Monday, January 31, 2011


I've written in the past how my cousins are notorious for falling asleep at Thanksgiving meals. Really though, they're notorious for falling asleep everywhere and anywhere. To show that they haven't lost a step, both Justin and Dana passed out at our bonfire in Mai Chau. They were dreaming away for a solid twenty minutes before someone had the genius idea of pulling a prank on them.

We all started to get up when our movements woke Dana. Naturally we pretended that we were gonna wake her up anyway and only pull the prank on Justin. We quickly gathered our stuff and executed the plan: We would all hide about a hundred feet away, behind a tree, and yell, "JUSTIN!!!". Justin, half asleep, would wake up in the middle of a field in Vietnam and wonder what the hell had happened.

When we started to sneak away, my amazingly brilliant wife thought of the perfect element to the plan to make it over-the-top hilarious -- Huyen asked a local villager who was nearby to go wake up Justin. So let me summarize the prank set-up: an old-ish village lady was about to wake up my cousin who was passed out all alone on a field in the middle of nowhere in Vietnam. Sure, it was probably a had to be there moment but I still find this video to be funny...despite not really being able to see anything on the video:

NOTE: The flashing light at the end is Justin shining his flashlight at us once he knew what the deal was.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


On the bus ride into Mai Chau, we gave everyone two choices:

Choice 1: A bonfire with karaoke.

Choice 2: A bonfire with villagers singing traditional songs and playing games with us.

Thank goodness everyone picked choice 2. However, we ended up getting a taste of both as the only other tourists in Mai Chau decided to do karaoke right near us:

(PICTURE: The locals singing and dancing for us...while Vietnamese tourists sing karaoke in the background.)

After about seven White Thai traditional hits, the locals had us all grab hands and dance in a circle while singing, "Nhu Co Bac Ho Trong Ngay Vui Dai Thang", a song about Ho Chi Minh. I had promised everyone a horah and this ended up being pretty darn close. You know, minus the lack of lifting people in chairs and the addition of singing about Ho Chi Minh.

(PICTURE: Dancing in a circle. Eventually we all linked hands and alternated people between White Thai and non White Thai.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love camping. My experiences in Mai Chau have always been the closest to camping I've come in Vietnam. We had a great bonfire that night and ended up playing a hopscotch type game that Justin and I had played two years earlier at the same exact spot. After a couple of days of craziness, it was a great evening of relaxing in an open field with friends, locals and a little bit of local wine:

(PICTURE: Dana and Hannah making the local wine; a very elaborate process which has one pour water into fermented rice.)

(PICTURE: Everyone drank the wine out of long straws made of bamboo.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Road To Mai Chau

(PICTURE: My mom in front of the stilt house where we ate lunch on the way to Mai Chau.)

After our relaxing boat ride, we headed for the White Thai village of Mai Chau. The way we were going was not the road 99% of tourists takes since most people go to Mai Chau from Hanoi and not from Ninh Binh. In a perfect world, getting to Mai Chau should have taken about three hours. However it took double that. The road was covered with pot holes which had us traveling at around 10MPH for a solid two hours which meant a few more bathroom breaks than we had on the original schedule. At one point we stopped at a roadside quick-e-mart (which in Vietnam means a woman with a table of snacks and a small freezer in front of her house).
(PICTURE: My parents with the big pink bus.)

You can imagine the woman's surprise when 24 foreigners got off a large pink bus and asked to use her bathroom. The woman obliged and we all bought a bunch of drinks and snacks from her. Clearly this was the first time anything like this had happened in this area because everyone quickly meandered out of their house and stared at our big pink bus. After a 20+ minute rest stop, we got back on the bus and continued our journey. Unfortunately were were behind schedule which meant the sun set before we arrived in Mai Chau. The problem with this was:
1. I wanted everyone to see the beautiful views from the mountain pass that leads to the village.
2. Not only couldn't we see the views, but the fog on the mountain had a visibility of about ten feet. This meant that not only could our driver barely see in front of our bus as we inched along a very high, narrow mountain BUT it also meant the big trucks coming down the mountain at us couldn't see us. I can tell you, there were a lot of nervous people on the pink bus for about forty five minutes.

