Love is food to longevity

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 Nguyen Thi Lanh, 106, and her youngest daughter, 71, from HCMC's District 12. She and her husband, Huynh Van Lac, 110, have been certified by Vietnam Records Book as the country's oldest couple.

Huynh Thi Hoa, 71, says that ever since her parents reached the age of 90, during every Tet Festival their home in Ho Chi Minh City's District 12 is always invaded by marigolds, a flower symbolizing longevity, given as gifts from their friends and relatives.

At present, her father, a farmer named Huynh Van Lac, is 110 years old, and her mother, Nguyen Thi Lanh, is still healthy at the age of 106. This month they were certified by Vietnam Records Books as the country's oldest couple.

With the help of a young man named Thang who works at a restaurant near the couple's home, I approached the family residence, a verdantly decorated, 700-square-meter white building surrounded by three large, green iron gates.

Following Thang's instructions, I called out softly and politely at the nearest gate, saying "Di Tu Hoa oi" (auntie Hoa), with the expectation that Hoa would let me visit her parents, as I had arrived during their lunch hour.

A young female voice replied, "Please go to the middle gate, my great aunt will receive you, she is with my great-grandparents there."

On the second try, I was happily welcomed by Hoa's tender, clear voice.

"Please wait a moment, I'll put my dog in his cage since he is seldom nice to visitors," said the old woman, who is a former social worker, using her medical skills to help poor people.

I was asked to wait in the simple living room of one of the five apartments of the residence, which the family has lived in for over four generations and a hundred years, as Hoa helped her mother to relieve herself.

"My mother's stomach as well as her legs are weak these days, I am so sorry for keeping you alone here," the youngest unmarried daughter explained before leaving me a tray of cold water, cool wet tissues and plenty of delicious cookies.

"Make yourself at home," she smiled warmly.

While waiting, I heard Hoa's patient conversation in the next apartment over with her mother, whom she calls Noi (grandmother).

"Noi, try harder, please. I know you can do it. Good job, Noi." And finally, "Please calm down and sit here, I will wipe for you, then I have to see a visitor."

A sign outside the bathroom says, "Nha co nguoi lon tuoi, vui long an nhe, noi nhe, di nhe" (Elderly people live here, please eat, speak and walk quietly).

Fifteen minutes later, she brought up two bowls of chicken porridge and chicken salad, made from vegetables and chickens planted and raised by the family on a large plot of land near Hoc Mon District.

"All the family, especially my parents, love fresh, home-produced food, so we try to provide for ourselves as much as possible," said the old woman.

I had not yet met the couple in question, but after just a few minutes in the house's calm, peaceful atmosphere, which was in large contrast to the world outside, I could guess what the secret of her parents' longevity was.

"I have not had lunch yet," she said, "so, please have a meal with me while we talk about my parents."

The daughter, who after her retirement quit doing volunteer work as an educator to take care of her parents, said that she is supported by the whole family, which now boasts nearly 70 members.

Hoa is one of four children of Huynh Van Lac and Nguyen Thi Lanh, who have been married for 82 years and for decades have been a good example of the traditional happy family, and have been invited to attend many weddings over the years, as people wanted to emulate them.

"Our neighbors always say hello and are happy to see my parents eating in front of the house near the garden and the gate every time they pass by the house, a sign that the couple is still happy," she said.

Eldest son Huynh Van Duong, 76, said that his mother is a typical Vietnamese woman, who is meek, loyal, full of love and respect toward her husband and children, while his father is decisive, strict, honest, and generous.

"They are not afraid of death since they believe it is out of their control. I am also neither afraid of death nor do I want to die, I just want to live happily," he said.

Hoa also added that the father, who is not as sound of mind as he has been in the past, always stresses unity in the family, and often gives support to government projects in the neighborhood.

His daughter told me that three years ago, when improving the road in front of their house, the local government requested that the family and their neighbors give up part of their land.

"When my brother didn't want to give up a grove of mango trees in front of the house and was hesitating, my father told us that according to Vietnamese tradition, we keep cool water at the gate for pedestrians to drink during their journey as well as give up parts of our rice fields to pave roads, so we should share our land with the government for road building," Hoa said.

"Both my father and mother are plain farmers, born into poor family - especially my dad, who was fatherless at the age of six and worked hard to help his mother to feed his other siblings," she said. "But they are happy with what they have. It explains their longevity, I think."

Hoa recalled that on September 15 when the couple were certified at their home, the two were sound of mind.

"At my age I still got attention from the government. I would like to say thank you to you all," said Nga on the occasion, who was quoting her father.

The oldest couple in Vietnam now sleeps in different bamboo beds, but Lanh, who is still quite lucid, always asks where her husband is whenever she wakes up.

"Anything is fine," is always her never-failing response when asked what her favorite food or clothes are.

"I am old, I enjoy whatever my children provide me," said Lanh, who was known for her beauty when she was young, though she get married at the age of 24, which was considered old in the past, and had her first child when she was 30.

Hoa said that her parents had to wait quite a few years to have children, until they were able to sufficiently provide for them.

"Their thinking was somewhat progressive way back when, and it even is today," said Hoa, who must apply all her knowledge of medicine, psychology and food to take care of her parents.

Hoa said all the family members, and especially the younger generation, love talking to their great-grand parents, since they still learn a lot from them through their stories of the past and the traditional poems they often recite.

"I don't know what I'll do if one day they leave me," said Hoa, who loves holding her mother while listening to her recite Vietnamese proverbs:

"Cong cha nhu nui Thai Son

Nghia me nhu nuoc trong nguon chay ra

Mot long tho me kinh cha

Cho tron chu hieu moi la dao con."

(Father's hardship is as big as a mountain,

mother's affection is as water springing from its source.

Worship mother and respect father

with all your hearts to fulfill your duties as their children.)

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