Couple stuck in Vietnam strike up unlikely friendship with monk

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A couple stranded in Vietnam after the holiday of a lifetime have become sudden TV and newspaper celebrities helping to deliver rice to starving villagers.

Robert and Margaret Turner travelled to Asia at the start of March for a three week trip, but were affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, which left it impossible to get home.

Staying in Hoi An, their apartments grew increasingly deserted, but they decided to remain, helping to clean the hotel swimming pool, gardening and clearing the ageing banana trees.

A monk, living at a nearby monastery in the coastal city, visited the couple as he is friends with the hotel owner, to check the British visitors were safe.

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And it sparked an unlikely friendship which has led to Robbie and Margaret, 64 and 63, who have three children, helping to feed hungry villagers, three or four times every week.

The monk set up a rice "ATM" in the middle of the city, which dispenses the key food to many hundreds of desperate locals.

Robbie and Margaret Turner, stranded in Vietnam, but helping to feed hungry villagers rice, which has turned them into TV celebrities

It has a separate chute for Soy sauce.

Robbie hauls the sacks from vans and feeds the rice into the back of the machine, while his wife hands out the sauce sachets, and goes into villagers homes and introduces herself.

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And the Turners, from Ellesmere Port, got involved in the project, which has seen them win friends, plaudits and even media appearances on Vietnamese TV.

The unlikely turn of events has made them household names, and their names are known throughout the part of the city where they are based.

Daughter Abbie, who speaks to her parents regularly on What's App, told the ECHO: "Mum and dad are being treated as if they're celebrities.

"They villagers have never really seen white people face-to-face before, and my dad has got green eyes, which they all find fascinating.

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"They've been written about in the newspaper and appeared on the TV news.

"Once, the villagers sang a special song of thanks to them both, and my mum was an emotional wreck.

"Even my dad had a tear in his eye."

In Vietnam, there have been 270 recorded Covid-19 cases, 222 people having recovered, and no deaths.

Lockdown officially ended today, but Robbie and Cheshire Oaks restaurant worker Margaret, who grew up in Liverpool, appear to be in no hurry to return.

This afternoon, the building contractor was said to be relaxing in the hotel swimming pool with 10 excited Vietnamese children, who he was "teaching how to swim."

Relatives said their experience had been a distraction following news Robbie's sister was admitted to the Countess of Chester Hospital with the virus.

A carer, she is believed to be recovering and her oxygen levels returning to normal.

Abbie has launched an online fundraising bid to help the villagers in Hoi An, where just six pennies buys 100 grams of rice.

Their daughter, 41, added: "It's been a real culture shock for them, but an experience they'll never forget.

"I've told them there's no rush, and they might as well wait until the money goes back into their bank account from their cancelled flights.

"They're not in a mad panic to get home!

Robbie and Margaret Turner, stranded in Vietnam, but helping to feed hungry villagers rice, which has turned them into TV celebrities

"Dad says he's going to join the Viet Cong and is cracking jokes, while my mum is quite chirpy.

"They have found it mind-blowing how they have been looked after.

"They didn't expect so many people to make a fuss."

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Tests in Vietnam are said to be in good supply, and the Turners were both tested when they visited the airport as their friends had to rush home.

Abbie added: "We're pretty happy they are there, they seem safer there than they might be in the UK."

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