(PICTURE: The view from the mountain pass a few days later. This was about 1,000,000 times clearer than when we first took the pass.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Honeymoon Romance

What could be more romantic on one's honeymoon than to take a private boat ride through majestic limestone karsts?

(PICTURE: This is more romantic than a gondola ride in Venice.)

Well the answer is that the only thing more romantic could be to do it with all your friends and family:

(PICTURE: Showing off our rings...and the four boats of wedding guests. There was another boat behind us too.)

On the morning after our wedding, we took everyone to Trang An in Ninh Binh. We had been to Tam Coc which is nearby and called the "Inland Halong Bay." Before planning the trip, I asked some of my students from Ninh Binh which was the better place to go to. It was unanimous, that Trang An was better. Now having been to both, I can agree. Here's the cooler aspects of Trang An:

1. Nobody was there except us. I'm sure this isn't always the case but it was on this day.
2. There were six caves that we went through. Some were very long and narrow. At Tam Coc there's only three caves which aren't nearly as cool.
3. At Trang An you go in a big circle versus in Tam Coc where you have to go back the exact way you came...which makes going back quite boring.

Here are some pictures from that morning:

(PICTURE: Our captain. That's Sebastian, JR and Urszula behind us.)

(PICTURE: My father and the Lichtmans wondering what that strange smell is.)

(PICTURE: The Salter family taking in the views.)

(PICTURE: My Aunt Ronny with a pagoda behind her.)

(PICTURE: A cool overexposed shot.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Awesome Shirts!

One of the best wedding presents we got were these totally awesome shirts that my parents gave us:

(PICTURE: The shirts say "Just Married" in case you don't want to click on the picture.)

As fun as it was to wear the shirts the day after getting married, personally I can't wait for us to wear them all the time when we travel. I mean, you gotta figure if you wear them enough once in a while someone will send over drinks and/or buy your dinner. Am I right or what?!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Utterly Exhausted

(PICTURE: Dining on goat udder on our wedding night.)

At the end of our wedding day, I was certain of two things:

1. I was 100% married.
2. I was 100% exhausted.

Starting on December 1st, when our first friend arrived in Hanoi, I had been averaging less than five hours sleep per night. I'm positive that even when I was younger, I couldn't have handled a sleep schedule like that for nearly three weeks. The symptoms of a lack of sleep were creeping up on me. The most obvious was that I was losing my voice and constantly being told by my wife to shut up (is that a bad sign for starting a marriage?). On my wedding night, I only wanted to do one thing -- sleep!

However before I could count sheep, I had to eat goat. You see, Ninh Binh is famous for its goat and, well, I freaking love goat. Huyen and I had told everyone about the local delicacy but only the under 35-year-olds (I can't say young people anymore because Heather yelled at me after an earlier post) and the Salter parents were up for leaving the hotel. We had the bus driver bring us to his favorite goat restaurant where we all dined on goat prepared in a variety of ways. Following dinner, Huyen and I decided it was time to stop playing host and headed back to the hotel.

The hotel, named Legend Hotel, was immaculate. The four star hotel looked like nobody had ever stayed there before and well, I'm pretty sure not too many people had since it was brand spanking new. Huyen and I couldn't have asked for a better honeymoon suite as it was equipped with a giant bath and a humongous bed. Seriously, the bed was like two California kings stuck together. I kid you not, a dozen Vietnamese people could have easily lied side by side on this mattress. However, being as tired as I was, I'm pretty sure I could have slept on a wooden crate (you know, the bed I usually sleep on at Huyen's house) and slept like a baby. I can't think of a time when I had a deeper sleep then the night of my wedding.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things One Might Not Want To Do On Their Wedding Day

(PICTURE: Ba Dinh Pagoda.)

