I was sitting in the lobby of my Hanoi hostel trying to get my iMessages to take flight from my iPhone when the receptionist, David, approached me. He told me I was a very nice and handsome guy. It kind of caught me off guard at first, but he was off to a good start. He followed it up with, “That’s why I am inviting you to my wedding on the 15th. I will get married. You should come, have a few drinks, and get a taste of Vietnamese culture.” I was so touched by the invitation that I told him I would definitely be there. I immediately decided this would make for a great way to experience the culture.
The female receptionist, Lele, told me that the wedding was in a village about an hour away. On Sunday morning I could catch the bus with the rest of the hotel staff to the wedding and return with them that evening. There was a really cool British girl named Faye staying in my dorm that was going too. I discovered this when she walked by my bed and said, “Are you Raisin, the one who is going to David’s wedding?” I laughed at the fact that Lele couldn’t master my name. And said, “Yup. I’m Raisin.” We got acquainted, exchanged our REAL names, and decided this would be quite an experience. I was relieved to have some foreign company.
The information we were given was interesting. The night before the wedding, Lele, the receptionist reminded me that I should take my passport (just in case) and that the bus would leave at 7:00 A.M. Immediately Adriana’s execution scene from the Sopranos played out in my head. It wasn’t until the next morning that Faye and I were informed, 2 minutes before leaving, that the wedding was a four and a half hour bus ride away. I closed my eyes for a full 5 seconds. Fucking great…
One of the girls who went was studying hospitality at a University in Hanoi. Her name was Tran. She tried one night to practice her English with me… Let’s just say, I wasn’t interested. We caught the bus at another hostel down the road. As we walked there, she kept grabbing my arm and guiding me across the street. I didn’t appreciate her long finger nailed grip on my forearm. She was sweet in an overbearing “I must help you!” kind of way. At the other hostel we met up with another American named John. We piled on the bus and I was thanking the gods that there was air-conditioning.
For the first two hours, they blasted Vietnamese techno remixes of Gangnam Style, with everyone singing along. Tran poked her head between mine and Faye’s headrest and said, “Raisin, did you bring headphones?” “No, got any? Maybe a few horse tranquilizers while your at it?” She just said, “Oh that’s too bad. I’m sorry.” The techno went on for the first three hours. Then there was an hour of silence. Then they played “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston, followed by George Michael’s greatest hits. At 10:00, Tran told Faye it would be only one more hour. At 11:00 she repeated the same thing to me. She said we had 10 km left. I replied, “Tran, that’s like 6 miles. Are you sure it’s another hour?” Well after waiting for about 15 cows to cross the road, we turned onto a dirt and mud road. Going faster than 5 miles per hour through this x-games dirt bike path of a road was pretty much impossible. So we got there at about 12:15. We piled off the bus and walked up this little path through an old village. John told us the houses represented a traditional style of Thai minority group and that’s why they were elevated off the ground. We got to the last house on the right. We could see a colorful tent with music blaring from inside.
We were greeted by David, in his shirt and tie. The bride was wearing a pink dress with red trim and flowers. She looked beautiful. I initially thought this was her wedding dress and that we had missed the whole shebang, but I wasn’t sure. They showed us into the tent and sat us down on some plastic baby stools around a table covered with food. This is where I was presented with my mortal enemy: a dingy 1 ounce shot glass.
David came over and introduced some guy who I can’t remember now. He was a middle aged man who was being supported by David alone, due to his obvious drunkenness. David informed us that the new friend wanted to take a shot to welcome us to the village. They filled our shot glass with rice wine. This stuff is a cheap vodka-like, finger nail polish tasting, concoction that could probably be used to remove wallpaper. You could buy a pint of it in Beijing for less than $2 USD if that says anything about it. I tossed back the first shot and threw my best ghoulish impression at the person to my left. The guy started filling up the shot glass again. David told us that it’s customary to take two shots. After the second shot, I wanted to David to just stop talking.
Over the next ten minutes, a line formed of people wanting to take shots with us. Shots (not shot) with us. In 10 minutes, we had done about 10 shots. These people didn’t want to pay respects, they wanted to drink with the whities. I was trying to scarf down as much rice as possible to keep up with the hooch, but it was too late. 20 minutes and 15 shots later, I was sweating my ass off in this tent. I tried to refuse the shots, but the elders would grab mine or Faye’s arm and insist, almost to the point of forcing, that we take a shot. Something had to be done.
