Vietnamese Wedding In Hanoi

I walk in to my Hanoi hotel. Ms Na and Ms Hilary watch me approach the desk.

Ms Na says “you look awful…”

“I feel like shit”

“Why’s that?”

Me: “I just came from a Vietnamese wedding— as the elder brother of the groom…”

They laugh. You haven’t fully lived until you are gifted with Vietnamese side-eye and sarcasm.


I’d gone to Hanoi Vietnam for a photo-workshop, and returned home as a brother-in-law to our lovely guide and producer, Ms Thu Le. She was getting married to her truly wonderful South African husband Brett. The South African wedding had already happened for his family. Now it was her family’s turn.


Wedding dinner was at her parents house about 20k outside Hanoi. A solid farm village. The pavilion was set up in an alley, down the street from her parent’s house. Capacity probably over 400 people.

Side note: the pavilion was welded latticed tri-beam pipe uprights and cross-beams, Easily 30’ wide, 300’ long, 10’ high. Bolted together, and covered with a roof translucent roof tarp. These are modular and generic in Vietnam, I’m guessing you specify what you need, and a crew shows up and bolts it together. You run power to light fixtures from wherever, and you’re set.

The banquet came from the adjoining kitchens, and it arrived in waves.

I had a fair amount of beer and rice wine, plus a smoke w Thu’s uncle beforehand. And food like wow. I snagged a menu.

I was at the mostly English speaking table, with “Uncle” Martin Stephens, a droll expat Brit who lives in Thailand; and English speaking friends. The consensus was Vietnam weddings are like Thai weddings are like Mexican weddings.

Toasting: Thu’s dad’s farming, army and work pals were dedicated party animals. Toasts were raised and downed. Later in the evening, I tried to glide off w an empty OJ can. Theatrically, one of the men took the can, and tipped it v-e-r-y slowly.
I laughed and clowned, and more rice wine shots followed.

Then I escaped before drunken karaoke. JUST BARELY. Day 2 was gonna be all new territory.

DAY 2: Sunday Nov 27, 2022, Part 1

That morning we met back at Thu’s parents house at their village outside of Hanoi.

On the bus ride out with groom Brett and others, I learned that the eldest brother of the groom makes a short speech describing the groom to the gathered brides’ family. Since none of Brett’s family was here, that was me. They’d first asked Martin, since he looked older than me, who quickly and hilariously pointed out that I was “much older.”

Laughing, he said “I properly stitched you up”


So I did. A short sentence at a time, translation by one of the very competent women there. It was embroidered to meet the trad requirements of the moment. No matter. I was a place-holder to ensure that all went to plan.

Thu’s Uncle as the eldest man of the family, made his responses, we drank tiny tea shots, snd waited for the bride to come down the stairs.

Thu came down the stairs, looking magnificent. After introductions, she and Brett prayed briefly in front of the family altar, the turned to meet the immediate family.

The entire party walked slowly down the street to the same wedding canopy venue we’d been at last night.

Again, I found myself in front of the procession, with her uncle, ahead of bride and groom. I got a lot of prompts from the women so everything proceeded to plan.

Now we entered the canopy. Tables still were set up from last night. Food was coming out of outdoor kitchens. Same fare as last night. Easily 400 people.

There’s a blur of toasting. As Elder Brother I had my work cut out for me. Father, mother, uncles, family notables.

Tradition dictates going table to table, toasting health and happiness for the couple and families, with rice wine shots. Fortunately this was divided between groom, elder brother and other groom family members.

After the fifth row I asked one of the expats “How do I say I’m drunk and fucked up in Vietnamese?” He laughed and told me. So I prefaced my toast with that, and got merry laughter from the guests as they understood full well.

I was deuced by 1130am. Good news: I wasn’t seeing double and had no need for the mythic lampshade of yore.

After the wedding banquet we few were bused to a local homestay in Hanoi to crash. I died hard for at least an hour. After one or two G7 3-in-one Instant coffees sobriety was closer. Super glad I wasn’t driving.

PART 2: later that afternoon

The post-wedding friend’s gathering was at a local nursery plant/tree farm outside of Hanoi, where Thu and Brett hold their outdoor education classes for school children. It’s rare in Hanoi for a park-like setting to be uncrowded, but Thu figured it out.

