You may recall a few weeks ago I did a post about my trip to Tra Vinh. While I was there, I met Lâm, a friend of Peter’s, who invited me to go to his wedding. At first I thought he was just being polite because he was asking several people around me at the time, but that’s the thing about Vietnam – invitations here tend to be sincere. I’ve had students offer to host me in their hometowns or take me out for coffee, and while at first I just went, “yeah, that sounds great! Maybe sometime…” I soon began to realize that they all really meant it, and have since tried to be more sparring in my acceptance of offers.
But anyway, the wedding! Peter and Marc were going as well, and since my only weekend class is on Saturday morning, I thought it would be fun. Lâm is a really nice guy (according to the 1 time I met him, and also what my friends have told me), and I figured this wasn’t an opportunity I’d get again. I haven’t been to many weddings, even in the US, so I was very curious to see what they were like in Vietnam. We also learned that that weekend was the Ok Om Bok festival, a Khmer holiday celebrated with boat races. The timing was great, and we decided to stay an extra night to see the races, and return to Can Tho on Monday in time to teach in the evening.
The date of the wedding was fast approaching, but first we had to celebrate Halloween! A friend threw a Halloween/birthday party on that Friday. I’m a little ashamed to say my costume was most definitely born out of laziness, although I was pretty pleased with the result. You can take a look at the picture above – I dressed as “Lorde of the Flies” (a double pun on the book and the pop star), and my friend, Gabi, is dressed as a “French Kiss,” as she is French.
Anyway, while I had planned on being mature and responsible, I ended up having a bit more fun than I had anticipated, and before I knew it it was 1am. I left the party with Peter, my housemate, and a friend who was out too late to return to her house, as her parents were already asleep. Fun fact – most Vietnamese women live with their parents until they are married. Many of them express frustration at this, but it’s generally an accepted reality. But our friend’s family was a bit less strict, and so she decided to spend the night on our extra mattress. We spent some time chatting on our balcony, and once again I was shocked by the time. I think I finally got to bed around 3am.
So this is a very long way of saying that I was not exactly thrilled to wake up early and teach on Saturday, or to spend 3 hours on a bus. In the end, it was all fine. My class was planned enough that it worked well, and I was feeling almost myself again by the time we headed out to the bus. We arrived in Tra Vinh that afternoon without much trouble, and headed to our friends’ guest house to get ready for the wedding. It wasn’t exactly a long-awaited reunion, since our friends had come to Can Tho the weekend before, but it’s always fun to see Selina and Caroline. We dressed up and called a cab, and then waited for almost 40 minutes.
We arrived at the wedding late, and ran into the bride and groom taking pictures outside the hotel. Oops! But they were just excited to see us, and we got pulled into a few photos, which was fun. Once inside we quickly realized that our tardiness meant we would not be able to sit together. Whoops! Selina, Marc and I ended up at a table with a group of Vietnamese people sipping sodas, while pretty much every other table was drinking beer like it was a competition. Beers were swiftly delivered to the table, and it appeared we were meant to take part. But before that, it was time for the wedding to start. The bride and groom entered the room and took a short procession around the tables and onto the stage, where they were met with a confetti/sparkle bomb. A few things were said in Vietnamese, there was a short ceremony where the parents drank something out of a plastic champagne flute, and the bride and groom poured wine over a tower of wine glasses, some of which were filled with dry ice. And then it was over, and it was time to eat.I was shocked by how quickly it all happened, but it was nice.Everyone appeared to be having a good time, and we began “cheers-ing” like nobody’s business. The bride and groom came back to the room after a few courses (the bride wearing a new dress) and stopped by each table to cheers and take photos.
Now, while this was happening, my friend Marc had brought along a wedding “gift” – a large bottle of banana wine, or chuối hột. Now, you might be asking – what on earth is banana wine? Well, it’s basically rice wine, like sake or soju, with a banana flavor. I have no idea how it’s made, but I do know that it is STRONG, and that it’s also pretty tasty, or at least it’s smooth. It’s also ridiculously cheap. A liter of banana wine will run you about 25,000 Dong, or a little over a dollar.
In any case, Marc had a lot of it, and he began sharing it with anyone and everyone he could convince to drink with him. At the same time, we kept getting more and more food, and Selina and I were determined to eat our fill in order to offset the banana wine. The food was tasty, served family-style (as is pretty much everything here), and when it came time for desert we were all given grapes, no wedding cake to be found. This makes sense, since bakeries are the only places in Vietnam that have ovens, and cake isn’t exactly traditional here.
So with dinner winding down, it was time for the party to start. I was pulled over to several tables to make friends with a group of Vietnamese girls studying English at the university. I’d pick a partner and we would drink “50/50” – one glass of beer, each person has to drink half. This is the culturally accepted way to drink beer in the south, and it was a funny way to meet a bunch of new people. Add to this a few shots of banana wine, and we had a real party on our hands.
Now, as soon as the couple finished the ceremony a tv was set up on stage, and people began singing karaoke. This was happening all through dinner, as the couple was making the rounds, and as dinner was cleared. The only ones singing were older men, and they clearly knew all the words by heart – I never once saw them look at the screen.
Everyone was getting ready to leave and go to an actual karaoke place, but a few friends took over the TV (hooked up to a computer) and began looking up English songs. It was so much fun – I got up on stage and sang a Hilary Duff song with Selina and Caroline (check out the video below), and at one point all of the English students were calling out for Ke$ha songs, which was awesome. Several songs and a bottle of banana wine later, we were told we had to leave the hotel, and so we walked down the road to find more karaoke.
As I understand it, this is pretty much the go-to activity in Tra Vinh, and people here LOVE to sing. One guy spent probably 10 minutes telling me how much he loved singing, and he was hilariously passionate when he performed.
After maybe an hour of karaoke we decided to call it quits. Thankfully this taxi arrived without too much of a wait, and we made it home without incident. Selina and I hung out in her room watching Breaking Dawn Part 2 (it was on HBO) which was hilarious. A great end to a very fun night.
The next day was pretty quiet. As it turns out, the boat races were actually on Wednesday, not Sunday, and we wouldn’t be able to see them. But that was perfectly fine by us. We all nursed our hangovers in the morning with a bit of pho, and we spent the afternoon having a sing-along while Marc played guitar. I think we actually spent 4 hours just playing music, and it was all hilariously emo songs we liked in high school. An awesome bonding moment. The night came to a close with seafood dinner and a few rounds of pool, and we returned to Can Tho early Monday morning. All-in-all, it was a very fun weekend.
Until next time, Tra Vinh!