After visiting the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, the giant pink bus headed toward the largest pagoda in southeast Asia -- Ba Dinh Pagoda.

(PICTURE: Various members of the honeymoon part at the temple.)

For you long time readers, you might recall that my cousin and I stumbled on to this place in 2008. When we came then, there wasn't even a paved road out to the pagoda.
(PICTURE: Justin with two people we met at the temple in 2008.)

I went again a year later with Huyen and Sebastian, and the place was still only half built.
(PICTURE: One of the many awesome photos Sebastian took in 2009.)

I had been told that the pagoda would finally be finished this year as part of the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi. I should have realized that that didn't really make sense since the pagoda isn't in Hanoi but heck, I chalked it up to Vietnamese logic. Yeah, the pagoda wasn't even close to being finished.

On our wedding itinerary, we had written that we would make it to the pagoda in time to see sunset. Sticking to our schedule, we arrived about thirty minutes before the sun was scheduled to go down. However, there was a slight hiccup when we arrived at the pagoda; at the gate, a bunch of totally unofficial guys told us that our bus could not drive up to the top of the least not without their help. Basically, because it was a construction site, there was no way for our bus to drive up the road. However, these fine young gentleman told us that they would guide us on a back road to the top of the pagoda for a mere 350,000 VND. That's $17.50 or as they say in Vietnam -- highway robbery.

Some people might say that something you might not want to do on your wedding day is to follow a stranger on a back dirt road. However, I would say hogwash. Despite the road being a little too narrow and a lot too scary for some of my guests, we arrived at the top of the pagoda in about ten minutes. Everyone debarked from the bus and walked towards the pagoda. The reaction from everyone was just as I hoped it would be -- they were amazed at the vastness and beauty of the pagoda.

After taking in the highest temple on the mountain, we presented everyone with two options:
Option 1: We could take the bus down at that moment.
Option 2: We could walk down the mountain and meet the bus at the bottom.

Despite the sun setting, we chose Option 2...which led to a few fun memories:

Fun memory #1: As we began to descend the mountain, we quickly realized that there were no finished stairs. I'll never forget my mother and some other above 35s not willing to walk down a very slight dirt incline. This lead to to Huyen and someone else venturing off like Louise and Clark to find an acceptable path down the mountain.

Fun memory #2: Watching Huyen and ___ (I forget who else helped my mom and don't have a picture. This space will be filled in when Sebastian emails me the honeymoon pictures) help my mom down the half built stairs.

Fun memory #3: The look on a construction workers face as we made our way down the mountain. His face basically said, "Um, what the hell are you idiots doing?"

Fun memory #4: Somehow our group got separated into three groups. I was in the middle group and about halfway down the mountain when my phone rang. Here's the basic conversation:
BEN: Hello.
SEBASTIAN: Hey, uh, we're kind of lost. Where are you?
BEN: We're about halfway down the mountain to the right of the stairs on the left hand side.
HERB (who was standing next to me): Actually, they aren't called stairs. They're called ____ (my apparent lack of vocabulary is so bad I still don't know what the term is).
BEN: Okay, Sebastian we're next to the _____.
SEBASTIAN: What the fuck is ______.
BEN: They're the stairs. We're to the right of the ones on the left hand side.

Fun Memory #5: After it was officially totally dark out, my mother, Huyen, Hannah, Mark and some others got to the bottom of the mountain but couldn't find an exit door. Apparently my mother started to panic at the prospect of sleeping inside a pagoda all night and asked, "Should we start yelling for help?" My sister assured my mother that wasn't necessary and they soon found their way out.

Eventually we all boarded the bus and headed to Ninh Binh, the place we would spend our wedding night...and more importantly the moment I could finally get out of my wedding suit!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Remeber those who are suffering...

