Nice Day for a White Wedding
The invitation arrived and in Vietnamese so it required a translation. My assistant Thu Tran (aka Lena) translates: “Sir, you are invited to a wedding”.
The invitation came from one of the hall monitors I have befriended at the high school next door. Befriended might be too strong a word. I do not know him well, only exchanging hellos and xin chao’s on occasion but he always greets everyone with a smile, a handshake and warmth. That is good enough for me on a Sunday afternoon and it is an honor to venture out to his daughters’ wedding.
Vinh Cau Restaurant is a misnomer. It isn’t a restaurant or banquet facility for weddings, it is an entire village. Six or more halls line the street and ads for Johnnie Walker on one of the buildings takes brand placement to another level and is across from a small play area for children.
I walk down the hill as efficient attendants, intense, wearing headphones and holding lists of the midday weddings (two shifts per day) direct the guests to the proper hall. Six weddings, several thousand guests!
Arriving at hall # 1 I am welcomed as if an old family friend. Taken by hand I am deposited at a table in a vast hall with other Americans. For all it is our first Vietnamese wedding.
As the Heinekens arrive, lights dim. It is not for dramatic effect but rather part of the temporary blackouts that are Vietnam. (Footnote: my own apartment complex will plunge into darkness later that evening – but that is the subject of another blog!) The room gets warm and I undo my tie. The lights return only to be dimmed again but this time by design.
Dancers with candles mount the stage. There is karaoke by the performers. A live video cam of the bride and groom arriving by car appears on the big screen to the applause of all.
The couple arrives dressed not unlike an American version of a traditional bride and groom; her with perfect make-up and hair, him handsome in a tuxedo. Their families join them on stage as the emcee directs the new bride to offer a toast to the grooms family and vice-versa as the audience cheers.
With precise logistics food appears in sequence; shrimp rolls, pepper shrimp, salad of assorted tropical veggies, beef and a gelatin concoction. It is traditional Vietnamese banquet fare as more beer and appears at the table. There are toasts to be made, photos to be taken, and video-cameras at the ready.
Lena tells me it will be over by 2 PM. No dancing, no singing, only the strains of instrumental versions of “My Way”, tunes from “Mamma Mia” that play on until the witching hour arrives.
People leave as Hall # 1 which like halls 2-6 are ready to be cleaned and prepped for the evening weddings. We stop for pictures and then more pictures, smile and move on. It is all strangely familiar; a bit like an American wedding but not exactly.
As they say often in Vietnam; “same, same, but different”.