The Face – Elderly woman in Hoi An


Her face is deep, hypnotic and riveting. Every line, crease and wrinkle in her face shows a history of war, struggle and suffering. It just wasn’t her face, but her rough hands and her thin, fragile frame that shared with every passer by her life story.  Still, there was still an intense cloud of mystery that hovered over her, hiding behind her weary, aged face. Who was she? What has her life been like? How much has she endured over the years? What has she witnessed and experienced from Viet-Nam’s war torn past?

We only know her as the elderly woman who sold the brooms, who spoke only a handful of words in English and who politely held out her hand, asking for money.

If she couldn’t convince anyone to buy one of her brooms, she would allow you to take her picture, in exchange for a few thousand dong (about 25 cents). When uninterested customers would decline, she would quietly, silently follow, then with a gentle nudge, she’d look up with her twinkly eyes and put her hand out again. It was hard for anyone, at this point, to decline an offering of generosity. She was so kind, so gracious and extremely thankful when someone shared a little bit of philanthropy. Hopefully she gathered up money to put more food on her tail-thin body or to at least lift some of the burden that laid on her tired, broom making hands.

We followed her for a while through the busy, bustling and colorful streets of Hoi An, which was very easy because she stood out amongst the crowd. After a while, she knew she was being followed and briskly disappeared behind a building, out of our sight for good. But her memory, her presence and her face is still deeply embedded in our minds. She might have been old, but she was strong, committed and determined to overcome all obstacles.  Her strength was obvious.

Seeing just a few minutes of her life reminds us of just how fortunate our lives are.

Did we give her any money? Of course we did. We shared enough with her to make her eyes twinkle a bit more and bring a big lift to her toothless mouth.


Greeting her customers



Clenching her goods, moving on.


Previous Viet-Nam posts you might enjoy reading and viewing:


{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. michelle

    Thanks for sharing, yes we’re very lucky to live in a beautiful country, and we often forgot about how lucky we are. You to seem a beautiful couple. my husband is a white american and he love almost very that have to do with vietnamese people.


  2. shayne

    I am crying. heart touching post. We are so lucky here and often forget it.

  3. Lori Lynn

    Oh, just spectacular. Your writing and photos equally impressive. Makes one want to know her entire life’s story.

  4. Seattle Tall Poppy

    Gorgeous photo!

  5. zenchef

    Amazing photographs! Wow.
    I once saw an old man in the Caribbeans with such a riveting face. I didn’t have a camera with me unfortunately. I still regret it. Can’t forget the memory though!

  6. Toni

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. Yes…..this woman’s face is like a map of her history. thanks for sharing this with us…

  7. Nick

    Great story, truly incredible what you guys have captured. I agree with Rasa, I like the black and white photography.

  8. Rasa Malaysia

    Gorgeous people photography, love them in B&W. By the way, every time I tried to do people photography when I travel, I ended up getting cursed. One time I was in the Caribbean and saw this woman selling fruits and I captured her pictures, only to be thrown some rotten fruits and being cursed in a foreign language. It was scary. 🙁

  9. Sally

    Speechless. Photos, text, everything perfect, in a sad but beautiful way

    thank you

  10. Nhu

    wow…I was about to get a bit teary there…

  11. Big Boys Oven

    thanks for sharing this amazing photostory. Life can be hard . . . . treasure what we have….

  12. Marilyn

    Whenever I check in here, I find something amazing. What an incredible slice of life.

  13. mochachocolatarita

    gosh…i’ve always wanted to capture such a photograph. well done!

  14. aforkfulofspaghetti

    Great series of photos…

    Sorry to have been away from your blog for so long. My loss entirely. I’ve just been rather busy. Will try to keep up a bit better!

  15. Gastronomer

    Hey guys, don’t mean to be the only dissenter, but I think it’s inappropriate to portray and exotic-ize poverty in this way. Do we want Asian tourists taking pictures of our homeless or disenfranchised Americans?

  16. mikky

    very moving pictures… they truly tell her story…. very sensitive of you to have caught that…

  17. Brooke

    What an incredible moment, and life, captured in your photograph. Thank you so much for seeing, following and documenting her life–if only for a brief moment in time. What stories that woman must have to tell! Thank you for inspiring this writer to go on an imaginary ride of possible story lines…who knows what kind of story your photograph may inspire!

  18. Rebecca (Foodie With Family)

    Sigh. That photo is just too beautiful for words.

  19. Cakelaw

    What a gorgeous series of photographs, and a fascinating story. Thank you!

  20. courtney

    You really got some amazing pictures from this trip. And I love your writing.

  21. maryann

    I love black and white portraits. This woman is beautiful in what is obvious and not so much so 🙂

  22. veron

    what amazing pic! You captured her very essence…

  23. giz

    This grouping of pictures is fantastic. There’s something about looking into this woman’s eyes, seeing her weathered hands and understanding what a hard life she’s led. So telling.

  24. alexandra's kitchen

    this breaks my heart. we are so fortunate. why is it so easy to forget. your pictures are so moving.

  25. anya

    What you’ve described is a mystery of all, and yet you captured it, even for a mortal moment; to let go of it again…Beautiful. Touching. Real.

  26. Nate

    You gotta admire the strength and resilience of the Vietnamese people in the face of adversity. Especially those who remained behind after the fall of Saigon.

  27. chez us

    You really captured the moment, I feel as if I am actually there – beautiful!

  28. lifeinrecipes

    Your photos are so much more than just a picture, they are storytellers. She is wonderful.

  29. Colleen


  30. Jesse

    She has the most beautiful eyes. Great job capturing them.

  31. Christine D.

    Wow, very touching. Beautiful photos.

  32. Rita

    Really nice post. I often wonder about the strangers I see out there. Maybe she was a beautiful woman when young. A reminder that times comes to everyone.
    Beautiful pictures too.

  33. matt wright

    Bloody hell. AMAZING photos. You have really captured her character. Beautiful job guys.

  34. Hélène

    These photos make me thankful this morning. Thanks for sharing.

  35. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    Amazing what can be conveyed in black and white! Gorgeous portraits.

  36. Tony

    these photographs are beautiful guys! We really are fortunate for all that we have. When I experience similar stories in my travels I not only realize how fortunate we are, but I also appreciate the devotion and determination people put into particular crafts, such as broom-making. She looks like such a sweet lady – I’m sure you guys made her day 🙂

  37. Lisa

    Awww. Got me all teary now.

    Beautiful pictures.

  38. Happy Cook

    Yeah same when we go to India.

  39. Manggy

    Powerful stuff, guys, and beautiful pictures (I hope she has family to take care of her…). Quite peculiar how suddenly she was the one being followed and had to duck out of sight! Such a role-reversal…

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