Vietnamese-Belgian romance born from 14-year friendship

By Hai Hien   March 9, 2024 | 11:43 pm PT
After 14 years of friendship, during which Gregory had quietly waited for Phuong to accept his love, she finally realized that she had already found her “true other half.”

They first met in Singapore in 2009 when Lan Phuong was 25 years old and Gregory Ducat had just turned 27. They were both transplants working in the island city-state: she from Vietnam, he from Belgian.

Phuong's first impression of Gregory found him gentle and approachable, while the young man was attracted to her hard-working mindset. He friended her on Facebook, and he was the one who made a point of keeping in touch with Phuong even after he moved to England for a new job.

In the following years, they talked back and forth as friends. Every year when there were special occasions like birthdays or Christmas, Gregory sent his wishes, and Phuong would often share stories of her life as a young woman far from home – both her sadnesses and her joys.

Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong on the street of Bruges, Belgium,  March 2023. Photo courtesy of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong

Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong captured in a moment of togetherness on the streets of Bruges, Belgium, in March 2023. Photo courtesy of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong

Nine years later they met in person again for the second time, and everything between them seemed unchanged. Phuong was always enthusiastic and full of life, while Gregory was still calm and quiet, occasionally sneaking a smile at her. At the end of the meeting, he asked Phuong to become his girlfriend, but she refused because she did not like long-distance relationships. She wanted to find an Asian man close to home who could connect deeply with her family.

A few months later, Phuong and her best friend traveled to England as tourists and stayed at the hotel where Gregory worked as a manager. Upon receiving the news of their upcoming arrival, Gregory immediately asked for three days off to take Phuong to visit his favorite places.

Their first scheduled stop was Windsor Castle: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding venue. Phuong joked with Gregory that she hoped to find her "dream prince" there. But the day they arrived, the castle was closed. Unable to help his friend fulfill her wish, Gregory took her to visit Cinderella Castle, ride the merry-go-round, and visit the ancient town of Bath - the place Phuong had most wanted to visit.

In photos they took together, the Belgian man always wanted to get physically closer together, but the Vietnamese girl always backed away because she didn't want the relationship to go beyond friendship.

The day he took Phuong to the airport, Gregory confessed his love for Phuong. He said if she agreed, he would go back to Singapore for work to be near her. But for the second time, Phuong refused.

"At that time, I had no feelings for Gregory. I was always looking for another ideal boyfriend, not him," she said.

In 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. Gregory's hotel industry was hit hard. Phuong stayed in touch and regularly checked up on him to ask about his health and work situation.

Three years later, Phuong took a business trip to Spain. Just like last time, Gregory immediately asked for leave and flew to Barcelona to meet Phuong. Phuong had just gone through a heartbreaking break up with her last boyfriend. She said she had "lost faith in true love."

As soon as she arrived in Spain, her first sight was Gregory standing there waiting for her at the station. He came forward to hug her tightly. Phuong felt like she was reunited with a loved one after a long time apart.

"When our eyes met, I suddenly wondered if maybe this was the prince I had been looking for all these years," Phuong said.

During their days in Barcelona, Phuong gradually opened her heart to Gregory and began to feel moved by his love for her. Next to this man, the Vietnamese girl "felt strangely at peace."

On her last day in Spain, Phuong was the one who took the initiative to talk about love with Gregory. She said she appreciated his unending patience.

"If you still don’t have anyone else and want to take our friendship to the next level, I'm ready to give us a chance," Phuong told Gregory, to his surprise.

From that moment on, they were officially a couple.

The moment Gregory Ducat proposed to Lan Phuong at the famous love bridge in the city of Bruges, Belgium in March 2023. Photo courtesy of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong

Gregory Ducat proposing to Lan Phuong at the renowned "love bridge" in Bruges, Belgium, captured in March 2023. Courtesy of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong

For some time, Gregory remained in London while Phuong continued her work in Singapore. Even though they were 7 time zones apart, Gregory always waited patiently and committedly for Phuong to be free to call and chat, regardless of whether he had to stay up late or wake up early. To maintain their relationship, the two planned to meet in person every 2-3 months.

At the end of 2022, on Phuong's birthday, Gregory was invited to Vietnam by Phuong’s family for the first time. During the trip, he took good care of Phuong's parents.

He opened and closed all doors for the elderly couple. At the restaurant, he pulled out chairs for everyone and served Phuong's parents first - a ritual of respecting and serving one’s elders that Gregory had learned before coming to Vietnam, a country he was now falling in love with as well.

"I was also captivated by the beautiful scenery, people, and cuisine here," Gregory said. After a trip to his lover's hometown, Gregory began cooking Vietnamese dishes for Phuong. His best were pho and spring rolls.

In March 2023, Phuong went to Belgium to celebrate Gregory's mother's birthday. While the two were walking over the famous "love bridge," he suddenly knelt and proposed to his girlfriend.

They held two weddings in July and September later that year, in Singapore and Vietnam, respectively.

At the wedding in Singapore, where the two met for the first time, they used 14 years' worth of photos and videos to showcase their journey from friends to lovers. Some of these included footage of Gregory jokingly saying he would "go find" Phuong's "dream prince" when they arrived at Windsor Castle, or the photos the two took at Cinderella Castle, which Phuong had always dreamed of visiting.

At the wedding party held in the bride's hometown – the northern port city of Hai Phong – two months later, the couple arranged for the groom's family from Belgium to wear Vietnamese ao dai and dance with the bride's family on stage.

The couples wedding was held in Hai Phong, the brides hometown, in September 2023. Photo courtesy of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong

The wedding of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong, celebrated in Hai Phong, the bride's hometown, in September 2023. Photo courtesy of Gregory Ducat and Lan Phuong

After becoming a Vietnamese son-in-law, Gregory celebrated Tet (Lunar New Year festival) in his wife's hometown for the first time in 2024. Gregory likes ao dai, so he wanted a private photo shoot while wearing one. He also enjoyed the atmosphere of the town’s main temple during the first days of the new year, so he went several times to burn incense to pray for luck and happiness for his small family.

Gregory has since quit his job in the U.K. to work with his wife on a plan to bring authentic Vietnamese coffee to Belgium. The couple's dream is to have a small cafe in Gregory's hometown of Bruges – a place known as the "Venice of Northern Europe" – where ancient mossy bridges cross small canals.

"I will always be with my wife," said Gregory. "My heart is hers and always points to where Phuong is."

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