There was light refreshments and ice cream desserts, but I was so battered from the festivities earlier, I might’ve done a Mr Creosote if I had more.

Finally, as dusk gathered, Uncle Martin and I caught a taxi Thu called, and we slumped into town and back to the hotel.

Where I walked up the stairs to the amused gaze of Ms Na and Ms Hilary.


I booked a legit spa. Hot oil, hot stones, a thorough beat-down from a very delightful and competent masseuse. She also popped all 10 fingers and toes too. Walked around Hanoi Old Quarter feeling somewhat detoxed from my Viet Wedding Experience.

The next morning I met Thu on the way to Hanoi International, where we caught a flight to Hue, making the guide trip I’d originally booked for Nov 8-11, but I’d gotten a light dose of COVID, and was quarantined.

Which is another story altogether.

Postcards from Paris

I last posted in 2015. I’ll not get into the weeds with tech discussions, saving that for later or never.

The whole point of photography is to engage the viewer. Whatever vocabulary and how rich it is makes the difference between a takeout order and a conversation.

I’ve been getting educated and doing new work. Paris FR 28 Mar 2023.

I’m still percolating from my Paris visit. Hadn’t been in Paris since summer 1976. I’ll keep it brief.

Much is made about Parisians being assholes to tourists. My FR pal Chris [Bordeaux, now Long Beach] jokingly says “oh hell, Parisians are assholes to other FR people”

I had a great time with Parisians. I used my maternal grandfather’s 1917 kit, when fresh out of the USNA, posted in La Rochelle, would open with “Bon jour! Je ne parl Francaise” This opened doors w grizzled FR peasants that his language-major classmates couldn’t get. It worked for me.

That’s Item 1.

Item 2: “Pretend it’s a city”. TYVM Fran Liebowitz for that one. Get out of the way.

Item 3: Pay attention while in line.

Item 4: maybe this should be top of list. Start learning the language, one word at a time. I listened to the Metro announcers and learned “Les Halles” is LEE ALLS.



I’ve arrived at Gare d’Lyon. It’s a seething anthill. How the fuck do I get a NaviGo? I’m not gonna get a magical mystery tour $$$ cab ride, because I know that my hotel is a straight shot on the #3 line. I need to solve 2 problems here. Finally I get a clutch of paper tickets. Worse case scenario, stocking stuffers, right?

At the turnstile, and one ticket after the other is rejected. I wave people past, see Item 2. Finally this nice couple says “hey, jump the turnstile” DONE.

Next day I got the NaviGo, swapped out the bum tickets for fresh ones, and I was off to the races.

Our Elders & Medical Cannabis

Medical edible marijuana image test-shoot for Stock Pot Images.

Medical edible marijuana image test-shoot for Stock Pot Images.

I got a weed-card for my elderly mother who is suffering a marked loss of appetite because of her heart and lung problems. The depths and length of her pain overcame her deep resistance to marijuana—my now-deceased younger brother had his own deep problems with weed, but had sobered up and been clean for 30+ years before his sudden death.

Earlier this summer we’d joined thousands of other Californians in the Kabuki shadow-puppet approval process. We got the weed-cards, and went to the dispensary. After a friendly consultation, we came home with edibles, sub-lingual drops, and paper slips. Smoking was out of the question, because her lungs are shot from when she smoked as a girl of 12 through her early forties.

The first forays were darkly comical. She’d noshed 20g of a 70g bar, thinking the dispensary dude was exaggerating about its effects. After I sternly warned her that even though the dispensary walls had murals of tigers, Buddha, and were purple, that this was Serious Meds, like the kind she gets from Rite Aid. OK then.

She was wobbly on her pins, but mentioned that the Two-Buck Chuck tasted sweet. This was news, as her taste-buds are blown out.

All this came up in an unrelated conversation with Ophelia Chong of Stock Pot Images; whom I’d worked with at the Workbook from 2004-2005. We were comparing notes on elder parents, and she suggested taking some photos next time I visited.

I did after bringing it up to my mom. She was amenable. I set up the shoot in her dining room, talking her through it. I kept photo gear to a minimum, focused on her hands, as she has a visceral reaction to cameras. Like blinking, moving, and so on. Made the shots, and sent them to Ophelia for approval.

