It’s been almost seven years since the earnest rustic happiness of Nguyễn Thị Lợi and her husband Lê Văn Sẻ was beautifully captured and preserved by French photographer Réhahn. Hoi An has long since come to be regarded internationally as a tranquil paradise, one that lures many travellers in and forever ensnares them with both its natural beauty and the charm of the residents there, but sadly today, a piece of that charming beauty has been lost.
Nguyễn Thị Lợi – a.k.a. Madam Lợi – has sadly passed away, after 88 years of life and is survived by her 95 year old husband, Lê Văn Sẻ. The pair touched the hearts of countless through their openly sincere affection for one another and their cheery humour in the face of a life that had been far from easy. As documented by Réhahn, Nguyễn and Lê had been living as farmers in Trà Quế, an idyllic village some 3km from Hoi An that has become known as Vegetable Village on account of the stunning arable beauty.
Boasting an incredible range of herbaceous delights and organic vegetables, Trà Quế is one of Hoi An’s most prominent agricultural suppliers, serving a variety of restaurants that have helped to secure Hoi An’s reputation as a foodie haven. Beyond just the simple herbs such as basil, coriander and chives, Nguyễn, Lê and the other 400 or so inhabitants of Trà Quế also produce fruits such as coconuts, grapefruits, papaya and avocados, alongside spinach, sweet potatoes and chilli, to name but a few.
Both Nguyễn and Lê were born in Trà Quế and their enduring romance has since become a symbol, as Réhahn retold their story to an international audience, of love triumphing over all adversity. At separate times, both husband and wife were imprisoned by imperialistic forces that have wrought havoc across Vietnam over the past 100 years and in spite of capture, imprisonment and even torture, the pair were eventually reunited in Trà Quế where they worked as farmers, harvesting vegetables to sell locally at the markets.
Despite the gruelling conditions that Nguyễn and Lê withstood, their lives together were lived out peacefully in the blissful serenity of their birthplace and it is with great sadness that Trà Quế bids a fond and final farewell to Madam Lợi, may she rest in peace.