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”
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.
THERE’S ALWAYS A MORNING AFTER
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.