After four years studying at the university, in 1971, the Vietnamese man began working as an apprentice at a fertilizer factory in Hamhung, where he met a girl named Ri Yong Hui, who worked in the analysis division.
One day, Ri Yong Hui noticed someone was looking at her through the window. That was Pham Ngoc Canh. From this eye contact, they fell in love, which they didn’t think would continue for 31 years.
They loved each other in secret because the DPRK’s law at that time didn’t allow Korean girls to love and marry foreigners. The society didn’t support such relationships.
Two years later, Canh had to return to Vietnam.
“I will wait for you forever,” Ri Yong Hui promised. She was ill for months. She even tried to commit suicide but her mother rescued her in time.
Several months later, Ri Yong Hui received the first letter from Vietnam. The letter was not for her but for her mother and the sender was “Pom Noc Kieng”, a Korean girl. They couldn’t write each other as lovers, and could only ask “Are you all right?” “I wish you will always fulfill your assigned missions” or “Is Hamhung snowy this winter?”
Those “dry” words were the breath of life for Ri Yong Hui. She read the letters hundreds of times and burnt them afterwards for fear that someone would discover their relationship. In Vietnam, Ri Yong Hui’s letters became Canh’s treasures.
In 1978, Canh was sent to DPRK again to attend a 3-month training course. He had to disguise himself to see Ri Yong Hui. The situation didn’t impove. As his course was nearly finished, Canh wrote a letter and managed to send it to the chief of the DPRK Women Union to present their case. However, Ri Yong Hui prevented him from sending the letter because she knew that was hopeless. “Let’s go home! I will wait for you forever,” she told Canh.
Returning to Vietnam, Canh became enthusiastically involved in all activities related to the DPRK, including raising funds to assist DPRK people. He then became the permanent member of the Vietnam-DPRK Friendship Association.
The couple still wrote to each other until 1992, when Canh received the last letter from his girlfriend. His efforts to find her all failed.
In 1997, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Manh Cam paid a visit to the DPRK. Canh wrote a letter and directly saw the Minister to ask for help. Mr. Cam agreed and brought the letter to the DPRK. After that, the DPRK Embassy informed Canh that Ri Yong Hui got married.
Canh didn’t believe this because if she wanted to get married, she would have done so many years earlier.
At that time, Canh moved from the General Department of Chemistry to the Hanoi Department of Sports and Physical Training as an interpreter for DPRK taekwondo coaches, to get information about his girlfriend.
In 2001, he was informed that Ri Yong Hui died of sickness ten years earlier. But his friend, Park Sang Kim, an interpreter for DPRK high-ranking delegations to Vietnam, went to Hamhung to look for Ri Yong Hui. He discovered that the woman was still healthy and still loved Canh.
Canh was very happy and he still waited for a chance which came in May 2002 when a Vietnamese high-ranking delegation visited the DPRK.
Canh wrote a letter and sent it to some members of the delegation, asking for their assistance. Shortly after, Canh suddenly received a document of the DPRK authorities that allowed him to marry Ri Yong Hui.
He immediately prepared the wedding and fulfilled the necessary procedures to go to the DPRK. On October 1, 2002, he arrived in Pyongyang. Several days later, Ri Yong Hui arrived too. The 31-year love had a happy ending.
They came back to Vietnam and the wedding ceremony was organized on December 31, 2002 in Hanoi. At that time, the groom was 54 and the bride was 55.
Thanks to the media, some brothers and sisters of Ri Yong Hui from South Korea learned about the couple and went to Hanoi to see Ri Yong Hui.
VietNamNet reporter visited Mr. Canh and Mrs. Ri Yong Hui in late 2010. They live in an apartment in Hanoi. Mr. Canh retired while Mrs. Ri Yong Hui taught Korean at a foreign language center.
Mr. Canh said that they returned to the DPRK by train from Beijing in November 2010. They prepared many gifts, from electric torches to clothes and shoes. Though the couple could only stay in Pyongyang, Mrs. Ri Yong Hui was very happy to return home.
Officials at the Vietnamese Embassy in Pyongyang told them that many people from Hamhung city asked them about Ri Yong Hui and her now legendary love story - VietNamNet