A chance encounter. An iconic photograph. A promise fulfilled.

This the success story of Rehahn, a French photographer, and Bui Thi Xong, a 74 year old woman who would go on to become one of the most famous women in the country and a beloved figure after with one photograph.

In 2011, Rehahn visited Vietnam as a tourist, where he first met Mrs. Xong on her tattered boat along side a riverbank. He then asked to take her photograph, for which she instinctively posed by covering up her forehead and smile with her hands.

Not used to seeing herself photographed, she covered up her face for a photo that would go on to change her life.


Source: rehahn

Rehahn then put together a book, Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrasts, which details the lifestyle, people, and culture that he encountered in Vietnam. But he needed a cover photo.

Rehahn chose this photo as a cover because it symbolizes "the joy of life despite old age and poverty."


Source: rehahn

However, Rehahn wanted to include background about Mrs. Xong's life in his book, so he asked her about herself, and what her dream in life was.

The old woman's dream in life was to have a new boat--one that wouldn't scare away the people she loved meeting on it. So Rehahn promised to buy her a new boat if the book did well.

And perhaps in thanks to her lovely pose, the book did more than well--it did great! Selling over 1000 copies in a few months all over the world, it became a global success. Rehahn is a man of his word, and did not forget his promise.

Mrs. Xong's story took off as a sensation in Vietnam, putting her on 5 Television broadcasts and the front page of major news outlets for 2 weeks straight. She now has a new boat to welcome her customers, and no reason to cover up her beautiful smile anymore.


Source: rehahn

Mrs. Xong didn't have to do much more than be her usual kind and humble self, welcoming yet another customer onto her broken down boat. In turn, she became a national icon and a global success story, which allowed her to give her livelihood a boost and continue to enjoy her everyday passion of meeting new people and taking them aboard her boat. However, it seems that her friendship with Rehahn is the real success story here. The two found out they shared the same birthday--May 4th--and so they celebrated and posed for what brought them together--a simple photograph.

For Rehahn this was a routine celebration. For Mrs. Xong, however, it was her first birthday cake and celebration ever.


Source: rehahn

A precious encounter between a man in love with Vietnam and an elderly woman who wanted a better means to help her customers, and the beautiful friendship that was born from it has touched people all across the world, and that is what makes this a true success story.

A video interview with Mrs. Xong can be seen below.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.