American man loses 100 kg to win Vietnamese sweet heart

By Hai Hien   July 1, 2023 | 02:00 am PT
Bryant Bennett Payne used to think it was normal to be 1.8-meter-tall and weigh 200 kilograms.

But after meeting Xuan Han, he knew that he had to lose half his weight. His motivation was to win the heart of Han, whose optimism and openness impressed him after their first encounter in 2015.

Payne and Han first meet each other during Payne’s trip to Vietnam in 2015. Photo courtesy of Payne

Payne and Han in their first encounter during Payne’s trip to Vietnam in 2015. Photo courtesy of Payne

Payne was born in the United States to a Vietnamese mother and an American father. He didn’t even know where Vietnam was on the map before visiting the country in 2015.

He had just completed school when his mother announced that she would take him to Vietnam to attend a relatives’ wedding.

Payne’s mother wanted to have a Vietnamese daughter-in-law, so she scheduled him to meet several Vietnamese women during his stay.

All the meetings went nowhere.

The women all cited his weight as the reason, saying they couldn’t fall for a man who had trouble walking, driving, and even tying his shoelaces. For the first time in his life, Payne felt inferior.

He turned to the internet to make friends after his repeated failures, and met Han.

She hails from the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang and was working as an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City. She and Payne felt comfortable talking with each other, so he asked her out for coffee.

On the day of their meeting, Payne arrived early. The closer the arranged time approached, the more nervous he became as he worried that Han might just be another woman that would reject him because of his appearance.

He texted her out of nervousness: "I’m overweight, so don’t be shocked when you see me."

After the two met, Han made Payne gradually become comfortable. He started talking about his experience with Vietnam and his mother’s wish. He also talked about his weight problem.

"But how are you going to manage your life if you cannot even manage your weight?" Han asked.

As the two continued to spend time together it was statements like that – direct, true and yet still gentle – that left lasting impressions on Payne.

Han was impressed with Payne’s wit, which made her laugh a lot.

The two met a few more times before Payne returned to the United States, but Han unexpectedly got a message before his flight’s departure, which said: "Do you want to be my girlfriend?"

Han thought Payne was joking at first. She was against the idea of a long-distance relationship.

She replied: "I will be if you send me a handwritten letter a week."

She thought Payne would not do it, since writing letters by hand seems too much of an inconvenience in the digital age. But Payne responded: "I will write two every week."

Payne kept his promise. The letters he sent to Vietnam showed how he cared for and missed Han. And he also started caring for himself.

"Since I met Han, I promised to myself that I would change my outlook to match her," Payne said.

Payne signed up for weight-loss training at a gym and started taking up healthy habits after his return home.

When he first started training, Payne gave up after two minutes running on the treadmill. He was so out of breath he couldn’t move. But then he thought about Han and was motivated again.

A week, two weeks, and then a month passed. Payne managed to start fitting into smaller clothing. He was so excited that he bought a ticket to go to Vietnam to see Han.

Seeing how much effort Payne put in, Han believed in the feelings he had for her. When Payne asked her to be his girlfriend again, Han suggested that he talk to his mother first, as she wanted his mother to understand their relationship.

Payne’s mother had already mentioned she wanted to meet Han after seeing how her "stubborn son" was determined to change.

Due to problems in the visa application procedure, it took Han 8 months to be able to meet the Paynes at their home. Payne kept up his training, hoping to give Han a surprise upon their reunion.

Payne started running, riding a bike, and jumping rope. Starting off with half an hour of running and a few dozen jumps, he increased it to an hour of running and hundreds of jumps. He lost around 100 kilograms in almost a year.

"Even walking was hard when I was overweight, and my back was always curved," he said.

"After losing weight, I can walk with my body straight up and I feel energetic."

Han was surprised when she saw Payne when the two reunited at Houston airport. They had been speaking every day, but the man before her looked nothing like the man she’d gotten know.

"I was suspicious when I saw him sitting in the car," she said.

Payne proposed to Han during her stay in America, to which Han replied that she would say yes if Payne moved to Vietnam.

She didn’t want to quit her job as a teacher and wanted her husband to be at ease with Vietnamese lifestyles and habits. Payne agreed.

Payne and Han during their wedding in December 2017. Payne weighed around 100 kilograms during that time. Photo courtesy of Payne

Payne and Han at their wedding a few months after they completed their marriage registration process in December 2017. Payne weighed around 100 kilograms at the time. Photo courtesy of Payne

The couple returned to Vietnam mid-2017. Payne taught English to children and maintained his weight.

"My new weight also helped me learn how to ride a motorbike easier," Payne said. "There used to be space only for me, but now I can drive Han as well."

Payne adapted to life in Vietnam quickly. He learned Vietnamese, enjoyed Vietnamese cuisine, played football, and appreciated people’s hospitality. He also enjoyed assisting Han with household chores whene they visited Han’s hometown, and didn’t hesitate to try local specialties whenever he traveled.

"I think you picked the right person," Han’s mother said after seeing Payne’s willingness to help with everything.

The couple completed their marriage registration process in December 2017 and held a wedding ceremony a few months after that. They returned to the U.S. to pay Payne’s mother a visit in 2018 when she got sick, and had to extend their stay because of the pandemic. They welcomed their first child in mid-2020.

Payne holds the son of him and Han during a family trip in 2022. Photo courtesy of Payne

Payne his and Han’s son during a family trip in 2022. Photo courtesy of Payne

Nowadays, cooking and eating are two of the couple’s favorite shared pastimes. Payne’s favorite Vietnamese dishes are spring rolls and caramelized pork and eggs.

"I can eat those two dishes every day," he said.

"But I have to maintain my weight, so I only cook them for my wife and my son when I really crave them."

The couple brought their son to Vietnam to visit Han’s family and travel. During the trip, Payne realized again and again how much he enjoyed the beautiful scenery and friendly people of his ancestral homeland.

Payne turned to Han and said: "Let’s return to Vietnam after our child grows up."

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