“How much did you pay to get a Vietnamese wife?”
This was among several rude questions that John Li could not escape when he married Nguyen Thu Hang.
Given the context of many young women from poor Vietnamese families being paid to become wives of older men from Taiwan, South Korea and China, this question is perhaps understandable, but Hang has no intention of taking it lying down.
She wants to smash the unfair stereotyping of Vietnamese women being gold-diggers with the truth of the tremendous sacrifices they usually make for the sake of their families and the care they give to their new families.
She is well equipped to do this because she has her own YouTube channel, HangTV, that she uses to good effect to spread her message.
Nguyen Thu Hang lives and works in Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thu Hang
Nguyen Thu Hang married John Li in May after years of dating. On her YouTube channel, HangTV, the two share with the world videos about learning Vietnamese, cooking special food together, visiting numerous famous destinations and so on. The videos have attracted tens of thousands of likes and comments expressing admiration for their love story.
At first, the couple set up HangTV just for entertainment but when they got a lot of comments and responses from people, they realized their “bigger responsibilities.”
“Apart from helping Taiwanese people understand more about Vietnam, I think our love story also generates a new perspective on Vietnamese-Taiwan marriages,” Hang told VnExpress.
“We receive many rude comments, including ‘How much does it cost to get a Vietnamese wife?’ or ‘Vietnamese women only want money’… So we are trying to change the prejudices engraved in people’s minds.”
‘My mother is a maid’
Hang was in high school when her mother left for Taiwan to work as a maid, 14 years ago, in order to earn badly needed money. She worked hard and made it possible for her children study in Taiwan.
Hang went to Taiwan in 2010, and her younger sister is now doing a Master’s degree in Taiwan. The youngest is in their hometown in Vietnam
In July, Hang made a video called “My Mother Is A Maid,” expressing her gratitude for the sacrifices her mother has made to bring the three daughters up on her own. The video attracted more than 100,000 views and hundreds of comments on HangTV.
While she was a graduate student in accounting, Hang also worked hard to reduce the burden on her mother.
When she arrived, she had no friends, and her limited language competency hindered communication with locals.
Hang did all kinds of work while studying hard and improving her language skills in Mandarin Chinese. She worked as a waitress, sold lottery tickets, distributed leaflets, interpreted and made recordings for Vietnamese projects, dubbed Vietnamese for new immigrant programs and so on.
While this did help reduce her mother’s burden, it also gave her first hand knowledge of Taiwanese society and culture, as also an understanding of the sufferings of Vietnamese migrants.
Hang hosted a major Taiwanese event last month. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thu Hang
With her fluency in Chinese Mandarin she became very active in the local Vietnamese association and she became well known in the community. Gig invitations followed.
And then it happened.
Hang and John met each other on a television show in which she was a guest participant. He was the director of the show. Unlike the popular image of Taiwanese men being patriarchs, John “conquered” her with sincerity and kindness.
Hang and John in a video on HangTV Youtube channel.
Their romance was supported by their families. John’s parents were excited on learning that his son was in love with a Vietnamese girl, and they made her feel very welcome.
“I remember one time when we went out and John had to stop by his house to get his coat. When his mother knew I as coming, she rushed up to dress and put on her makeup to welcome me,” Hang said, adding that that was the first time she visited the house of her husband to be.
Men do the housework
John’s mother’s caring and affection only doubled when Hang became her daughter in law. Hang said that despite living with John’s parents, she has never felt like she was “a daughter-in-law in any way.
“My parents-in-law always make sure that we have our privacy. John is a quiet man, so he likes to spend time with our two dogs and does housework. My father-in-law handles cooking and laundry.
“My mother-in-law takes care of lighter things. She is also very active, so she goes to the gym, hiking with friends.”
Completely contrary to popular perception, in Taiwan, men do a lot of housework with their wives and women have a voice and position in the family and society, Hang said.
She said there was one time John went to Vietnam to visit her, and he took the dishes to the sink to wash them after a meal and angered Hang’s grandmother who said “this is not a man’s job.” For John, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning and other domestic tasks are completely normal.
John is also a big rock Hang leans on for her work. They share a special passion for video recording and set up the HangTV YouTube channel in October 2016 to provide her students at a center where she teaches more chances to practice Vietnamese.
“We weren’t experienced at first so it would take us more than two weeks to set up and shoot a video. There were days after my classes ended at 10 p.m., I would still go to my husband’s office and work on a video until 2-3 a.m.
“When we become better at it, we divided the work so that after filming my husband would be the one to set up the video while I would review it and write subtitles.”
From short clips about her personal life and Vietnamese teaching, Hang and John have expanded their content to include other aspects of the Vietnamese community, and introduced many landscapes and cultural features of Vietnam and Taiwan.
Their “mental child” now has more than 33,000 followers.
“The majority of Vietnamese in Taiwan, especially women, strive for a better life,” said Hang.
“Vietnamese students in Taiwan study while working, though it is difficult, and their academic results are impressive. Vietnamese workers enroll in weekend language classes and join public activities.”
She said that the Vietnamese community in Taiwan was increasingly gaining respect, despite naysayers and discrimination, especially against Vietnamese women who marry locals.
They are known as gold-diggers who “use foreign husbands as a life changer,” consenting to leave their homeland and tie the knot with older foreign men because of poverty.
“Since my arrival in Taiwan, I have had the opportunity to meet many women who have tried to be good people despite being labeled gold diggers.
“They work hard and try to assert themselves, they take good care of both their families here and their families in Vietnam, and many people don’t see what they’ve had to sacrifice.”
Being a Vietnamese wife to a Taiwanese man who has faced some societal flak, Hang has also dedicated her videos to bring a more youthful, objective and open perspective on the lives of Vietnamese citizens in Taiwan, particularly Vietnamese women.
Hang and her students in a Vietnamese class hold a Hello Vietnam Magazine which has her on the cover. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thu Hang
“When it comes to Vietnamese-Taiwanese marriages, people have different views. But now, people who have both Vietnamese and Taiwanese blood have told me that after watching my videos, they have a better understanding of their Vietnamese homeland.
“They’ve also overcome prejudices and become more confident about saying that they come from a multicultural family. They even consider this a strength and advantage.”