and accompany her husband on his journeys exploring the world.

Now, as they stand on the precipice of a new chapter in their lives, Jose and Anh embark on a journey with love.

"I also want to work on a project for people with disabilities, helping deaf people in particular and people with disabilities in general have more opportunities in life," Anh said. "As long as we are confident, optimistic, and always trying, we will find the right path and someone willing to accompany us in life, just like Jose and I found each other."

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