HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The 253-square kilometer peripheral stretch of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is known as Bình Chánh. Streetside banh mi and pho stands ply quick meals to the young, and herds of skinny men gather around these stalls, unstrapping helmets and jumping off Suzuki GS motorbikes. Pulling their hollow-cheeked faces closer to the warm bowls or soft bread, most of the residents of this placid district eat at a relaxed pace, at a remove from the frenetic rush, roaring traffic, or dusty pollution of pulsating Ho Chi Minh City, the southeast Asian country’s largest city. Here, Tru Thi Nguyen, also called Nguyen Thi Tru according to Vietnamese naming conventions, lives in a canvas-roofed hut behind her family’s home. By nightfall, only excited yelps from street dogs and the faint din of vehicles from National Road Number 50 are audible. But even the occasional rev of a Honda motorbike does not rouse Nguyen from her evening slumber, which she routinely slips into by 5 pm.
At the end of a narrow road accessible only by foot or motorbike, I meet Nguyen’s caretaker and daughter-in-law, 76-year-old Ba Thi Nguyen. When she takes me inside the family home, instead of family pictures, plaques announcing Nguyen’s age adorn the green walls. Nguyen is a woman of petite stature, normally draped in a ba ba—the traditional clothing of choice for women from central and southern Vietnam. A slight and silent woman, Nguyen extends her palms in greeting. With silver hair pulled back into a tight bun, Nguyen beams at the rare visitor with a youthful mirth belying her long years. Her short, wiry legs are bent underneath her body, and she watches visitors wordlessly.
According to the World Record Association, 122-year-old Nguyen is the oldest person in the world. Her age, verified by the association this past April, places her among the globe’s supercentenarians, a small group which lives beyond the age of 110. Although the Guinness World Records recognizes 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt Jones of Brooklyn, New York as the oldest living person on Earth, Nguyen’s family in southeastern Vietnam is waiting for the organization to validate Nguyen’s identity documents, which state she was born in 1893.
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