The Bride and Groom’s Official Portrait. Aren’t they gorgeous together?
Essential Recap: The Groom is my hotel owner’s son.

Fresh flowers everywhere!
Stargazer lilies, I think?

5:30pm Friday came and found me finishing off my celebratory ice cream post-Demo Lesson.

I had came directly from the school, clothes, invite, wedding card and all. My hosts had impressed upon me several times that I was to show up about 6:30, even though there were several times (from 5:30-7) indicated on the invitation. I figured that with the extra time I would stroll down (it’s about 2 miles), getting me there just in time to use the bathroom to clean up and change and head up to the dinner.

After two blocks I was so tired from the Demo that I gave up, got on a xe om to go the rest of the way. I carried my nice shirt, a fresh headband, fresh undershirt, and class materials in my messenger bag. My purple tie fluttered behind me from my neck as we got going, drying a little after getting sweaty in the afternoon heat.

I consequently arrived at the hotel much earlier than I had planned when I left that morning. The place is FANCY, yo! Just the Lobby is utterly, mind-blowingly beautiful – I had no idea what to expect from the rest of the night…

This place was way, way too refined
for this clumsy doof!

I quickly changed my shirt and respositioned my tie, tucked in my flaps and re-did my deodorant and hair (I carry deodorant with me everywhere I go now).

Marble, hardwoods, and crystal. A strange
sight for someone used to seeing rusted
metal ceilings out his window. 

Looking in the mirror it struck me how strange this thing actually was: A newly arrived foreigner with approximately zero language skills, here only 3 weeks, and casually invited to their son’s beautiful, apparently expensive, wedding?

What was I doing here? Weddings make me nervous and awkward!! The only thing I knew at this point was that I had said I would do it, so now I had no choice.

I prepared for a night full of miming and confused laughter (one I’ve learned is that you can defuse just about any awkward situation just by laughing with another person. I laugh a lot here. People probably treat me so nicely because they think there’s something wrong with me). I decide to journal a little bit while I wait for 6:30 to roll around.

About 6pm the family went up in the elevator. The Bride smiled and waved to me as she passed in her white, beaded Western style gown. At this point, I’m convinced that I’ve actually missed something that was going to happen at 6 – perhaps the fabled reception I saw in the invite? I decide to go up, and after one more glance in the bathroom mirror and a quick confirmation with the front desk staff I ascend to the fifth floor, the Breeze Sky Bar of the Majestic Hotel.

Oh, I didn’t realize all of Saigon was invited. This hall is
HUGE! My invitation begins to make a little more sense… 

NOPE! I’m just really early and now no one knows what to do with me. I sign the register, drop my card in the card box (a huge replica of a christian-looking church that was easily 2′ x 3′ on the base and 2.5′ tall, all painted white), take a picture with the Bride and Groom, and get ushered into the main hall to meet my hosts. They indicate to me I can sit in the air conditioned room, which I do for a few minutes, taking a couple photos. This turns out to be the place where the vast bulk of the guests sit later. The cool air is glorious after the muggy early evening heat. There are at least several hundred tables in this crazy place. This is a much bigger affair than I had anticipated.

Formal & Western

I feel vaguely uncomfortable in here, as family members put finishing touches on tables, arrange signs, and instruct hotel waitstaff. Fortunately, there’s a whole second and third area to explore, and they overlook downtown HCMC! Picture time, while it’s still light! (The sun sets by 6:40pm here this time of year, crazily.) Thank goodness I came early, I guess!

Open air area, with steps to another rooftop garden.
I asked for, but was denied, access.

Other people have their cameras and phones out and are taking pictures of the city off the edge of the balcony. A bit of the balcony is open air over a central plaza, and then there’s a part with several more tables covered by this city’s ubiquitous canvas canopies.

It rains a little bit. I have said hi to several people, but no one has responded to speak or said hi back beyond a smile and a nod. Slowly the waitstaff and family (mostly waitstaff out here) put the finishing touches on tables. People were arriving and going through the initial picture/card/register thing. The adorable youngest daughter that cleans my hotel room is manning the table, and we smile and wave at each other. She has no English, but she’s nice.

About 6:15 the bride comes over to me. We exchange pleasantries and hellos (she speaks English quite well) and I thank her for her invitation, speaking about how everything was so beautiful and how I was so excited to be at my very first Vietnamese wedding. She is from Ha Noi (the northern capital) and she invites several of her cousins and a brother over to speak with me – and they are all fluent to some degree in English! Whew.

What appears to be second string seating. Expats were in
the third string area between the lounge and the main hall.

One is an English teacher, and we spoke for several minutes about my upcoming job – I’ve now been officially warned against the “little devil angels” in my upcoming classes! Uh oh… We exchanged ideas for good theory books and exchange info, promising to hook up on Facebook to talk more.

