Update: 18:13 | 19/12/2019
When she left Vietnam for Britain with her English husband, Hai Ngan's only worry was how she would earn a living.
The town of Aylesbury in the southeast of England is famous for its old pubs. It is also home to the headquarters of a popular jewelry brand though not many local people know its founder is a 40-year-old Vietnamese woman named Hai Ngan.
Twenty years ago she was a primary school teacher in northern Sapa Town and barely knew any English. One day in September 1999 Ngan and her fellow teachers were eating lunch in school when a group of foreign tourists paid a visit.
After the meal, one of them, Jeremy Knight, asked for Ngan's address. She gave it without a thought.
One day she unexpectedly received a letter and a Christmas card from Knight, who described himself as an online trader. He said he wanted to be her friend. Ngan wrote him back a four-page letter in Vietnamese despite not being sure if he could translate and read it.
From a small-town teacher in Vietnam, Hai Ngan becomes a serial U.K. entrepreneur.
During Lunar New Year (Tet) that year she received a reply from him. It turned out he had asked a friend in Ho Chi Minh City to help him translate her letter. He even asked that friend to translate his letter into Vietnamese before sending it to Ngan.
Since then every six weeks she would get a letter from him, duly translated. The letters gradually helped deepen the connection between two strangers and they developed affection for each other.
Every year Jeremy came to Vietnam to visit her. In 2003, feeling that their relationship had become serious enough, she decided to visit his family in the U.K.
But the idea of traveling to a foreign country, still not very common among Vietnamese, made her nervous. But all her worries disappeared once she landed at the airport and saw the familiar figure of Jeremy. During her three-week visit, he showed her around and helped her explore England in beautiful autumn.
Ngan took him to northern Thai Binh Province, her hometown, to meet her family. They married in early in 2004. Ngan knew living in England would be challenging. Her main concern in the beginning was what she would do to earn an income.
She got a job in a barbershop. It was hard work, having to wash customers' hair, and clean the floor and mirror, then quit. She was determined to learn English and never worked as an employee.
Knight suggested that she could go to a second-hand market to buy some products and then resell them online. He also realized that for Ngan to work, English was crucial.
Gradually she overcame her lack of self-confidence and began to understand what the customers were trying to say.
Besides interacting with customers, she also studied English at a center and always listened to the TV and radio when at home.
She tried doing all kinds of things, from selling tours to DVDs on health. Those jobs were quite trendy at the time, and helped her earn decent money and also prepare for her future business.
Once, in 2013, she heard on the news that English women bought 10-12 items of jewelry a year on average. An idea struck her and she decided to learn about the jewelry industry.
She went to markets, bought beads and made jewelry, and posted their pictures online. As a woman born in a town well known for its handicrafts, it did not take her long to ensconce herself in the jewelry industry.
Now she runs 12 factories in several countries, and her products are sold on Amazon in the U.K., Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the U.S., and Australia. She also sells them on her companies’ websites and through stores in Britain. The jewelry company earns revenues of VND60-80 billion ($2.59-3.45 million) a year.
Ngan, her husband and children.
Besides jewelry, the couple also sell weight-loss and children's products and own a company manufacturing labels for supermarkets. She and her husband have outsourced transportation, photography and marketing. They do not keep their products in company warehouses but send them to Amazon's warehouses.
She has attended a number of courses on web language and online marketing. Her biggest challenge is to strike a balance between family and work. From giving birth to children in a new country with no relatives and taking care of them, she has always had to manage by herself.
The most difficult phase is possibly over: her two children are in secondary and primary school respectively while her businesses are well established.
Knight recently set up three jewelry workshops in her hometown, and the products made there have been sold in several continents.