Friday, March 31, 2006

To the brides and grooms
(To be made into a film: Four weddings and a few red bulls)

Teddy de Burca Jnr. doesn’t always have the time or the energy for a wedding, but that’s no problem, in Vietnam they only last an hour

At times during wedding season you might be forgiven for thinking the whole country was getting married.

Driving around the city you can see scores of blue tarpaulin-teepees set up in front of houses, loquacious relatives clambering off buses, with the old ladies in their best ao dai, running inside. On the steps of the Opera House or by West Lake wedding parties battle for space for photo shoots. Outside hotels and restaurants, groups of dolled up young lasses and boys with shiny shoes flirt with each other and tease each other over who’ll be next.

Odd though that, when I was a teacher, a young student once told me that seeing a wedding, or passing one, is bad luck. Which, if you couple that belief with the fact that weddings have a whole “lucky” season of their own, seems a trifle unfair. What could be as unavoidable in Vietnam as a wedding during wedding season, with the exception of traffic, my front door or maybe people with conical hats?

Perhaps, as the weddings themselves are so common and in such abundance is the reason they are wrapped up in half-an-afternoon or less. Which suits me fine – I like my leisurely Saturdays with no pressing engagements, slow coffees, large lunches, unfinished crosswords and falling asleep on the couch high on the agenda. Who doesn’t?

Now, back in western cultures you couldn’t do that – weddings last a whole day, from the sober-morning sermon at the church to the drunken-dancing competition around about midnight. There is no escape. If you’re directly involved as a best man or bridesmaid the build up will seem like a short lifetime.

But Vietnamese weddings, I must admit, have their advantages. You come, you sit, you eat a bit (that’s optional), you stand up, you clink a few glasses (that’s obligatory), shake hands with the recently made in-laws, slip an envelope in the heart-shaped box and head off back into the traffic, a little bit woozy, but happy that a day is still there for the taking, unless you have another wedding to go to, that is.

Though the swiftness is, understandably, disarming for some. One Australian friend got hitched to a Vietnamese woman. His mother made the trip out and all was going swimmingly. She was dining in a smaller room adjacent to the large hall where a horde of hundreds was feasting on the sticky rice-yellow chicken- set menu. When she finished she whispered to me that as the mother of the groom she felt she should go and say thanks to all the people who had come to see her son on his big day. But when she stepped into the larger hall she was mortified to see just a few waiters clearing up. Everyone had gone. Of course, she was convinced it was something she’d said, or done, or not done, or not said.

A fair few westerners have got married here in my time, and to be honest that’s where people start getting confused. The old when east-meets-west compromised rules-weddings. Vietnamese bride demands the photo-shoot tour, groom says fine but no Bia Ha Noi. They all work it out in the end but often resulting in four weddings (and a few Red Bulls!) with a wedding back in the westerner’s country, an engagement ceremony in the countryside here, a wedding for the extended Vietnamese relatives at lunchtime and a party for all the friends in the evening. So forget the “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health”, surviving multiple weddings is a real test of faith, commitment and patience. If you’re still together after all of the above, you should be pretty confident of staying the distance.

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