Le Van Se is 91 years old, and his wife Nguyen Thi Loi is 83.
They have been together for 63 years. Se was Loi’s first and only love, at the age of 21. They were both born in the farming village of Tra Que, which provides locally-grown herbs and vegetables to Hoi An. Although Tra Que is part of Hoi An, for Se and Loi it is a different town — it is their town.
The First Photo
I first met them in 2011. While Se was working his land, I spotted him and asked if I could take photos. Se kindly smiled and posed for me.
After these photos, Se invited me to his home to have some Vietnamese tea and meet his wife. I’ll always remember the very warm welcome I received from this beautiful couple. After asking me many questions about my life, I asked in return. The story Se and Loi told was heartbreaking.
During the Indochina War, Se was supplying the Viet Cong with food supplies when he was caught by the French army, imprisoned and then tortured for 10 months in Laos. At the time the French army were convinced that Se was part of the Viet Cong army, but once they found he was not, they released him and he returned home.
Unfortunately, his bad luck did not end there. During the American War, Se was once again captured — this time by the American army, which imprisoned him in an army jail in Hoi An for six months, on grounds of (once again) providing food for the Viet Cong.
Meanwhile, Loi was an officer in the women’s division of the liberation army, and was detained for four months by the American army.
Se lost two younger brothers during the American War. I asked him if he had any hatred towards the French and the Americans, and he replied that he lives in peace with the past, and in his old age has chosen to forgive.
Se wakes up every morning at 5am to work his land and sell his vegetables to the local market. Not one day goes by without seeing this lovely man out on the fields. They also receive a pension from the government for assisting Vietnam during the war.
The couple had five children, but sadly three have passed away. Se is the eldest man in the village of Tra Que and is well respected.
I see Se every day, and gave them both my book when they came to visit my gallery on a very rare trip to Hoi An. This couple will always remain in my heart.
Réhahn’s gallery Couleurs d’Asie is at 7 Nguyen Hue, Hoi An. See more of Réhahn’s portraits at facebook.com/Rehahn.Photography