When adventurous Sunway travel consultant Thomas McEvatt went to live in Vietnam, he couldn't have predicted that he'd find his very own Miss Saigon during his first month there. And he probably wouldn't have dreamt that he'd be married to her seven weeks later.
It was on May 25, 2007, that Thomas, 30, went to check out a new bar in Saigon with a friend, and it was there that he met his future wife.
"I walked in, and saw the most beautiful girl I have ever seen," he says. "She introduced herself to me as Candy, and we just hit it off straight away. A lot of Vietnamese girls are very shy, but Candy was outgoing and fun. I liked her cheekiness -- the way she'd pinch my arse going by and that kind of thing."
The relationship progressed at a very rapid rate, and within a month the pair decided to get married. They tied the knot on July 17, but first of all there was the matter of the nerve-wracking phone-call that Thomas had to make to his mother, Dolly, in Ballybrack, Dublin. Then again, Dolly had probably come to expect the unexpected from her son at this stage.
"She was great when I told her that we were getting married, and said all that mattered was that I was happy," he says.
"My brother and sisters and some people in the Sunway office thought that I was crazy and it was too fast, but I told them that they had to just go with me on this one."
The fun-loving Thomas joined Sunway in August 2004, and soon became its top seller in long haul. This was in addition to his self-appointed CEO role, or Chief Entertainment Officer, for the company.
He first visited Vietnam when Sunway decided to feature it as a destination, and loved it so much that he promptly booked another trip. While there, he met two American expats, and the easy lifestyle they were enjoying really appealed to him.
Although his family and friends expressed concerns, Thomas's mind was made up, and he handed in his notice and moved to Vietnam in May 2007. After several interviews, he was offered the position of general manager in a hotel in the beautiful town of Hoi An.
It was mere weeks after arrival that he met Candy, who was born in Saigon. Her real name is Phuoc, which Thomas jokes can sound offensive in an Irish tongue.
Candy has three sisters, and they were raised by an aunt and uncle, as their parents died, separately, when she was small. She worked as a hairdresser and in a bar, and also has a young son, Tin, from a previous relationship.
"This didn't bother me as I fell for my wife and everything about her," says Thomas. "Tin is five, and is a very smart kid. We hit it off straight away, due to my extensive viewing of American wrestling."
Although Candy's English still needs improvement, Thomas says that they are blissfully happy, and manage to communicate with one another very well.
"We don't talk about politics or anything like that, but we understand each other," he laughs. "When I first arrived in Vietnam, I invested in a children's picture dictionary, which was the best thing ever for getting me out of trouble."
Candy says that she thinks Thomas is amazing, and she likes both his family and Ireland very much.
"He's very special," she says. "My number one!"
Four months after they married, Thomas and Candy discovered that they were expecting a baby. Wanting to move back to Saigon, where maternity facilities were better, Thomas contacted Sunway and asked if there was any capacity in which he could work for the company.
He gave his notice at the hotel while Sunway investigated the possibilities for him, mere days before welcoming the then Tanaiste Brian Cowen and his family as hotel guests.
Once a few technical issues were sorted out, Thomas was back working for Sunway by June 2008. While he sells all Sunway long-haul destinations, he specialises in Vietnam, naturally enough. It hasn't been commercialised as much as other countries, he says, and its people have a friendliness that is genuine and a real willingness to help visitors.
"It has the best beaches I've ever seen, and is amazing value for money," he says. "Candy and I find it hard to spend a tenner between us when we go out for dinner."
Thomas works Irish hours, and is connected to the Sunway system, so anyone calling to book is as likely to be put through to him as any other member of the team. And judging by the rapturous reception he received when I met him with Candy in the office in Dun Laoghaire, he is still a very popular member of staff.
The system is working well, and despite being more than 12 hours away by plane, Thomas is still the company's top-seller for long haul.
"It's as if I'm merely next door, although I miss the craic in the Sunway office," he says. "I miss my family too, although I talk to my mam a few times every week. She came over in April for a holiday, and when I left her at the airport, I was crying."
Thomas and Candy's beautiful baby, Saoirse, was born on July 10 last year, and she is known by her Vietnamese pet name, Jerry. This is because of the obvious pronunciation difficulties, and also because Candy was familiar with the TV cartoon Tom and Jerry. As her husband was Thomas, she thought Jerry would be a great name for the baby.
"When Jerry was born, it was one of the happiest days of my life," says Thomas. "We called her Saoirse because I'd have pretty nationalist beliefs. I wound my poor Mam up by telling her that, as I have a lot of respect for Gerry Adams, I was calling the baby after him. Then I told her I was only joking, and it was really after Tom and Jerry!"
For information on Sunway Travel, please visit www.sunway.ie
- Andrea Smith