As I wrote the other day, there are seemingly 101 different interpretations as to what breaking a glass symbolizes at a Jewish wedding. I chose to focus on an optimistic interpretation; breaking the glass means your marriage will last forever. However, one of the more pessimistic/Jewish realist interpretations is that we break the glass to remember that even during our times of great happiness there are people suffering in the world. Unfortunately, shortly after the wedding, my wedding guests and I got to see some suffering first hand.

Shortly after leaving Phu Ly, the "honeymoon" bus was driving south down the two lane highway when it encountered a small traffic jam. I'm not sure who spotted him first but someone said, "There's a man in the road." It quickly became clear that there was an accident up ahead and everyone had the natural reaction of looking out their window. Being in the front of the bus and having perfect eagle eye vision, I was able to see that the scene ahead was extremely gruesome. I casually got up, walked down the aisle of the bus and told everyone to look away. Most people took my advice, turned their heads and averted their eyes. However, a couple of people didn't and instinctively muttered what they had seen. The first person said something like, "Oh my god he's dead." The second person added some description which I'll spare in this post. I'm writing this post a month after the wedding, and the image is still haunting me.

I've stood on my soap box a few times on this blog and I'll do it again -- wear helmets!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Graduate

(PICTURE: JR and I at Hoa Lu, following the wedding.)

Do you ever have a moment where you feel like you're doing something right out of a movie? Well, that's sort of how I felt after right after the wedding. You see, after the party was finished, I was running back and forth between the two buses making sure the right people and right luggage were where they were supposed to be. Some of my entourage were going back to Hanoi (Barry, Donna, Mark) and others who had just arrived were joining our "honeymoon" trip (JR, Lilly, George and the Salter parents).

As soon as everything was sorted, I ran back into Huyen's house to use the toilet. Everyone there was already cleaning up and a little surprised to see me run in. After using the bathroom, I gave everyone a hug and then yelled in Vietnamese, "Goodbye Mom" to Huyen's mother. Everyone laughed as I sprinted back out of the house and down the alley. I then waved goodbye to lots of kids and jumped on the bus. As soon as I was on I told the bus drive to go and he turned on the engine and drove away. I think sat down in a chair next to Huyen (who had taken off her wedding dress) and let out a huge deep breath -- the wedding was over. As I was sitting there though, this movie feeling came over me and there was something very "The Graduate" about it. Granted it was completely different circumstances than the movie but we were departing a wedding on a bus. There was something very cool about it as you always picture people departing their wedding in a limo.

Anyway, the bus was headed south to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam. This was part one of our "honeymoon."

(PICTURE: Hannah in front of the entrance to Hoa Lu.)

(PICTURE: JR, Hannah and Dana at Hoa Lu.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My brother-in-law's essay

Here's a short essay by Su, my brother-in-law, about the wedding:

Despite having to travel quite a lot but I am still very happy. At night before Ben's wedding we and everyone had a wonderful evening. Ben' family members who are very interested in dancing and his sister sang very well. His friends is very friendly they are good dancer and singer. At wedding, I was very busy that day. I have lot of thing to do. I and my friends drived motorbike a lot of time on the way to bring something for wedding and we started lunch very late. Ben's parents gave me a gift, It's a cap in Ben's high school.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Essay About My Wedding #2

Here's another essay written by one of my students about the wedding. This one has some funny anecdotes in it:

That's the first time I've received a invitation which invites me to a wedding without my parents; I'm really flatter. Saturday morning I woke up soon, prepared a wasitcoat, a necktie, and my inseparable watch.

When I've gone; my mother called me about the box on the table. Oh! I forgot the camera! That's necessary to capture some unforgettable moments. I was really flutter.

I drove my motorbike to the bus meeting place. But on the way, I had some troubles with a policeman. It took me a long-long time, so I must drove too fast to the final stop of the bus. Fortunately, I caught the bus.