I pulled an old trick out of the hat from bar-tending: When everyone shot their poison, my right hand went to my mouth and my head went back. But my left hand (the one actually holding the shot glass) went down and poured out the paint thinner on the ground. Before people could put their heads back down, my swift left hand had already returned the shot glass to the right hand that was coming down with my head. The face I made had to express as much agony as possible. They were so drunk that this worked for the rest of the day. Faye followed suit. The only time this didn’t work was when we went into the house, sat indian style on the floor, and the elders handed us another shot glass. I would say overall, we must have done 40 something shots. I probably actually only did about 25. I was more than satisfied with 25.
At one point I had to go to the water closet. I asked a local who spoke English where it was, hoping he would just point me to the nearest secluded tree. But he lead me through the crowd and to a little building where the women were washing dishes on the floor. He shoo’ed them in Vietnamese and they cleared everything off the floor. He told me to go in there an make my business. I reassured him that I just needed to piss. But he insisted. I walked in, no door, no toilet, just a hose hanging on the wall. Drunkenly, I decided to piss on the wall and I ignored the fact that the same place that people shit is where they were washing the dishes. Upon returning to my seat, I embraced the next few shots of rice wine. I was hoping this would kill any E-coli in my stomach.
We hit the dance floor, a.k.a. the part of the tent where no chairs were. All the old drunk men circled Faye next to the massive speakers. I don’t know what Asia’s obsession with reverberating their voice to sound like an echo is, but it’s fucking annoying. Plus I couldn’t tell if it was everyone’s metal fillings next to the microphone, or their drunkenly standing next to the speakers that made the shrill ear piercing screech that lasted the whole time. I didn’t care though. I just knew that as long as the elders were pulling me onto the dance floor, we wouldn’t be drinking. So I danced right next to them, laughing my ass off the whole time! It took the women a little while to come dance with us, at first they sat in the back with their arms crossed. I don’t think they liked their husbands’ behaviors or Faye’s dress that barely covered her knees. But eventually they joined in too. It was so much fun.
Suddenly, everyone started getting up and leaving. It was time for the kidnapping. John told us that how a Vietnamese wedding works is that the bride goes home to get dolled up. Meanwhile the groom gathers a posse, and politely storms the bride’s parent’s home. There he asks for her to be his wife. He kidnaps her and takes her to his own home. Then they are officially married. We followed David down the narrow path we ascended earlier, to the bus we took. The driver, who was slamming shots with us earlier, started up the bus, blasted Gangnam Style, and took off. But not before he pumped the breaks to the beat of the music and swerved back and forth for added effect, as we went down the country road at about 10 mph.
We stopped at the next village over and then stood around at the end of the road that his bride lived on. Due to the fact that the bride’s uncle had passed away a few weeks prior, David stormed the home alone. We waited on the side of the dirt road, a couple of people went to a nearby shop. The surprised shop owner didn’t have any cold drinks. BUT he did have a baking pan with a solid chunk of ice in it. Someone bought a bottle of hot fanta and poured it on top of the ice in the pan. The guy let it flow around a little, and then put his mouth to the corner of the pan and took a sip of chilled fanta. He poured some more on top and handed me the pan to enjoy the next drink. I toasted his sheer ingenuity and indulged, in my drunken stupor.
After we kidnapped the bride, every local tried to cram onto our bus to return to the initial village. I decided to walk back with a few stragglers. As the van rocked off in the distance, I took in the countryside. It was green terraced rice fields, contrasted with grey outlines of hills in the distance. I walked along the brown road and saw a couple of people tending to their crops. It was beautiful, even if it was spinning a little.
We I got back to the wedding, the bride was being introduced. She had a proper wedding dress on now. But no sooner was she introduced that it was time for us to go. One of the drunk elders kissed me on the cheek, teared up, and repeated the words “Cám ơn” (Thank you.) I wanted to cry along with him, but mostly because I had to be drunk on a bus. We did a couple of departing shots, Faye and I paid our respects to the bride, and we boarded the not-so-cheerful bus home. They played American music while everyone napped. Us caucasians were the only one’s still drunk, I guess. I embraced the 80’s hits until I myself fell asleep. I woke up when we stopped for a break. The only thing I could think was, “hashtag:samedayhangover.” I decided to sleep on the bus instead of stretch my legs. Everyone returned with red bull. The party raged on from this point, and Tran decided to sing. What she produced is best described as what everyone expected to come out of Susan Boyle’s mouth. It was the worst two hours of my life.
When David told me to come and experience “a taste of Vietnamese culture” this is not what I had in mind. How he managed to stay sober, I don’t know. I had wished I was a woman, just so I could say I was prego and couldn’t drink. In the last post, I think I said something like, “I guess I don’t want to be a man.” Maybe I’m missing something. But back to the point: So if you’re ever invited to a Viet-wedding, and your liver is up to it, I suggest you check it out. I had so much fun, even if it was the definition of a shit show.