Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vietnamese Wedding

Last night, I went with Uyen to the wedding of her friend. Although I haven't been to too many weddings in America, just one when I was 8 years old, I could tell that the Vietnamese wedding is very different from the American one.

For one thing, the wedding is usually held at night. We arrived there at 6pm, as the sun was going down. (As a side note, I have experienced 6pm sunsets every day for the past year, because we're so close to the equator.) The wedding was in a small city about an hour's drive from Saigon, and we took motorbikes out on the main road out of town. Not really a highway in the American sense of the word. Just a long, straight road populated mostly with trucks on their way to the port city of Vung Tau and back.

The wedding was held in a big hotel, not a church. In fact, there wasn't really anything religious about the service. I assume they have a more traditional wedding ceremony, but this was just seemed like a very modernized service. Modern, but still distinctly Vietnamese.

The wedding itself resembled what we in America would consider the reception after the wedding. The bride and groom stood at the entrance greeting everyone who came in, and they were very excited to see me. So, I suppose it was not taboo for them to see each other before the wedding service.

I wore jeans and a casual buttoned-down shirt, as suggested by Uyen, and in the big hall I looked out at the crowd of guests sitting at tables and saw that most of them were dressed similarly, although there were a few ties. Only the people actually involved in the wedding were wearing suites or dresses.

And what about the wedding gift? People give money, not gifts. This lets the couple buy whatever they want. Uyen gave them about 55 dollars, and I gave 11 dollars, placed in an envelope and then slid through a slit in a huge box. Sounds like an odd amount of money, but it's equivalent to 1,000,000 dong and 200,000 dong, respectively.

Anyway, the service began with a traditional dance performance of men and women which was really entertaining.

Following this, the announcer welcomed everyone and the lights were dimmed. The bride and groom marched up the aisle to the stage, holding a sparkler thing that was shooting off sparks. They were joined on the stage by their parents and some other people. They all said a lot of things in Vietnamese, and I think the father was offering his approval. Then they brought out the cakes and champagne and everyone toasted. Then all the balloons popped and the sparks shot up and it was a huge spectacle. I guess at this point they were married, but I'm not sure. There was no kissing, of course.

Then the groom went over to a stack of wine glasses on a table on the stage and poured a bottle over it so that wine fell into all the glasses. It was red, so I don't think it was champagne. There were also smoke machines firing off smoke all over the place. Finally, they departed from the stage, and circled around the tables to toast people throughout the evening, stopping by our table twice to toast me and and shake my hand. The next form of entertainment came in the form of a steady stream of pop singers, and we were right near the speakers so it was kind of loud.

BUT the best part, of course, was the food. There were several courses, and I gleefully ate them all.

As usual, all the food was placed in the middle, on a swiveling thing (man I'm really bad at naming things), and everyone put food into their bowls.
1st course: wafers, a collection of shrimp and vegetables, and some weird meaty bready cube thing which tasted just like a chicken mcnugget. in other words, delicious.
2nd course: a hot pot was placed on our table, and a pot placed on top. inside the pot were a dozen or so LIVE shrimp. That's right, whole shrimp, eyes and tentacles and all, squirming away, slowly being cooked by the burner. After some minutes, they had turned from grey to orange, and we were shelling them and cramming them into our mouths. I didn't quite like the head part of them.
3rd course: soup with some kind of chewy red meat, i have no idea what it was, but it was good. probably just some strange part of beef. it was a nice hearty soup with carrots, and bread to dip in it.
4th course: another soup, with noodles and seafood, all the standard things like shrimp and squid and maybe clams.
5th course: dessert! cake? no. pie? no. just some nice fresh pieces of fruit. Pomelo! it tastes like grapefruit but it's a lot better. i just call it "buoi", the vietnamese word.

after we had eaten, everyone was celebrating and having a great time and i fully expected it to go long into the night. much to my surprise, about 7:45pm, uyen said to me, "ok, we go." With that, our party left, and i could see a number of other people clearing out too. i was surprised to find the wedding celebrations so short. but anyway, we did have a long ride back to saigon ahead of us, and i was quite full and tired.

So, all in all, a really great experience, and I'm glad I went. One thing is common to weddings of all cultures: celebration and cheer! everyone was just in a great smiling mood for the start of these two people's lives together. if anyone was in a foul mood from the traffic congestion or the hot, sticky weather, the wedding was sure to cheer them up.

More pictures here:


SaigonNezumi(Kevin) said...

Hi Peter:

You actually attended the wedding party, not actual wedding. The actual wedding took place earlier in the day with family members and close friends. It can be an all day thing for newly weds which starts real early in the morning.

Hence, they are married when you meet them at the door.

The money in the envelope will help pay for the wedding party costs. Actually, wedding couples tend to make a lot of money from this party BUT they will have to return it later. After the wedding party, they will write down the money amount and person's name.

When you get married, they will be obligated to put $11 in an envelope at your wedding party.

In the past, I have been invited to weddings and told I had to give money by Vietnamese wedding couples since they knew I did not know the customs. Now I pick and choose which wedding I will go to.

Cool post :-)

Degenerasian said...

How come the guests are just wearing polo shirts? Don't you have to wear a suit at a Vietnamese wedding?

Petros said...

Cool, thanks for the information, Kevin! I suspected that but I had no idea. I was with people who weren't really fluent in English and they didn't explain that to me.

Ben Lee said...

The level of descriptiveness is ridik