Before I told you about the legal side. Now for the wedding party.
In the UK, the legal side and wedding ceremony and reception is completed on the same day. As previously mentioned, the legal side in Vietnam is completed on a separate date (often several months different from) from the ceremony. In the UK the ceremony comprises of vows being taken in front of friends and family. This will happen at church or a registry office (a government building) before the wedding proceeds to a party hall for the reception. However in Vietnam, things are quite different. Let me talk you through it....
The Family Ceremony
The first thing to note is that this wasn't a completely traditional party since my family home is in England and unfortunately circumstances didn't allow them to attend so what I'm about to tell you isn't the traditional ceremony, just what we did. For those of you who are interested in the full ceremony, I'd be happy to tell you at a later date.
6 a.m. My alarm goes off. I wake up at the hotel I was staying at and I go downstairs to eat breakfast. Then I take a shower, shave and get dressed into my Ao Dai, which is the traditional Vietnamese dress for this part of the ceremony. As pictured, the groom wears blue and the bride wears red. I also have to admit it took rather a long time for me to put it on as it wasn't entirely obvious to me where each button and catch had to attach to.
8 a.m. I meet 9 of my male friends at the front of the restaurant. 7 of them are my 'Good Men'. Their role is to give 7 gifts to 7 of Hanh's friends. The gifts are usually fruits, jewelry, tea and wine. Will and Steve were the other two. They acted as my bestmen/household. Steve's role would be to ask Hanh's parents for permission on behalf of my family, and Will was my bestman though that role is rather decorative (rather than practical) in Vietnamese ceremonies.
8:10 a.m. The cars come to pick us up. Steve, Will and I go in the first car and the others follow. It's only about a 5 minute drive to Hanh's house but it takes longer as in front of us is a camera guy recording the car journey to incorporate it into our Dvd. The cars stop about 20 metres from the house. Steve and Will go into Hanh's house....
Unfortunately I don't have any pictures to hand but Hanh's family were sat around this table, and on top of the case you can see in the back groud was a kinda shrine to the ancestors. This is used to show your respect to them rather than for worshipping as we would think. Will and Steve entered and asked permission for my marriage to their daughter and fortunately they agreed. By this time, the Good Men had been given their gifts to give to the girls, and had lined up in single file. Once her parents agreed, we were beckoned to come into her house, the 'death march' so to speak! Here, the good men lined up opposite one of the girls and the guys gave the girlies the gifts. This picture isn't from our wedding, but gives you an idea of what happened.
Here you can see, the gifts are on a tray and covered with a red cloth to be revealed later.
At this stage I have to add that there were a lot of pauses for photographs and the communication wasn't always great so we didn't really know what was going on. That's not all that uncommon here!
8:40 For anyone who was there, please don't hold me to these timings. I know I'm out but I sure can't remember when everything happened so please forgive me!! This was a very hot day, and on hot days what do we want? Ice cream, a cold beer and a fan or A/C if possible. Well ice cream wouldn't have looked great in photos, beer was coming later and we had a powercut. So we (the foreigners) were all baking hot! The family cemerony began at about this time. Firstly, Hanh came out from the kitchen, as whilst Steve asked for permission Hanh wasn't allowed in the room. Then I have to put earrings, a necklace, bracelet and finally the ring onto Hanh. Now for those of you who have never worn an earring, let alone put one in someone's ear, let me tell you its terrifying! So much so that I couldn't actually do it. I was sweating (heat) and fumbling about (fat fingers) and could get them in. In the end I just waited for someone else to do it for me. Apparently it's not the done thing, but I really didn't care all that much! And for the record, I'm never attempting to do that again! It's not right! If we were supposed to wear earrings God would've made us with holes in our ears!!!
Anyhows, Jewelry on, and we then had to offer a small cup of Vietnamese wine to the various relatives in the room. This small cup was no more than one of those small things that people use to protect their thumbs when they're sewing! (and before you say ought, I do know the word, I just don't know how to spell it!!) The wine was also pretty strong as I'm sure Steve will testify to. Most people just pretended to drink it for the photographer who by now had resumed a more important role than Hanh and I.
Next we have to bow 3 times facing the ancestor shrine, and then turn around to bow 3 times to everyone who was in attendance. Again, the photographer, who had already started to annoy me, asked us to hold the pose. After this we unvailed the gifts for all to see. Considering I was supposed to have bought them, I was just as intrigued as everyone else. That's right, I just contributed the funds and the gifts were bought for me. I learned that I'd bought wine, fruits and teas. Hmmm tea. I think there a few bits we had to do after, but I can't remember them. All I remember were a few more photos and the family ceremony was bought to a close at somewhen close to 9:45 am. Relieved, as to be honest it had dragged on, we could stand at ease. My friends returned to the hotel to shower and change, and Hanh and I made our way to the restaurant and the wedding party was due to begin at 11....
