Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday January 16th -- The Wedding Ceremony

We woke up early and I could hear Robin Williams in my head shouting "Good Morning, Vietnam." Although I have met the real Adrian Kronauer who coined that phrase and actually heard him say it as well, it was the voice of Robin Williams from the movie that stuck in my brain.

We traveled by cab to the groom’s (Doug’s) hotel where we would board a minibus and go to An’s home for the ceremony. Upon arriving, we found that Doug’s friends from Colorado just recently arrived after spending the night at the Hong Kong airport because their flight to Saigon had been delayed due to snow in Chicago.

We boarded the bus and rode for what seemed like a very long time when the bus made a U-turn and headed back in the direction from where we came. Here, it is common practice that the groom cannot arrive at the place of the ceremony before the appropriate time, 9:30 AM in this case. When the van finally arrived, out of the vans came a procession of covered trays borne by relatives. Each tray was significant. According to superstition you've need to have six or nine trays, never 7 or 8 which are unlucky numbers. The trays may contain: wine, fruit, traditional cake, tea and meat, western style cake, trau cau (leaves with fruit to be offered to the ancestors), and most importantly jewelry for the bride’s dowry.

We all joined the rest of family and close friends in the outside area. We sat at tables seated on little red stools, like we had seen on shows like “Three Sheets to the Wind” and “Anthony Bourdain” on the travel channel. Only close family were allowed to sit at the table inside where the ceremony would be held.

Surprisingly, we and Doug’s friends were invited inside to be a part of the ceremony. We sat at a long table across from relatives of the bride. An’s 92 year old grandmother sat directly across from me. Doug’s Vietnam substitute father – Hai – represented his parents.

The ceremony began with the groom offering gifts to the family of the bride, including cash and jewelry. The elder of An’s family spoke (in Vietnamese) of all the gifts and accepted them from the groom. The ceremony would begin. Unlike western culture where a priest, minister, or rabbi oversees the ceremony, the proceedings are controlled entirely by the bride and groom who practice ancestor veneration. Buddhist monks do not attend weddings.

Doug then offered gifts of jewelry to An. He had to place earrings on her and a necklace, as well. All during the ceremony, the two took direction from the family and the photographers, it seemed a bit chaotic, but controlled.

As the ceremony ended, others came to offer gifts, including the parents and gave a short speech, in Vietnamese, of course.

We then proceeded to the outside area where we once again sat on the small, red plastic stools. I sat next to Hai – Doug’s adopted Vietnam father – and after speaking for a while found that he had served in the South Vietnam military during the war. We continued to share stories throughout the meal.

We were served Saigon 333 ( ba ba ba) beer and a large piece of ice was placed in each of our glasses. We were familiar with this seeing it, again, on the Travel Channel. And then came the food.

The meal started with chicken, head, feet and all. The next course was fish, whole fish that fell off the bone, very tender, very good. This was followed by a vegetable dish. The next dish was the hit of the day -- live prawns, cooked right at the table. One of the servers lifted the lid to see if the prawns were done. One of these large creatures jumped out of the pot, right at Stacy. It landed on the table right in front of her. I don’t remember, but there may have been a shriek. Here is that infamous prawn -->

An’s father immediately came to the table to see what the problem was. We laughed about it later. The last course was soup. All was good, very good.

We prepared to leave but not before a lot of pictures. We had pictures with the bride, groom, bride and groom, bride’s family, groom’s adopted family.

We loaded back on the bus and the bride and groom left in a sedan in front of us. The photographers, once again led the departure. While riding on a motor bike, the photographer stood up while travelling about 30 mph and turned around so that he could film the bride and groom riding behind him. This went on all the way to the hotel.

Once back to the hotel, we bid good-bye until the reception party the next day. This ceremony and following meal was like nothing I have ever experienced before. But, more experiences were to come tomorrow at the reception. Stay tuned.


  1. That's so cool that you got to see a traditional Vietnamese wedding! I wish I could have seen that prawn jump at Stacy...