Update: 10:07 | 24/09/2020
Three years after falling in love Sara Jubran, a Palestinian and a Muslim, and Xuan Tho kissed for the first time. It was their wedding. Having a person to drive to work and share lunch and work out with has left Trinh Xuan Tho of the southern Dong Nai Province on cloud nine since his marriage.
In 2011 Tho went to Australia to study in a college before entering the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). He joined a program to welcome new students and befriended Sara, a Palestinian junior at his university.
Tho and Sara in Sydney.
Sara, a conservative Muslim, kept her distance from other men and so Tho rarely got a chance to talk to her.
But his feelings for her grew by the day, especially after he saw Sara attend community activities with great enthusiasm.
Once her group of friends comprising mostly men, made a trip to a remote Indonesian area to do community work, and he saw her work tirelessly.
There was another time when Sara saw a homeless woman and decided to stay and talk with her until she made several phone calls and found a foster home for her.
While he was slowly falling for the Palestinian woman with a beautiful heart, Tho did not know he was already the apple of her eye.
In early 2018 the duo were returning homes in Sydney by train, seated one seat away from each other, when Tho decided to express his feelings to her. He looked at Sara's eyes and said those magic words. Sara kept her head down to avert his gaze, but admitted she too loved him.
Tho found out soon that things like sitting next to each other or holding hands, considered normal in many cultures, was a "pipe dream" for him and Sara because of her culture.
They met once every two weeks since Islam does not encourage members of the opposite sex to spend time alone together before marriage. On the train, there was always an empty seat between them.
Sometimes Tho, missing his girlfriend who lived five minutes away from him, would buy bubble tea and leave it in front of her house and tell her to get it while he would watch from a distance.
Cultural differences posed numerous challenges.
"Differences between the two cultures created emotional conflicts between us," Sara says.
On her wedding day Sara wears an ao dai and a thobe.
While Vietnamese only greet their parents verbally, Palestinians hug and kiss them on their foreheads.
The couple knew they would face obstacles when they spoke to their families about their relationship. Tho is his parents’ only son and they wanted him to return to Vietnam, while Sara's parents hoped she would marry a Muslim man.
So they planned to take on the problem step by step.
Sara told her elder brother about him and suggested they should have a meeting. After meeting Tho, her brother told her he was "polite and mature."
From then on he would often take his wife and children out with the young couple so that the latter had more time together to understand each other.
In Palestinian culture, men are the breadwinners, and so Tho always knew he would have a lot of responsibility after marriage. After graduating, he worked for a college at UTS but did not earn much. So he looked for other opportunities, and in May 2018 became a senior officer at the university with a decent salary.
Having a career and stable finances gave Tho confidence when he met Sara's family for the first time. Greeting them politely as Vietnamese do, he gave them gifts and ensured he kept a distance from the women in the family. He was "relieved" to learn later her family had accepted him.
She learned whatever she could about Vietnamese culture before meeting Tho's family for the first time. In Dong Nai, she quickly got used to chopsticks and local food like shrimp paste and snails.
At his home, his father used to be the only fan of pickled onions, but Sara began to acquire a taste for it.
In April 2019 the couple got engaged in Sydney. In February 2020 they held their wedding in Bien Hoa Town of Dong Nai in both Vietnamese and Palestinian styles.
Sara wore both an ao dai and a thobe, and people sang and danced to Vietnamese and Palestinian music.
The couple has not gone on a honeymoon because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
But for Tho and Sara, living under one roof and learning about each other is bliss.