To my delight, my images met Ophelia’s approval. I made an additional portrait of my mom, and kept the elapsed time very brief. She has little strength to sit up because it hurts. She was very patient with her son, and we made it happen.

She’s featured in Stock Pot Image’s online gallery “Our Elders”:

Medical edible marijuana image test-shoot for Stock Pot Images.

Setting up the story: test-shoot for Stock Pot Images.

Pop-Rivet Problem-Solving

Early 20th c. cordless drill with pop-rivet gun.

Early 20th c. cordless drill with pop-rivet gun.

A problem had me vexed. It looked like a glass wall, and I wasn’t having any fun with it.

Another problem needed my attention—a section of corrugated on my storage unit had lost its original self-tapping metal screw, and was flapping. I corralled my pop-rivet gun, hand drill, and went over to look at.

The first drill-bit snapped on the first hole. I replaced, and paid better attention to the problem. Better luck—made the next two holes through two sheets of corrugated metal siding. Yes, its a funky setup, but the price is right.

Setting the pop-rivet was delayed while I steamed in circles switching out the heads. I was chewing it up with pliers, until I saw the hex-wrench tucked into the handle of the gun. That alone would’ve saved 15 minutes, but I haven’t worked with this tool in several years. Forgetting is like that.

In the process I became reacquainted with some facts.

  1. I had more tools to solve the problem than I originally thought
  2. Bring all your tools to the worksite
  3. Older tools can work as well as newer ones in certain situations
  4. Problem-solving is a live-skill that gets better with practice.

The antique hand-drill. Originally made by Miller’s Falls in western Massachusetts, probably dates from the 1920s or earlier. Nickel-steel works, tropical hardwood handle with a screw-cap that you can store drill bits in. A true cordless. Picked it up at the Long Beach swap-meet back in the early 1990s, when all the ex-McDonnell-Douglas machinists were selling out their garage tools.

The pop-rivet gun was from 2009. Bought the high-dollar gun with the flexible head, and a bucket of various sizes and gauges. Of course I used the biggest, scarcest ones in stock.

Back to work.

I Save Memories

WhiteGlove Logo

WhiteGlove Logo


Film dyes can shift over time. The left was the original scan, the right is corrected. Because only Smurfs are naturally blue.

WhiteGlove Film Scanning came out of my search to economically scan my own 35 years of 35mm film archives. Five hundred rolls later, I launched the service. I bulk-scanned PhotoBiz Coach Beate Chelette’s 35mm family archives—over 220 rolls of 35mm; black and white to color—dating from early 60s through the early 2000s. Her family hadn’t seen these images in years, are now on DVDs to her sister and brother, in time for her mother’s birthday later this month.

As a lifelong photography professional I cherish my photographic memories and there are lots of them. After my father’s passing I took on the families archive consisting out of over 200 rolls of negatives. Some in great shape, some with heavy discoloration, and some fading away. For the longest time I eyeballed digitization services but the though of letting my images go to India, or even just shipping inside the US was very uncomfortable to me. When I found Larry Gassan and his white glove service everything changed. Larry took care of my concerns, my families precious 100 years of memories, and delivered everything sorted, tagged, and digitized. My family in Europe and I are now enjoying revisiting our childhood and family heirlooms. If you have memories to protect, contact him, best decision you will ever make. Beate Chelette

I save memories. 150202_Insta_r1

Taking That Second Look

llustration: Four Maos describing the Four Principles Of Color Printing, original photo taken at an antique store on Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA. May 2006.

llustration: Four Maos describing the Four Principles Of Color Printing, original photo taken at an antique store on Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA. May 2006.

I’ve been going back through archival images. There’s things I’ve learned that I didn’t know earlier. Like better techniques for rendering concepts through better use of color, advanced scanning of original film files, and so on.

In the “Four Maos” image, the emotional connection is that the colors pop. The boring tech description is setting the three colors on soft light, and the black on overlay, gives the color a luminance that a simple multiply won’t.

First things first.


141007_0815: “Frankenpack”. 1992 UD Trekker, outside pocket patched in stages.


Abandoned signage, July 1992. Steve’s Cafe, Highway 99, Tulare CA.


140916_1715: Prezzies. Swedish single-bit axe, and genuine Squirrel Coffee Cup. My day is made!


140914_1645: corroded bike, Ashland OR. #ashland #bike #sidewalk #twilight