Bac Ninh province isn’t exactly a tourist destination. Located about 45km outside of Hanoi, I ended up coming here because I was invited to a wedding… a Vietnamese-Catholic wedding to be exact. Paul, a colleague from New Zealand, was going to marry his Vietnamese girlfriend, Phan, in her hometown of Huong La.
Let’s just say this place is off-the-beaten track. Huong La is a tiny village in the industrial and agricultural backdrop of Bac Ninh province. The striking thing about this place is its number of churches and pictures of the Pope in every household. But now, the village had something new to talk about. One of their own was about to marry a ‘tay’ (foreigner).
Robb and I joined Paul’s caravan to Phan’s village. As far as journeys go, it was an easy ride. One hour and we were there! We joined the parade where Paul and Phan had to go to every elder person’s house to have some tea. After the fifth house, I was ready to call it quits. We also happen to be in the middle of nowhere during a heat wave (and this is Vietnam!) Temperatures reached 45 degrees C and over 80% humidity. Oh… How I love air conditioning.
The day started with a ride to Phan’s parents’ house and a van-full of gifts. I felt bad for the guys because it was hot. They all looked like they had taken showers in their shirts.
Once the presents were received, we all sat down. The women sat on one side and the men on the other. Paul’s mother and sister sat next to me. Luckily, Vietnamese weddings are very similar to Chinese weddings, so I was able to give them some insight to some things.
The elders on our table smiled as they frantically waved their fans to cool down. Smiles were given, but other than that, awkward stares and lots of waiting for Phan to translate.
The daytime reception was next. Everyone in the village gathered under a purple tent and dined on mystery meat and freshly baked bread. If there wasn’t enough drama, there was another wedding which was taking place in a tent meters away. One guest came over to our purple tent, screaming, punching and kicking. The local florist had delivered flowers to the wrong tent. Someone from the purple tent had taken the flowers to their house because it was very hot. The man who bought the flowers from the other tent was not happy about the missing flowers.
People came and went from the purple tent. But Paul’s caravan all stayed. And the boys drank. Some middle-aged man who nobody seems to know kept prodding the foreigners to drink. Needless to say, the boys gave in. Warm beer and heat did not really go together.
The church ceremony took place in the afternoon. The only thing I really remember about the church was that it was hot. Really, really hot. The wedding party walking in together, but I was forced to sit on the women’s side of the church while the guys sat on the other side. What happened to gender equality?!
Paul said after the ceremony that he really had no idea what was going on. We stood, we sang, we sat, we stood again.The ceremony lasted about an hour. Once the last communion cracker was eaten, the church quickly turned off all the fans and lights and shut all the windows. No time for pictures because people wanted to get the heck out of there.
The evening program included more eating and drinking. This time, home-brewed rice wine was also left on the table next to the warm beer. The meal consisted of the same dishes as lunch. We picked at the food, but that was all we could stomach. Groups of causally-dressed locals rotated in and out of the dinner banquet.
The final part of the day was evening karaoke. Sadly, many of Phan’s family and friends did not show up citing that they had to take care of their kids. It was just a few of us and many empty tables. Robb was forced to sing a song from the “Super Simple Songs” collection. Then a little girl went on stage and sang one song over and over again. We begged for mercy and were allowed to go back to the safety of air conditioning.
The next day, more eating and drinking were involved with the same dishes we had for lunch and dinner the day before.
Robb and I were happy we went. It was nice to get out of Hanoi and see something different. However, if I was asked again to attend another Vietnamese wedding, I think I would pass. My liver wouldn’t be able to handle it.