05/01/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
My Uyen delights in recalling the day in 1996 when she took supermodel Kate Moss
on her motorbike for a tour of Ho Chi Minh City. "Kate was holding on very tight and screaming the whole time," says My Uyen. "I couldn't stop laughing." Today, My Uyen, 26, has even more reason to smile: Her country's top model since 1993, she is a fixture on fashion-show runways and on the covers of Vietnam's leading fashion magazines. And this month she makes her TV debut playing the youngest of three sisters in '80s Vietnam on the new nighttime soap Giao Thoi ("Middle Times"). "I act just like myself," says the 5'5" stunner. "Most of my friends tell me I'm not that beautiful but that I am charming."
One of four children, My Uyen was born in Saigon, where her father, Ngo Cong Quyen, managed a hotel and casino. It closed just before the war ended, and the family moved south, where they planted trees and rice. "Everyone looks at me and says, 'She's a model,' " says My Uyen, "but I worked in the fields too."
In 1980, when her father was sent to reeducation camp for trying to escape the country by boat (the family had stayed behind), My Uyen's mother, Hoang Lan Huong, opened a dress shop to make ends meet. Now My Uyen, who lives with her parents and two sisters in a five-bedroom house in Ho Chi Minh City, pays many of the bills. While most Vietnamese models earn about $400 a month, she gets up to $7,000 for two or three days' work. Though "going to the U.S. and being an actress would be great," she says, there is one caveat—Hollywood would have to feed her first. Says My Uyen: "I can't do a romantic or crying scene when I'm hungry."