Many foreigners have enjoyed diverse landscapes, authentic local food, endless love, eternal friendship, and a favourable investment environment in Việt Nam.
Uffe Elbæk, 67, has had the luck to enjoy all of these things. He has found a warm family here in Hà Nội, which has lured him to return to the country year after year.
Born and raised with three brothers at a tiny farm under relatively poor conditions in Denmark, he got married over three decades ago and had two sons, who are now 31 and 34.
|Uffe's sons and Thắng by Hoàn Kiếm Lake in 1999. Photo Courtesy of Uffe Elbæk|
Between 1998 and 2001, he worked as Chief Technical Adviser in Asia, specifically in Việt Nam, Indonesia and the Philippines, for the United Nations.
“My first ever arrival in Việt Nam was November 1998,” he told Việt Nam News. “During evening time, I walked around Hoàn Kiếm Lake at my leisure. Having a cup of coffee at a bench.”
“A boy who sold postcards approached me and sat down next to me. He was able to speak a few English words,” he said.
The boy (whose real name is Nguyễn Đức Thắng) explained he sold the postcards to support the orphanage centre where he lived.
|The boys meet again in the same place couple of years ago. Photo Courtesy of Uffe Elbæk|
“I was a teenager of 13 at that time,” Thắng recalled. “He did not make much of an impression on me other than he was a normal customer.”
Thắng left his home in the northern province of Nam Định and followed his friends to Hà Nội to sell things to earn money.
“He was a very well maintained and polite guy,” Uffe recalled. “I met him the following days as I stayed at a hotel near the lake. I just felt he was bright and clever, and he was able to speak a bit of English.”
Uffe and Thắng then kept in contact by email. Thắng told him every trouble in his life.
During the following years, Uffe supported Thắng by giving him educational opportunities.
“We trusted each other,” Uffe said. “I was always confident of Thắng’s willingness to achieve and contribute.”
It has always been so, as Uffe has supported Thắng and his family in a trustworthy and confident manner.
“He and his family never ever let me down and I still visit them all frequently. As well do his 'brothers' from Denmark,” he said.
They considered each other father and son.
|Uffe and Thắng's family. Photo Courtesy of Nguyễn Văn Thắng|
Thắng said Uffe has assisted him financially to open a florist’s shop and then start a business in property.
In 2011, Uffe lent Thắng US$50,000 to create a business without any condition.
“We were very moved when we received his money,” said Trịnh Thu Trà, Thắng’s wife. “He did not have that big sum at that time. He put up his house in Denmark to get a loan from the bank to lend us that sum.
“We were worried and tried our best to take that capital to do business and luckily we made a profit. We could returned him the sum in just three years,” she said.
Uffe admitted that he considered he could lose the money, but not even one second did he think of Thắng cheating him. He knew he would not do that on purpose.
“I just thought that I could help them. That’s all,” Uffe said.
Uffe visited the family at Christmas 2010 and found Thắng had a serious illness. He thought something should be done for his son and family.
In return, Thắng and all his family have shown absolute loyalty and helpfulness during some difficult times for Uffe.
“Between 2014 and 2019, I faced some personal and economic difficulties. Thắng and his family have always been extremely supportive – personally and economically,” Uffe said. “They invited me to stay with them in Hà Nội for a long period from 2015 to 2017.”
They helped him establish a representative office for his company in Việt Nam to import furniture, food and powder milk from Denmark.
Before setting up the office, Uffe has also acted as a tour leader for his relatives, friends and customers to Việt Nam.
“During my business development in Việt Nam, I have had the pleasure to work with a lot of Vietnamese business people, and I found potential in corporate development between Denmark/Europe and Việt Nam,” he said.
That is due to the approach of Vietnamese people, who he finds hard working, trustworthy, accurate, passionate and always available to support and assist.
Uffe himself never imagined that Thắng would have a good business as he does today.
|Thắng and Trà with Uffe's ex-wife and two sons at a cafe in Hà Nội. Photo Courtesy of Nguyễn Văn Thắng|
“But I am so happy to see them doing so well,” he said. “They never took anything for granted, and they always supported and stayed behind me. They gave me love and wonderful experiences in Hà Nội and Việt Nam in general.”
“I am grateful having them and feeling at all times love from them,” Uffe said about his Vietnamese family.
Thắng’s family considers Uffe a key member, like a father and a grandfather.
“My little son can understand him though he is only a second grader with a little bit of English,” Trà said. “They can communicate without any border. My daughter and son just simply call him ‘dear ông’ with love.”
Trà said their relationship is just beautiful and magic like in a fairy tale.
“We met a fairy in our real life, so we highly appreciated his support when we were in need. We could not even imagine one day we could offer to help him back like we do now,” she said.
|Uffe and his Vietnamese "son" and "daughter". VNS Photo Lê Hương|
Uffe said he has seen Việt Nam experience huge development since his first arrival in 1998.
“Việt Nam is progressing dramatically in business,” he said. “It still faces challenges regarding traffic and infrastructure, though I have seen a willingness to look into these challenges by building new roads, bridges and public transportation."
“In business, I think that Việt Nam has good opportunities to develop further as the country and the people have great potential in any competition,” he said.
Uffe said he used to tell his customers joining his tours to Việt Nam, “there are around 98 million reasons to visit Vietnamese people.”
“As a foreigner, I always experienced outstanding hospitality. I never felt insecure or uncomfortable. Vietnamese people are always helpful and ready to find solutions,” he said.
“Vietnamese people are extremely diligent and committed to what they are doing, still proud and results oriented, creative and open-minded,” he said. VNS