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Chi’s Wedding

March 13, 2012

Have you ever been to a Vietnamese wedding? No? Well follow after the break and you can find out what one is like!

Living in a foreign country is very difficult. Living in a foreign country without a support structure is impossible.

Our support structure is named Nguyen Thi Huyen Chi.

Chi’s family runs what we would call a convenience store down by the gate to our dormitories. Her family supplies us with many of the things we need for daily life. More importantly, her family has accepted first Theo, and then me as their own. Chi’s parents, who I only know as Ba and Mẹ (Dad and Mom), are constantly helpful, supporting, caring, and wonderful people to two Americans who they don’t even share a language with. Chi in particular has been open to help in any situation or crisis that we may find ourselves in, and if ever we have a question, she’s ready to try and answer it.

Today, Chi got married to to her boyfriend/fiancee/husband Coung, and Theo and I got invited to a family gatherings last night and to both the family ceremony and the considerably larger lunch reception today. I’m putting pictures with commentary below, but it’s a strange thing to talk about: there are Vietnamese wedding practices that I don’t understand, and am trying to learn from an outside perspective. But then these are people that I consider family, and I can’t honestly be objective about. It’s an interesting mix:

Chi’s family’s home isn’t too big, so to accommodate the large amount of family visiting for the wedding, they rented out a tent to cover their courtyard area.

This is the interior of Chi’s family’s store, it’s also their most used common area. This is the amount of space we’re dealing with here.

Na and Lin, Chi’s sisters. Na is 23, and lives and works in Saigon, which is both unorthodox and increasingly common these days in Vietnam. Lin is 19 and a freshman at the University of Da Lat. If she took English, she’d be my student. Lin also plays badminton for the Lam Dong Province team: she’s good enough to play at a national level.

Lin also really doesn’t like having her picture taken.

Our partners for dinner. Traditional meals in Vietnam are multi-course affairs.

Just a glimpse at how many family members and close friends are here to celebrate. Remember, this is pre-wedding day.

At most family gatherings in Vietnam, it’s expected that the men will drink while the women don’t. This social drinking culture is heavily enforced, and it’s very common to to be in a situation where someone will come up to you, pour you a new drink, and then cheer for you to drink “trăm phần trăm” (“100 percent”) in one go. This night, it was with Ba’s (Chi’s dad’s) homemade banana liqueur.

Lin really DOESN’T like having her picture taken.

This morning, we came down to witness parts of the wedding ceremonies. This, again, is an event that only family is invited to, so it was a huge honor to be able to witness this part of a Vietnamese wedding.

The happy couple’s transportation.

The ceremony took part inside the house, with many family members crowding around to watch. Luckily, I’m taller than “chín mười chín phần trăm” (“99 percent”) of Vietnamese people. Chi and Coung are in the middle here. Chi is wearing a traditional Vietnamese dress, the first of three she’ll wear today. Behind them is a shrine to Ba’s deceased parents. Family is extremely important in Vietnamese culture, so having your wedding ceremony by a shrine to your deceased grandparents is especially important.

Chi and Coung exchanging rings. The official photographer gets to be way up front here. His pictures are probably way better than mine.

It’s traditional for family members to give the bride and groom gifts during the home ceremony. Here’s Na putting a ring on her sister’s finger.

Lin also gets to give a gift.

Strangely enough, while this is going on, there are many extended family members eating and completely not paying attention to the ceremony indoors. This won’t be the only time today where wedding guests don’t really pay attention to the wedding itself.

Theo and Lin pose for a picture.

Me and Lin. She complained about having to pose for pictures with two tall guys.

Me and Na. She’s changed out of her formal ao dai, which is one less dress change than her sister’ll have to day. Also, I’m thought this picture would be much sillier than she did.

Theo and the beautiful bride.

I get to pose with Chi.

Lin REALLY DOESN’T like having her picture taken.

After the ceremonies, we go to the reception lunch, which is held in a restaurant that rents out its ballroom for the sole purpose of holding these large receptions. This is a huge business in Vietnam, where you’re expected to invite pretty much everybody you know to these receptions. How big of a business is this? Ba and Mẹ get invited to over 30 of these a year.

The reception hall is up in the hills on the other side of the lake. It’s this picturesque scenery that reminds you just how beautiful Da Lat is.

This place has its own parking garage. In a country where 90% of travel is done on motorbikes, which are small enough that there’s ample sidewalk space to park anywhere, the fact that a building needs a built-in parking garage is insane. That’s how many people come here.

Just a reminder that there’s greenery everywhere here.

Each guest who comes to one of these receptions is expected to pay 200,000 VND (~$10), which is how the relatively poor Vietnamese pay for these lavish wedding halls and receptions. And if you get invited to 30 of these a year, it’s an annoying chunk of change.

Ba and Mẹ, the proud parents of the bride.

Coung and Theo. Coung speaks very little English, but when he’s excited, that doesn’t stop him from trying.

Chi greets all of her reception guests in her second dress of the day, which is the one that most obviously borrows from American wedding traditions.

We head up the stairs into…

the reception hall, which seats over 700 people. How do I know that? Because that’s how many people showed up.

There’s a certain uniqueness to Vietnamese celebrations and presentations. The laser-light projection is part of this uniqueness.

Again, Vietnamese weddings are supposed to provide a bottomless supply of beer (for the men) and soft drinks (for the women). This is what those 200,000 VND at the door pay for.

Right before the ceremony, the neon lights go on. Sadly, I didn’t get a good shot of the fireworks.

From where we were sitting, we couldn’t even see the main stage. We had to watch off a projector screen.

The new couple and their parents go around and toast with each table. Ba, Mẹ, and Coung are all here. Chi is absent, because she’s busy changing into her third dress.

Chi shows up in yellow to help with the toasting.

Chi and her girlfriends, who we sat with.

For how many (700!!!!) people who showed up to this reception, most of them cleared out after they finished serving lunch. It’s weird how impersonal parts of these large Vietnamese weddings feel compared to American ones.

Even though they left, the 700 people left their mark on the reception hall.

With this wedding conquered, the intrepid explorers exit the banquet hall in search of more adventures! What will they find in their last two months in Vietnam? Stay tuned, as I’m going to atone for my two months of no updates with hopefully more, and a walkthough of our January trip to Laos!

The full album is available here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. J. Michael Thompson permalink
    March 13, 2012 7:55 pm


    This is lovely…fascinating…enlightening. THANK YOU for sharing it!!

    Uncle Jim

  2. Dad permalink
    March 14, 2012 6:12 am

    Wow! Great wedding. Doesn’t seem to matter much what culture or religion you are in, weddings are a big deal!

  3. Grandma Barb permalink
    March 14, 2012 7:03 pm

    Wow, Dan, what a wonderful experience you are having. Keep sending photos, comments, it is fascinating. Love, Grandma Barb

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