Fate took 43-year-old Jean-Michel Huet from France to Vietnam, where Giang Nguyen, 31, was living – not once, but twice. The first time was in 2009, when he was on a year-long sabbatical to study at the Vietnam University of Commerce in Hanoi.
Their paths never crossed then – he was a student and she was a client specialist for Thomson-Reuters. Three years later, in November 2012, Jean-Michel returned to Hanoi to attend the wedding of his best friend, who was the groom, while Giang's friend was the bride.
The couple met during the rehearsal dinner, where Jean-Michel was the emcee. Giang, who used to be in a college band, was to sing at the wedding reception.
“I remember noticing this handsome Frenchman, but didn’t get to speak to him much before the wedding, as we were busy with preparations and rehearsals. I found him very elegant and was happy when he asked to take a photo with me,” Giang recalls.
After the reception, the wedding party went to a club to continue the festivities. Jean-Michel and Giang ended up dancing all night and were the last ones to leave.
“He asked me if he could kiss me. Initially I said no, as I was kind of seeing someone. But I thought about it and realised that the on-and-off relationship I had with the other person wasn’t in a good place, so I decided to give Jean-Michel a chance.” The two were inseparable for the next few days as they got to know each other.
“I found out that when he was studying in Hanoi in 2009, his apartment was in the residential section of my workplace's building complex,” she says. "We even used to have breakfast in the same place but I never saw him; I would have definitely remembered his good looks if i had. I guess it was fate that I was to meet him – and marry him – at the right time.”
Before Jean-Michel left for home, where he was sales manager at Leroy Merlin, a French home-improvement and gardening retailer, the two of them decided to take a weekend trip. They spent three idyllic days together enjoying the sun and surf in Nha Trang, the beach capital of Vietnam. Too soon, the holiday was over and Jean-Michel had to return to France.
“We emailed each other constantly, and I was very thankful for Skype, Tango and Viber,” says Giang.
They counted down the time till they could see each other again, and in February 2013, Giang went to visit him for two weeks in Toulon, in the south of France.
“It was an amazing trip and I learnt more about him, seeing the place he was from, and meeting his parents and family,” says Giang.
A few months later in May, the couple took another trip together to Greece, where they spent a week visiting Athens and Santorini. It was on this trip that they decided they had to be together.
The couple now knew they wanted to live in the same place, but the question was where: France or Vietnam?
“While I loved France, I knew it would be difficult because of the language barrier,” says Giang. “To be able to speak French at a professional level for work would take years of study. Plus, with the higher cost of living in Europe, we decided we could have a more comfortable life in Hanoi and enjoy travelling and exploring Asia together. Jean-Michel enjoyed his time in Hanoi when he lived there for a year, so he said he would leave France and move to Vietnam.”
In a dramatic show of love, Jean-Michel gave up his job at the company he had been with for more than 20 years, and moved to Hanoi in August 2013.
“It was a very exciting time and we were very happy, but it was also a trying time,” recalls Giang. “It was the first time we were living together, and learning about each other’s daily habits, which is very different to being on holiday together. We are from different cultures and speak different languages, so there were times when we got on each other’s nerves.
“I am more hot-headed and impatient. When we had our fights, I would wonder about whether we should break up. But he is much more calm and patient, and because of him, we talked things through and worked them all out.”
The couple settled into life together in Hanoi; Giang was busy at work, while Jean-Michel looked for a job and went for interviews. When he received an offer, it turned out that Giang also had something to share with him.
“I was ready to make the next move in my career and wanted to go to Singapore,” says Giang. “I had told him this even before he moved to Hanoi, but at that stage it was still up in the air. But when the opportunity came up for me to work in the Singapore office, I knew I had to take it.”
And so, just five months after Jean-Michel uprooted his life in France for her, Giang told him she wanted to leave Hanoi and move to Singapore for work.
“He was a little disappointed of course,” shares Giang. “He loves Hanoi and Vietnamese culture, but he didn’t try and convince me to stay. He turned down his job offer and agreed to the move.”
AND THEN THERE WERE THREE
Just a week after Jean-Michel and Giang moved to Singapore in January 2014, more change was in store. “I found out I was six weeks pregnant. I couldn’t believe it when the test came out positive. I was worried about how he would react. When I told him he asked, "Are you joking?" – but it was out of happiness, and not alarm. When the doctor confirmed the pregnancy, Jean-Michel was positively thrilled. He was laughing like a little boy.”
Soon after, Jean-Michel got a job but after a few months, he realised it wasn’t the right one, and quit.
THE PERFECT MAN?
Even though he was not happy with the way things were going for him, Jean-Michel continued to be supportive of Giang’s career and was attentive to her needs.
“After a bad or stressful day at work, he is always there for me - he listens to me and lets me vent,” says Giang. “He takes care of everything and looks after me so well; he will even help me charge my phone whenever he sees it is low on battery power. He’s very active – he always has to keep busy, so he’s always finding something to do.”
However, cooking is not one of those things, contrary to the stereotype of Frenchmen being able to whip up gourmet meals effortlessly. “I guess it would be just too perfect if he could also cook!” quips Giang. “But Jean-Michel does everything else, from housework to laundry to groceries and more, and I do the cooking. I love cooking, and we both love Vietnamese food, so I make dinner when I come back from work.”
In July 2014, the couple had a solemnisation ceremony. “It was an intimate affair at the Marina Bay Sands with very close friends, and Jean-Michel planned everything,” says Giang. “We are planning on having a big wedding celebration in Hanoi this October.”
Then when Giang was six months pregnant, she decided she would use her maternity leave to go to Hanoi to have the baby, as she had family support there. “Jean-Michel and I were in Hanoi for three months for the delivery of our baby. Our beautiful boy, whom we have named Clement, was born in November.”
For their first Christmas as new parents, they – rather ambitiously – took a trip around France, which included visiting Jean-Michel’s parents in the south. “Friends asked us how we managed to go to so many places with a one-month-old in tow, but it was easier than we expected.”
On returning to Singapore, the family settled into a routine. Jean-Michel became a stay-at-home dad, but he still wants to get back to work. “He is actively looking for the right job, but at the same time he loves spending time with Clement,” shares Giang. “He’s an amazing father, and is always talking and singing to Clement. While we take turns to wake up at night to feed him, he definitely changes more diapers than I do.”
Giang knows it can’t be easy for Jean-Michel to be at home after having enjoyed a successful career, and says that good communication helps to keep them unified.
“The cost of living in Singapore is high and he doesn’t feel comfortable about leaving the responsibility of our finances on me,” shares Giang. “But he’s a very positive person, and doesn’t let anything get him down. I don’t want to add any pressure on him. He’s a great husband and father, and I couldn’t ask for more.”
LOVE CONQUERS ALL
Successful relationships take hard work, and Giang and Jean-Michel’s is no exception.
“My parents divorced when I was young, so I never had a good example of a happy marriage,” admits Giang. “Earlier on, when Jean-Michel and I used to fight, I thought of giving up, because I felt it was too hard.”
But Jean-Michel, whose own parents have a solid marriage, has taught Giang what he believes it takes to make a marriage work - and that includes being there for each other and making sacrifices.
“We are both strong characters so we fight a lot,” she shares. “But when we do fight, I always remember the sacrifices he has made for us to be together, and I don’t stay angry for long.”
This article was originally published in Simply Her May 2015.