It is during the summer of 2011 in Hoi An that it all began. Réhahn, a photographer who was at the time a tourist with great interest for Vietnam, met Bui Thi Xong, a Vietnamese woman aged 74 years old at the time of their encounter.
This is the incredible story of an elder Vietnamese lady that has become an iconic figure of Vietnam after posing for the French photographer.
THE TRUE MEANING OF THIS PHOTO
Réhahn was walking along the riverside when he suddenly decides to hop on this elderly woman‘s boat, there was something particular about her. He asked her if it was possible to take a portrait of her. She then poses in a quite unnatural manner and when seeing her portrait, Mrs Xong feels surprised as she is not used to seeing herself on a photo. By reflex, Mrs Xong placed one hand over her forehead and the other in front of her smile.
THE BOOK COVER
This story is not only iconic, it became a friendly reminder. While searching through which photo to use for the cover of his book “Vietnam, Mosaic of contrasts” and later on on a different project “Hidden smile”, he chose this one without hesitation. It symbolizes something powerful, present in Vietnam: The joy of life despite old age and poverty.
Through the photographer’s eyes, each wrinkle tells a story. Her hands form a frame around her stare, her eyes sparkle and leaves room to our imagination her concealed wide smile.
DISCOVERING XONG’S BIGGEST DREAM…
Réhahn decides to include Xong’s story into his book. To learn more about her life, he asks her what would be her biggest dream. She replies that it would be to have a brand new boat because hers is outworn, which did not always reassured tourists. Furthermore, Mrs Xong never wants to stop working. She loves what she does and enjoys meeting people on her boat.
The deal is done, and makes a promess that if the books sells well, he will buy her a new boat.
AND HER DREAM CAME TRUE
As promised, the book was published in January 2014 and became a great success; more than 1000 copies were sold within a few months in 29 different countries – The photographer stands by his words and makes her dream come true, in June of the same year, 6 month after publishing his book.
The book is on the ‘spotlight’ worldwide and the 200 articles feature the book cover as well as interviews focusing on Mrs Xong and her story. Mrs Xong’s face appears in multiple international newspapers such as National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, Daily Mail, BBC, in Fance, Holland, Italy, Russia, Cuba etc… The list goes on!
THE MOST FAMOUS WOMAN IN VIETNAM
And that’s not all, in 2015, Xong is on the front page of all Vietnamese News outlets for 2 weeks.
For the world to know more about her, Mrs Xong appeared on TV broadcast 5 times. One of the channels, even concluded that she was the most beautiful women in the world through the eyes of the French photographer.
THE RESULT OF ALL THE MEDIA COVERAGE ?
She became the most famous women of Vietnam and this had a very positive effect on her business that is now recognized.
Since all this media attention, 15 – 20 people want to ride on her boat every day and everyone talks to her about this photo, neighbors, Hoi An locals but also tourists from around the world.
HER ENTRY IN THE POSTERITY
And her rise to stardom is not over ; it is now possible to find her photo in the museum of Asia , located in Havana (Cuba).
In the Asian Museum (La Habana – Cuba)
A FRIENDSHIP STORY
Bui Thi Xong could not have imagined how far this portrait could go. Her husband is proud of his wife, his famous wife. For them it is a big event that changed the course of their lives.
To finish this incredible story the best possible way, they realised they were born the same day.
On 4th May, they celebrated their birthday together. While for the photographer, it was just an additional year, it was for Xong her first birthday cake, her first birthday celebration.
The photo where Bui Thi Xong and Réhahn are sitting side by side is being shared worldwide. The beautiful encounter between these two people has touched many people.
Meet Xong and her husband on their boat in Hoi An, everyday, all year long and Réhahn in his photo gallery, COULEURS D’ASIE, 7 Nguyen Hue (Hoi An)