Covid plays Cupid for Vietnamese-Japanese couple

By Phan Duong   November 6, 2022 | 03:22 am PT
Covid plays Cupid for Vietnamese-Japanese couple
Thao and Hiromu next to a pool in Singapore, one day after he proposed in 2021. Photo courtesy of Thao
Three years ago, Phuong Thao was planning to move to the Middle East when Covid-19 intervened and played Cupid, matching her up with Hiromu.

Thao was working for a travel agency in Singapore and planning to move to the Middle East. Hiromu Tanaka worked as a market development specialist in Southeast Asia, India and Korea for a Japanese machinery and equipment company, which required him to make business trips on a weekly basis.

Tanaka also taught yoga in his free time and Thao practiced it to improve her health. Once, on seeing Thao's check-in photo at his teaching center, Hiromu left a comment.

"I thought she was good-looking, so I wanted to make her acquaintance. She was smart and humble at the same time, which I found intriguing," said Hiromu, 32, recalling his early interest in Thao.

After a few comments back and forth on social media, the Japanese man suggested a coffee date, but Thao, who loves the outdoors, pushed for a bike ride. The date took place in mild weather and Thao’s stories, narrated with vigorous enthusiasm, made Hiromu laugh a lot.

At some point, their conversation shifted gears to the topic of family. Hiromu said his father was a traditional Japanese man who never made any affectionate gesture to his wife in front of their children, but they had their own ways of showing love. No matter where he went, he would always return home to eat, and no matter how late, his mother waited for her husband and turned on the boiler just in time. The wedding band never left the man’s finger and his phone was filled with pictures and videos of his wife and children.

"Hearing him talk about his family, I was both happy and touched, since my parents divorced when I was three. I don't even have a picture of my father, so my childhood was very different from Hiro's," said Thao, also age 32.

Though she liked him a lot, she said she needed time to think about starting a family with him. He was understanding and did not push her. When he was away for two weeks to visit his family, he called her every day. Finally, the day he returned to Singapore, she said yes.

Because of the pandemic, the couple’s relationship was almost completely isolated from family and friends, with no social interaction taking place. When they first started dating, they were in separate areas. Singapore had placed restrictions on gatherings, so the couple made arrangements to go grocery shopping at the same time to see each other for a few minutes. Restaurants were closed so they could not eat out or go to the cinema as usual. Instead, they jogged, biked, planted trees together, learned to bake or signed up for online courses together.

When the lockdown continued, the couple decided to move in together. It was a time when being confined within four walls for long stretches of time led to the breakup of many couples, but it helped Thao and Hiromu to understand each other better and love the other more.

Thao realized that her fiancé had many qualities worth emulating. He had a great level of self-discipline and self-control. Every day, once he sat at his desk at 9 a.m. he stayed focused until he finished his work at 6 p.m. Even if he was sick with a stomach-ache or something, he would still stick to the usual 40-minute lunch break before continuing to work. On days when he didn’t have to work overtime, he would spend an hour after dinner practicing English or 2-3 hours of self-study for a new certificate.

Whenever Thao finished making a meal, he would say thank you in both Japanese and Vietnamese. He also said thank you to objects when he prepared to pack or discard old, broken items. There was a garden in front of their house, so insects often flew in. He never harmed the bugs. As he chased them out of the house, he would speak as if they understood him, "Please go home, we don't want to hurt your wings. Please fly home, it's beautiful outside. Fly, fly away and enjoy, don't lock yourself down..."

While Thao was a frank person who would say whatever was on her mind, Tanaka was reticent. He never complained to anyone and always thought of others. At some point, she found herself being influenced by his character, starting to be grateful for the smallest things and learning how to control her emotions.

"Happiness comes to me in many forms when I’m with him. And most often, the happiest moments that I cherish the most are tranquil moments with Hiro", she said.

For his part, Hiromu loved Thao’s balance. She was family-oriented, but at the same time, highly independent. In taking decisions, she always struck a good balance between logic and sentiment.

"In Japanese culture, we often hold back and show little affection. I have learned a lot from her and one of the most awesome things is that I am becoming more and more outgoing," he said.

Thao and Hiromu’s wedding ceremony in Singapore, October 2021. Photo courtesy of Thao

Thao and Hiromu’s wedding ceremony in Singapore, October 2021. Photo courtesy of Thao

However, work incidents wrought major changes and challenges. In order to stay in Singapore with her fiancé, Thao no longer wanted to go to the Middle East, which meant she had to quit her job. The first two months off made her depressed. With his encouragement, she decided to enroll for a new degree.

There were times when she worried that after finishing school, the pandemic would still be around and she would have to return to her country and the two would be forced into a long-distance relationship. To reassure her, Hiromu registered to study Vietnamese and began to look for opportunities to work in Vietnam.

"Every time something happens, the two of us sit together to find a solution," Thao said.

Shortly after, Hiromu also quit his job of nearly 10 years and was in a precarious situation. This time, she assisted him with CV making, job search and passing on her experience in exams and interviews. He ended up receiving three job offers.

After over two years of dating, the couple held a wedding ceremony in Singapore in 2021 and another in Hanoi at the end of last September.

The couple live in Osaka now. Thao works in event planning while Hiromu pursues a career in financial consulting. Trust and respect for each other continues to be the foundation of their another marriage.

"For us, these are two core values. Without one, the other will gradually dissipate."

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