The Wedding 04.03.17It seems we timed our stay at Everest perfectly as the wedding fell the day after our last lesson, talk about leaving on a high note! Having spent the night in Hanoi we met the gang back at the centre before being bundled into taxis in groups of four. Dod went ahead of me to get kitted out in his groovy groomsman gear...
"A taxi dropped us at what we assumed was the Bride's family home and one by one we were whisked into a tiny room to change (squeeze) into our traditional outfits for the day. As we were trying to figure out how to make the headpiece stay in place we were again put into a taxi, no idea of our destination. Turns out this was to be our first meeting with the Groom! We were all individually introduced to him, live on video, after being given a minute or so to prepare a wedding message for said video. He also gave us small red envelopes containing 'lucky money' which we were instructed to trade with the bridesmaids. Many photos and videos later we were taken back to join the party, much to the interest and humour of the local village community!"
The rest of us were awaiting the Groom's party arrival with the Bride and her family back at their home, which was also a wedding attire hire shop - convenient! The bride was dressed in white silk trousers and a gorgeous deep red velvet tunic that slit at the waist and ran down to the floor. We were snacking on sunflower seeds and jelly sweets when I looked out through the purple and white draping to see Dod carrying a giant hamper full of fags and alcohol! Each one of the five boys from Everest was carrying one of these hampers full of various sweet treats, exotic fruits and Vietnam's favourite, fags and booze. Immediately we ran outside to photograph the parade. After this, the Bride, Groom and close family went inside the house for what I'm assuming was some kind of ceremony. From what I can gather Vietnamese weddings differ in that the 'engagement ceremony' is as important as the actual wedding but happens on a different day. The reception is what we were attending and so the ceremony was only a minor part of the day. Meanwhile we snacked on more sunflower seeds, jelly sweets and green tea just outside the house. Ceremony over and a few more photographs and sunflower seeds later we were ushered up the street to the main event where 200 guests would be dining, drinking and of course belting out bad love ballads on the karaoke stage. On the way in we were stopped for photographs with various wedding party members in front of a backdrop featuring a giant heart made out of tissue paper roses, I then felt a bit like a celebrity as we proceeded down the red carpet. Next was food. We were seated on one of the many tables laden with cling film covered cold meats, fish, rice and soup and told to start feasting at our leisure. It was probably about 3 minutes before we were coaxed into our first shot of rice wine, and from there on out it was a hazy blur. All days groups of guests from all around the room were paying a visit to our table armed with rice wine and shot glasses; they certainly don't take no for an answer when it comes to wine! When the time was right (when the rice wine took over) we took to the stage and pretty much took ownership of the karaoke mics for the night. A day full to the brim with laughter and smiles, how lucky we are to have had this truly mad, traditional Vietnamese experience.
Tran Hung Dao Pagoda 22.03.17We stopped at the Chinese border in Lao Cai for lunch, a few snaps across the bridge and for a quick visit to the Tran Hung Dao Pagoda, temple of the mother Goddess. When we arrived at the temple there was an unusual buzz about the place, we soon realised a ceremony was taking place inside the main temple and many Vietnamese had come to watch and enjoy the goings on. I've tried various google searches but can't seem to find anything on what the ceremony is called or what it is for but here's a snapshot of what we saw:
Inside the temple people of all ages sat cross legged watching a woman dance in the centre of the room, just in front of the temple's shrine. She was dressed in emerald green traditional clothing and head piece, dancing to live percussion music. Suddenly the music slowed and she knelt down infront of the shrine. Her head piece was removed and a cloth place over her head by two men, as people clapped in rhythm she changed into a heavily embellished white dress and even larger head piece to match. She then resumed dancing, this time with handfuls of fanned out money that she proceeded to throw up into in the air. After a few minutes of this, she knelt again and changed into a silky tunic with a silver dragon stitched onto the back. Whilst she changed women walked through the audience handing out small notes, something which we know from the wedding to mean good luck. For the third time the woman danced in her new attire, one of the men who had been helping her change seemed especially excited as he stood on the stage encouraging the audience to clap; we thought this could perhaps be her father.
This was all we witnessed as more and more people were turning up to become a part of the ceremony and we were stood right in the doorway! If anyone knows anything about what we saw please comment below, I would love to know more about the ceremony and what the beautiful clothing symbolises.
Nam My Van Homestay 28.03.17From our experiences the word homestay in Vietnam generally means a mattress on the floor of a rural family home, they are a great way to save money on accomodation and (if the family aren't too busy) a chance to engage in good old cultural exchange. On the last night of our northern bike loop we were incredibly lucky to come across a homestay that went above and beyond all others. Nam and Tranh own a block of student acccomodation in Thai Nguyen (80km from Hanoi) and have recently decided to open one room up to travelers seeking a homestay experience. Nam explained that many of the students currently living in his block can speak English but hardly get the chance to practise, they hoped that a steady flow of international visitors might provide more opportunities for the residents to converse in English. Upon arrival we were first greeted by Nam and his son, who immediately served up a hot pot of locally picked tea before showing us to our room situated next to his family home. The room itself was lovely, a comfortable double bed, mosquito net and a desk with a functioning computer. We were invited to dinner at 6.30pm, for which Nam's wife Tranh (doctor by day, wonderful host by night) served us a delicious mixture of vegetarian authentic vietnamese foods, including fake prawns which were interesting! All was washed down with tiny mug-fulls of rice wine; we learnt that the younger of the two people should always clink on the lower side of the other person's glass when cheers-ing. Nam shared many of these little snippets of culture with us whilst we ate, as well as an ancient story that goes like this -
"A woman once fell pregnant without knowing who the father was, she was immediately disowned by the town for her sins. She brought the little boy up all on her own, giving him everything she could to make him a great man. When he was old enough he got an important and well respected job within the town. Happy that she had done what she could to give him a better life the woman went to live in the woods away from the town where people despised her so much."
On the 3rd day of the lunar calendar every year banh troi (boiled rice cakes) are made and eaten to commemorate the woman. The cakes, plain on the oustide and filled with sugar on the inside, are said to represent the woman and her sweet soul that nobody but her son could see. I've done some research and have found many other old wives tales regarding the cakes, perhaps it varies from province to province. As it was two days before the date (3rd March, lunar calendar) these cakes were for sale everywhere, as well as the ingredients needed to make them at home. Nam, Tranh and their son walked us to a nearby shop, purchased the rice powder paste (rice flour and water), lumps of sticky brown sugar and sesame seeds for us to try our hand at making the cakes. Back at their home, us, the family and a few of the student residents sat cross legged around a pot of boiling water making and eating these sticky sweet treats. Nam works nights at a local hotel, so at 10PM we said our thanks and goodnight. In the morning Tranh had already gone to work and their son to school but Nam had returned from work and was making us breakfast. After a hearty bowl of pho (rice noodle soup) it was time to say goodbye to Nam, just as he was finally going to bed! We were well and truly overwhelmed by our experience at Nam My Van homestay, from delicious food to absorbing cultural knowledge Nam and Tranh gave us far more of their time and energy than we were expecting. Thank you and all the best for the future!