The quest for a drink
Weddings are supposed to be the happiest day of your life and the groom is supposed to be one of the most important people in it. Or so I thought. Well try telling the restaurant we had our party at. We probably arrived at about 10:15 in plenty of time to make sure that everything was in order. And it appeared so. There was drink everywhere. The tables were nicely laid out, the food was ready and more importantly, I was parched. So in a room with hundreds of beers and pepsis it shouldn't have been hard to get a drink.
Well apparently no one was willing to give me a drink. I asked anybody who could speak English (at that time it was only Hanh) and she asked anyone who could speak Vietnamese (everybody) to get me a pepsi. 30 minutes later and we're still asking. I was getting a bit angry since I was paying for the whole thing and no one would get me a drink!! Tip for those of you coming to Nam, don't expect customer service, it doesn't exist! Ok I'm being a bit unfair, but you see my point. Eventually Hanh's dad went next door (somewhere not related to the party) and bought me a pepsi. I was a happy bunny again.
The Wedding Party
11 a.m. Those of you familiar to Korea know that everyone always arrives 15 minutes late. This is known as Korean time. Now for social engagements, this is punctual compared to a lot of the people I know in Vietnam. Therefore, we didn't expect people to arrive until 12. We were wrong. At 11 a flood of people arrive and in traditional custom we stood by the door to welcome everyone in, with of course some photos....
When you come to a Vietnamese wedding you usually sign a big card to show you came and you leave money for the couple in a box at the door. The Vietnamese tend to give money at a wedding instead of gifts and that money is usually used to cover the cost of the party. Once most of the guests had arrived we went back stage to change. Hanh looked stunning in a gorgeous white dress we had made and of course I looked devilishly handsome in my suit. Time for the party to begin.
Midday. All the guests had near enough arrived. 370 in all. And I probably knew about 100 of them. Hanh claims that she knew everyone but I'm not convinced about that! As you may or may not know, the parents of the bride and groom invite a lot of their friends and colleauges to their child's wedding which is very different from our way of doing things back home. This is where the fun starts....
You see the platform at the front, well this was a moving aisle. When Hanh and I were introduced to the guests, we were at the back of the room (similar to how the bride enters down the aisle) and we walked to the platform. I was really expecting it but it started moving. We didn't really know what to do so we just stood waving at everyone. It was pretty cheesy but also quite funny. Once we reached the front Hanh's parents were called to the front, along with my manager, who was their on behalf of me. I would like to add at this point, I didn't really have a clue what was going on as the MC who was supposed to be speaking English was awful. He didn't even get my name right and I feel a bit aggreived at having to pay him. As my students correctly pointed out I should have got one of them to do the English part. I would've done if I know how bad he was going to be!!!
After Hanh's parents and Claudette had said a few words Hanh and I poured champagne over some flutes (it made smoke, purely for the pictures of course) and went over to the over side to cut the cake.
The cake below looks good doesn't it. I'm sure your mouth is watering just looking at it. However it's not real. There is a little cream at the top to fool the guests that you're cutting into real cake but it's for the pictures. It's a shame, I like cake.
Doing the rounds
After cutting the 'cake', Hanh and I had a drink together in front of everyone in the 'lovers toast' form where you link arms and look somewhat ridiculous! After that we went round every table to take pictures with all the guests. If you remember we had 370 guests. 10 people on each table (Vietnamese custom). That's 37 tables. We need to take 2 pictures with each table and make a toast each time. Now for my culture. When you toast you have take a swig of your drink. That's at 74 swigs of beer. In Vietnamese culture, if your invited to drink with an elder, you have to match what they drink. Hanh's uncles like Vietnamese wine (which is a cross between Vodka and Whiskey) so by the end of the toasts I was a little tipsy to say the least. Also, I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and everyone else was eating in front of us. Also, the bossy photographer was still directing the show....well not for much longer. Half way round the tables I decided I wanted to do things in my own time, it was our day, and not some dwarf photographer (no offence Gimli). So I started taking my time by taking countless shots of whiskey with the inlaws! Happy days.
More culture. In Vietnamese weddings, the guests usually stay for the food, leave their money and go. No dancing...no fun....no smiles....boring right?!!! Well one of Hanh's friend is a DJ at some of the better places in town and he agreed to bring his gear with him. After a few beers and the food had finished he setup and played the cheesy floor fillers that you would hear at any good student union club. All of my friends (maybe about 60) and Hanh's university friends soon cleared some the tables to the side and dancing!!! Woohoo! It was great! Hanh's parents didn't really understand what was happening, but quickly realised it was a good thing and everyone was having a wonderful time. We'd finally finished the photos (still no food as we wanted to dance and I think it was all gone - I'm told it was delicious but I can't vouch for it) and could let our hair down. The less said about the quality of dancing the better!!
Finally, as people were starting to leave, we went to the door to thank everyone for coming and by 3 the restaurant was empty and that was that! I have to admit, I'm looking forward to other peoples weddings as they're more fun than your own. Also, the only wedding I've ever been hungry at is my mine....not sure it's supposed to work like that but nevermind!