Last weekend I got to attend my good friend’s lễ cưới (wedding). The three-day extravaganza spanned two provinces, four parties, countless of beers, Hotel California karaoke, and was nothing short of epic. To kick off the festivities, myself, the crew of foreign teacher friends (Matt, Fred, and Joe), one Canadian, one English guy, and the bride (Ngan) and groom (Khoa) boarded a bus to Ca Mau province. Ca Mau, Ngan’s hometown, is the southern most province in Vietnam and took us about 6 hours by bus from Can Tho. Whenever we go out for drinks, my friends and I often use the slogan “di Ca Mau!” which translates to “go to Ca Mau”. If someone tells you to “di Ca Mau”, it means to drink to the bottom of your cup and chug the remainder of your beverage. After 8 months of di Ca Mau-ing, excitement was high as we waited for the bus to finally and literally take us to di Ca Mau.
No wedding is complete without at least one disaster, and Khoa’s wedding was no exception. Immediately after arriving at our destination, one of our friends (who I will keep anonymous) rushed to the bathroom. Public bathrooms in Vietnam, especially those at bus stations, are not always satisfactory and there seems to be a direct correlation between ruralness and bathroom quality. But hey, when you gotta go you gotta go! Anonymous friend goes searching for the toilet and only sees a cement sidewalk and hose. Confused, anonymous friend presumes that the bathroom is around the corner and steps off the sidewalk. Suddenly anonymous friend is knee deep in you know what and the rest of us are knee deep in gut wrenching laughter.
A hose bath and post-poop debrief later, we are on our way to Ngan’s house dragging our luggage across the dusty road and turning heads in the process. Although we are mostly close with the groom, Ngan’s family welcomed us warmly. Amongst the guests, Khoa was the only one who could speak English so at first we had difficulty communicating with one another. Turns out, Larue beer is excellent at dissolving language barriers and before long we were all laughing and joking around like old friends.
Early to bed, the real party was to start the following day. After spending the morning preparing tables, decorations, and food, guests started to trickle in. I hardly saw my friends that evening as I was whisked away, somewhat forcefully, from table to table to cheers with guests and eat food. Needless to say, my cup and my bowl were never empty and by 8:00 pm we had collectively made a solid dent in this impressive beer wall:
In moments when nobody was looking, I snuck away to our guest bedroom, a little oasis of silence and air conditioning, to rest for a few minutes. Karaoke ensued, including an embarrassing rendition of “Hotel California” and a freestyle rap to the tune of a popular Vietnamese song entitled “Ho Chi Minh”. My singing must not have been all that bad because I received several marriage proposals from male attendees at the wedding and was also asked to dance on stage several times. When in at a lễ cưới, I suppose?
Khoa’s family did not attend this event because they were busy in Can Tho setting up for the next party that would take place at their home the following day. Instead, they took a late night bus to Ca Mau and arrived promptly at 2:30 am. We all had to wake up from our beer induced slumbers to greet his family, exchange traditional gifts of wine and fruit, and observe one of several wedding ceremonies. Next, we ALL (Khoa’s family, Ngan’s family, and us) boarded two tiny microbuses back to Can Tho at approximately 3:30 in the morning. We arrived, sleepless and exhausted, back in Can Tho at 7:00 am where we were driven directly to Khoa’s home to observe another ceremony and to continue eating and drinking. OY. Luckily the afternoon brought a bit of downtime and we all recharged our batteries for the final evening party. For this event, I wore my Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress worn mostly by women but also by men on special occasions. The bride changed dressed almost every hour from one gorgeous princess gown to another. As a fun game, we all “di Ca Mau-ed” whenever she changed her outfit.
All in all, this was an incredible experience that brought me face to face with traditional Vietnamese culture, values, and love. I feel truly lucky to have been welcomed with open arms to an event so special and intimate. I will never forget the amazing families who made us feel like their own and the countless of stories I have to tell from these three ridiculous days. I wish Khoa and Ngan a lifetime of happiness and I cannot wait to see the family they will build together in the future!