At this point I get the second craziest surprise of the evening. There’s another white dude here! And he speaks English, too! Instant friends. He is German and here on an internship, and, in the NUMBER 1 SHOCKER OF THE EVENING, it turns out that he lives in my hotel, on the other side of the building, and has the entire time I’ve lived here. I genuinely didn’t even know there were any other long-term guests, let alone an English-speaking one. He knows no one at the wedding, either, and we quickly bond over our shared awkwardnesses.

A mix of traditional Buddhist,
Christian, and Western influences.

We’re guided to our table by the aforementioned English-speaking family members – including one who was German; double language win for my new friend! – and found ourself adjacent to the table where the Bride, Groom, and immediate family sat, quickly eating before the ceremony started in a few minutes. We almost immediately got our first appetizer, a small pork and cheese pizza-style hors d’oeuvre. [I’ll go into the dinner in detail in Part 3.]

It was a bit before time before more food started coming around, but the drinking started immediately! I and my new friend opted for the fresh beer, and my goblet (it really did look like a bigger wine glass) was rarely less than half full all evening. Service was amazing. There were house wines and soft drinks available, as well. I had to request a glass of water, strangely (although later, it’s initial absence made – …maybe? – some sort of sense).

You can’t reaaaaaally tell, but this is my attempt to
capture the second, projected screen. The camera work was
pretty awful, but my camera leaves a bit to be desired, too.

We sat next to a window in what was sort of the staging area/receiving line for the wedding party before they entered and after the reception. There was a window next to us, and the occasional breeze was a GODSEND – I’m so sweaty here, all the time.

The bride’s brother informed us that there were over 500 people attending the reception. I believe it! The place was ENORMOUS!! It was so big, in fact that, once the reception began about 6:30, we discovered that the events in the big main hall were being live simulcast on a second projector screen in the second canopied area!

We weren’t able to see much, but people in these back areas weren’t sitting still. My whole table got up and moved down the hallway adjascent to the main hall, until we were were only a dozen feet from the front of the stage. I wasted a few minutes trying to get a picture of the second projected screen, and eventually figured out where everyone else had gone.

OK lighting…

The parents lined up in back and promenaded out, and by the time I’d figured out everyone had gone to the front of the hall, the Bride and Groom had begun preparing to pour the wine for the evening, presumably for the most honored family and guests. . There was a 3′ tall pyramid of crystal glasses, and as I watched a waiter approached with a bottle of uncorked red wine. The Bride and Groom took turns pouring the wine into the top glass where it proceeded to overflow, tumbling and filling each of the glasses below. It took a fair number of bottles!

Confetti Cannon…

At various times (at least three times that I saw) mylar confetti cannons went off, prompting wild, frenzied dancing and screams of joy from the children hanging around the front of the stage. There was dry ice foaming around the base of the pyramid and relatives laughing and cheering as the happy couple finished the wine.

In addition to the things happening here at the end of the room live, there were also two giant tv screens broadcasting some jerky camera work that was meant for the back of the room. I didn’t see if there were any other sets on my only step inside this room, but I imagine there were!

The cake is brought out and shortly the newlyweds
make the first cut together.

There were several toasts at this point and after the pyramid was distributed to guests, it was replaced with a seven-layer wedding cake. The thing is monstrous. I’m not sure who ate it – if it was for guests, none made it’s way to our table!

It’s funny to note how “traditionally” Western the cake (and, indeed, the whole receptions) looks. I’ve been to several weddings in the USA now, and have never seen such a straight-forward “this is clearly a wedding cake”-cake. It’s very conservative, like a lot of cultural things here.


I also found myself wondering if there were any significant cultural differences between the Bride’s Northern family customs, and any Southern customs brought from the Groom’s family. I have heard repeatedly from people here that the north, where government is entrenched, is a touch more conservative, and that the south is a tad more liberal, seemingly across the board.

He seemed funny?

The Bride and Groom finished this part of the evening by interlocking arms and drinking from glasses of wine, red flowers and leaves entwined around their right hands and arms as they do. The kids go wild as the newly married couple beams out into the crowd, each person here to celebrate their union and send them on their new journey, and the elderly and family in front clap and dab at their eyes.

The MC (yes, it’s common to hire an MC for your wedding here) starts introducing different entertainment acts, and as the family receives one last round of applause and exits, we return to our ‘expat table’ in the room between the rooms, ready to eat, drink, and celebrate.

Over the next several hours we will be regaled with a lavish dinner, good conversation, and all the karaoke we could want!

Part 3 coming soon!


The Wedding links:

The Wedding: The Invite and the Traditional Gift
The Wedding: Culture, Confetti and an Awesome Surprise
The Wedding: Food, Conversation, and Bia in the Evening Heat
The Wedding: Choose Your Own After-party Adventure