Do Thi Thanh Ho in Guangxi Arts University library.[China Daily]
Do Thi Thanh Hoa was mistaken for a Chinese woman at first when she sang a folk song on Walk of Fame, China's popular television talent show (Xingguang Dadao).
But the 25-year-old, who was named champion of the month, is Vietnamese. She is a senior at Guangxi Arts University, based in Nanning, capital of Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
"It's unbelivable that a Vietnamese can sing our folk song so well," an expert reviewer of the live show commented.
Thanh Hoa was born in Tuyen Quang, a town near the China-Vietnam border. She was exposed to Chinese music and TV shows at early age.
"I grew up with the story of Journey to the West - my family is fancinated by it," she said before singing the melody.
Obssessed with music, Thanh Hoa sang day and night when she was a teenager. For example, she had won early fame in Vietnam by distinguishing herself from other contestants in various singing competitions.
She won third prize when a dozen aspiring young singers from China and Vietnam competed in a celebration of friendship between the two countries in 2011.
Thanh Hoa's talent caught the attention of Vietnam's Military and Arts University, which is regarded as the cradle of artists in the country. She enrolled, specializing in bel canto, an opera style characterized by the flexible, smooth delivery of high and low notes.
In 2013, she was recommended for a scholarship at Guangxi Arts University to learn Chinese folk singing.
"The thing that bothers me most is the language. I can't speak - let alone sing - in Chinese," she said.
She then tried to learn daily phrases by having conversations and listening and was prepared at any moment to write down the pronunciation of new words in a notebook.
As for her singing, she learned by imitating.
"I have to listen to a song over and over until the melody and lyrics linger in my head," Thanh Hoa said.
"Chinese folk songs are a fresh and sophisticated world for me. I spent lots of time studying the diversity of the language and the profound cultural background behind the songs, and I've gained endless inspiration and pleasure. You have to know the song as well as a friend."
With hard work, her tender, magical, mellifluous voice and soulful performances managed to smash musical boundaries between two nations.
In the following years, she sang like a lark in both Cantonese and Mandarin - and also in Vietnamese, of course.
In 2015 she was invited by the Vietnam government to sing for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, who were then visiting the country.
"I sang songs that are popular in both countries," Thanh Hoa said. "Madam Peng asked me where I learned it, and encouraged me to further my studies in Beijing. I was proud that my songs could somehow create a little bit of connection and sympathy in the atmosphere between two nations."
From that time onward, she has known what she is singing for.
Though busy with graduation matters, she developed a plan for the future: "I will further my education in China next, and later impart what I learn in China to Vietnam to enrich our own singing arts - and more important, keep singing the friendship of two countries."