Most in Vietnam have read or heard the story Vo Nhat (picked wife) by writer Kim Lan, in which a poor man asks a homeless woman to be his wife during the famine in northern Vietnam in the 1940s.
The story continues to be viewed as a lesson in kindness.
In an endearing example of life imitating art, a visiting photographer and blogger Brandon Stanton discovered a similar tale on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and posted a photo of the couple on his Facebook page: Humans of New York.
"[My husband] found my son and I on New Year's Eve, sleeping in a construction site.... and said: 'You shouldn't live like this, come home with me.” Stanton quoted the woman as saying.
“He let us live with him for a few months, and he never asked me for a thing, and he was very good to my son. Sometimes I'd come home and find him carrying my son on his shoulders. After a few months, we developed romantic feelings for each other," said the woman who was identified by Tuoi Tre newspaper as 28-year-old Nguyen Thuy An of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 4.
The man featured in Stanton's photograph, Nguyen Van Tai, works as a motorbike parking attendant.
Tai said he first found An sleeping on the street with her two-year-old son in the district flower market a few days ahead of the most recent lunar new year, Tuoi Tre reported.
“On New Year’s Eve, I saw them again on the street and she told me she was homeless,” the paper quoted the 29-year-old man as saying.
Nguyen Van Tai and the wife he "picked" from the street in the photo taken by Brandon Stanton.
“The area was dark and dangerous. I invited her to my house and offered to sleep on the floor [so she and her son could have my bed]. I told her she could leave at any time.”
The mother and son followed Tai to his small rented house as the New Year approached.
An said she worried about moving in with a strange man.
“But it was even more dangerous on the street," she said. "Moreover, he was living with his mother and younger brother."
New Year Eve's magic
Tai said her mother did not object to An and her son moving into their home but she did ask about the An’s age.
“I didn’t know. I guessed, randomly, that she was 22 and only learned later that she is 28,” he said.
Tai took the mother and son around on Tet (Lunar New Year) holidays and bought toys for her son, Khang. A month after living together, Tai confessed he loved An.
“It was my happiest Tet because I'd wake up at night and see a roof instead of stars in the sky,” she said.
An said that after her father died and her mother left, she stayed with her aunt. After her aunt got married, she began living in a restaurant where she worked and fell in love with a waiter who left her after she got pregnant.
The woman hired a small house and lived on the kindness of neighbors who often gave her rice and clothes.
But just before Tet, the mother and son were evicted from the home for failing to make rent.
An said Tai gets along well with his step-son, which is not always easy for a single man.
Nguyen Van Tai, Nguyen Thuy An and her son in their home. Photo courtesy of Zing
“I am a man and I am supposed to be able to support a woman and a child. Moreover, life was boring when all I did was watch television. I'm happy to see a little child running around in my house,” he said.
His salary of only VND4 million (US$193) a month was barely enough to support his family in the beginning days when An was unemployed.
Things got particularly tight when Khang got sick and they had to scrape together doctor and medicine fees.
Tai’s mother, 57-year-old Phan Thi Duyen, said she is happy to do the housework as her son seems happy with his family.
“The child is attached to his step-father and always says he is his father whenever anyone asks,” she said.
“It seems destiny brought them together. I'm not annoyed at all but feel pity for them because they can't afford a wedding,” she said, adding that Tai quit drinking after meeting his wife.
An has set up a temporary shop selling coffee and water near a construction site; Tai looks after Khang while working at the motorbike lot.
Holding the little child in his arm, Tai said: “I have a true love for An and want to bring them happiness despite the difficulty.”