When I was preparing to take this trip to Viet Nam, I would have never guessed in a million years that we would be invited to a Vietnamese wedding party. Wow, what an experience it was.
We met the LRC library staff of about 30 at the University on Saturday morning at 8am and all poured into two air-conditioned vans. Terry and I were in the smaller of the two along with about 10 others, including Mrs. Trang, the Library Director and some students from our class.
The trip was 100km (roughly 60 miles) but because there is just one main and very crowded road to get places, it took close to 4 hours each way, but the journey was well worth it. Because we were in a university van, we had priority when we got to ferry boarding areas and could cut the long line, which saved a great deal of time. We boarded two car ferries on our way to the southern province of Bến Tre, situated in the the Mekong delta, where the groom’s family is from.
Vietnamese weddings frequently have 3 days of celebrations. On the first day, it is a chance for the parents of the bride and groom to gather together and share a meal. The second day is for the bride and is held at her family’s home and the third day is focused around the groom and his family. The groom is a security guard at the LRC so Mrs. Trang was able to get us invitations to this party.
On the ride there, we learned that it is customary for the eldest daughter of a family, after marriage, to move in with her in-laws and husband and take care of everybody. In Mrs. Trang’s case, she is the youngest daughter and her in-laws live with her and her husband, so she takes care of the entire family. It is quite an interesting arrangement. Apparently if the newly married couple is able to buy their own house after they get married, they do not have to move in with the in-laws but I am not sure how frequently that happens.
We arrived to the groom’s family’s home and learned that they own a beautiful pagoda which is the site of the wedding party. There is an area behind the pagoda where tables were set up and a band was playing. The bride and groom greeted the guests as they arrived and walked under the arch to join the party. We were seated at 2 large tables and quickly received iced drinks. The day was extremely hot so this was very refreshing.
The first course consisted of very tender pieces of pork served with delicate coils of rice noodles. It was absolutely delicious. Next came chunks of beef in a sauce meant to be soaked up by the pieces of bread at the table. It was divine. Next arrived rice mixed with veggies and what looked like a type of salami sliced thinly on the top of the plate. Seafood was next and consisted of a hot bowl of broth which simmered in the middle of the table as fresh shrimp, squid, and white river fish were added to cook. The level of freshness of this entire meal was absolutely amazing. The soup was served with a few spoonfuls of rice and the seafood was cooked perfectly.
During the many courses, we met the very kind parents of both the bride and the groom as well as some of the other guests. The very inebriated ones seemed to be drawn to our table offering us small tea glasses full of rice wine. We kindly refused since from the look of these guests, this rice wine was quite potent. Many of the men were very interested in talking to Terry and trying to coax him into drinking. They must have picked up on his kindred spirit vibe. Terry resisted and did not drink, but it was tempting. I got some really great photographs of the beautiful bride and groom, along with many of the guests, in different states of sobriety. There was also some karaoke fun with the band as a few of the library staff members serenaded the guests with some songs.
Fruit was brought out for dessert and I had my first taste of durien. The strong scent is off-putting to most but the fruit itself is just lovely. It is quite hard to describe but is very sweet and soft. The smell did not bother me since the fruit was so tasty.
One of the drunk men launched into a conversation with me, with Mrs. Trang translating. He told me how his mother lives in California and when I asked what part, he could not for the life of him, remember. A few minutes later, he clarified that it is his mother-in-law who lives in CA, not his mother, so that was a little more reassuring. Mrs. Trang said that it was probably lucky that he was able to recollect even that much information in his “special state.”
After the meal, I had planned to walk around the grounds and take some more photos and ended up going into the simply stunning pagoda with Mrs. Trang. We removed our shoes and went inside. We were given three sticks of lit incense at each of the altars and I followed her lead. She placed the incense up at her head and fanned up and down in a sequence of three times. Then she put the incense in the vase in the center, still glowing, and crouched down in front of the altar in reflection. It was a very moving experience to be a part of and I felt really blessed to be there at that moment. The groom’s family is very lucky to have such a this pagoda on their land.
The whole wedding party was a really amazing experience. We were welcomed with such open arms by all of the guests and the families of the bride and groom. I really felt so humbled by everything and felt lucky to meet everyone and be in their presence for a couple hours.
The ride back to Can Tho was fairly uneventful, except the women in our van were on the lookout for durian but the price had to be right. We stopped at several roadside fruit stands before finding one that suited their needs and bargaining skills. The van itself was not massive but now consisted of 10 people plus many, many bags of durian wrapped in newspaper and placed in plastic bags. The scent was not very overpowering but the windows were left open for the ride home to keep the air clean. Just a quick reminder, it was a very warm day so the ride back was on the hot side but the breeze felt nice.
The plan was to visit the floating market early Sunday morning with a few of the library staff members but Terry and I decided to spend the day prepping for the week ahead and will visit the market next weekend instead after teaching is over.
The magic basket in my hotel room is still working like a charm. I leave laundry in it and when I get back from class, everything is hanging washed in my closet. Amazing.
Also, I have a roommate named George. He is very shy but has made an appearance a few times walking sideways on my wall and darting to hide in the lights. He doesn’t bother me and I don’t bother him so it is quite a perfect arrangement. George is a small gecko and while I am not normally especially fond of lizards, I do have a soft spot in my heart for George.
Second week of teaching has begun and we have a busy week planned for the students.
~Linnea (& George)