Wilbraham man’s brief vacation in Vietnam turns into six-month stay, marriage

15/7/2020| 8:59

When Mark K. Vuong boarded a China Airlines flight to Vietnam on Jan. 14, he never thought the three-week vacation would turn into a six-month stay — or that his girlfriend would quickly become his wife. It’s all because of COVID-19.

The 35-year-old real estate agent and restaurateur’s original plan was to visit family and friends and file paperwork to make Thao Nguyen, 34, his wife. Problems at the US embassy, however, made that impossible to accomplish in just three weeks.

Mark Vuong and his wife, Thao Nguyen, with her family in Vietnam.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic struck, and Vuong was stuck in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. That gave Vuong the time he needed to burrow through the bureaucracy.

“It allowed me to do the paperwork to ‘technically’ get married,” he said.

A mutual friend introduced Vuong and Nguyen six years ago. They got to know each other online and on phone calls.

“In the beginning nothing came of it,” says Vuong. “But we rekindled the relationship last year and decided to take our first steps that would get her to the US.”

Nguyen has never been to America. Vuong has seen her on only three short trips to Ho Chi Minh City. His parents live in Western Massachusetts where they own and operate Pho Saigon restaurant in Springfield. They had never met their future daughter-in-law until last year on a trip to Vietnam.

“They met her and said, ‘Oh wow, she’s really great.’ It was one of those things that fall into place with the right timing,” said Vuong.

Vuong has tried and failed many times to get back to Western Massachusetts, but cancelled flights, travel bans, and municipal lockdowns have kept him away.

When he first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vuong was living with his cousin while visiting family and friends. He’s since settled into a more routine lifestyle, dropping his wife off at work, then exercising, reading, riding a motorbike around the city, doing housework, and investigating real estate investment opportunities in Ho Chi Mihn City.

When he’s in Western Massachusetts, he works at the family restaurant and sells real estate.

That income has all but dried up, except for a few referral fees from clients he can’t help and passes on to his colleagues.

Vuong is still trying to get home but a five hundred dollar flight going to Vietnam has turned into a three thousand dollar return ticket. “I haven’t spent that much money since I’ve been here,” he says. The flight to Ho Chi Minh City was just about 24 hours. Now with fewer flights and more transfers, the trip home could take three days.

“I miss my parents very much. I talk to my mom on a daily basis if I can. It’s tough not being able to hug them,” he says.

Although Vuong worries about his parents, he says they are healthy. In the meantime, he’s still trying to get back to the US, but it will be a bittersweet homecoming when it happens.

“The extra time here is not something I’m taking for granted,” said Vuong. “Once I leave, I’m not going to see my wife for a very long time because of how long it takes to sponsor someone to come to the United States. It’s super difficult.”