The first thing I saw when I got off the bus was the friendly smile of the groom :x Then about thirty Europeans froom's friend - shaked his hands in turn. We came to the bride's house where they were organizing the wedding. There were a lot of people. Someone were cleaning tables, other person was hanging on some beautiful flowers. The scenery of a united family. Three Thaos, Nhung, Thu, Tung and me were excited and went upstair to visit Su's house. After the father of the bride told the opening speech, we came to the offering's act. The bride gave oneself up to the groom and the groom too.

And, I couldn't see anything because of too many big visitors. I tried to capture some photo. I wish I wore a high heels. Then I saw groom's parents and bride's parents were drinking a cup of wine in turn, through the camera. Finally that was the "step on the cup" of Ben. I like that action, and the sound when the cup has broken. Everyone sang a song (without groom).

We ate some chicken, some steamed shrimp and went back home. I was tired, but happy too much.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Essay About My Wedding

I had my student's write essays about the wedding. Here's one of my favorites (without grammatical fixes):

Last Sunday, it was Ben's wedding. Ben and Huyen were married in bride's hometown, Ha Nam. The wedding was celebrated on 19, December, the same day with my birthday.

First, about wedding card, I received it from Huyen in the last class before wedding with invitation: you and your lover. This was the first card I've ever had. It made me laugh and I thought the wedding was complicated from writing the card.

Then, on wedding day, I and my classmate caught the car that Ben hired to go to the party. It was awesome. There was a lot of people, Relation by Ben's side was foreign people, Ben's family was American, Ben's friends was American, Japanese or Korean (I'm not sure). Ben's cousins were friendly and had sense of humor. I was impressed about Ben's sister. She wore a red "ao dai." She looked so pretty. Relation by Huyen's side was her family, her neighbors, her friends. It was very crowded. Huyen's house wasn't large enough to see the whole wedding. The wedding had karaoke. The sound was too loud so I was headache a little. Their friends sang and danced together. It was exciting from the morning I ate too much but shrimp. Vegetarian pork-pie was strange, it included bean. Last, I and my classmate took photos with Ben and Huyen. They were great.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Breaking The Glass

My sister shot this video with her digital camera. It gives a good sense of the crowd but not a great sense of the audio levels. Anyway, I'm really just posting it to show how badly I kicked the crap out of the glass!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Wedding

(PICTURE: Huyen's dad giving a speech at the wedding.)

It's finally here -- The Wedding Blog!

First off, let me apologize because I don't have too many pictures. We haven't picked up our pictures yet from the photographer and my unofficial photographer Sebastian is still traveling and hasn't sent me pictures yet. I've had a few shots trickle in but will eventually post a boat load. Soooo....

After being fifteen minutes late, I was quickly escorted down the alley into Huyen's house. As soon as I walked into the house I was struck by the sheer number of people there. There must have been about two hundred people in the small space in front of Huyen's house. That space was also about to get a lot smaller since another 70 people were coming behind me in the alley. I was quickly escorted upstairs to the one room in the house. Everyone was waving at me and shaking my hand as I made my way into the "bridal suite." As soon as I walked in, I saw Huyen who looked absolutely beautiful. I told Huyen that she looked gorgeous and she replied, "I think I look stupid." You see, she was wearing make-up which she never wears. I assured her that despite the make-up she was stunning. I then made a comment though that was something like this: "Um, why are you wearing a fur shawl?" I had seen Huyen in her wedding dress before and there was never a fur shall included. Huyen quickly explained that the tailoring on the dress wasn't perfect and she was scared the dress would slip down. The shall was a safety precaution. I'm not a fan of fur (and I doubt it was real) but this seemed like a good excuse. I'm pretty sure the wedding wouldn't have been quite as great if Huyen exposed herself to a few hundred people. Anyway, lesson learned: Maybe there is something to trying on a dress more than one day before the big day.

After spending a few minutes with Huyen, her breast-feeding sister and a score of other people who kept popping to the room, we were told we had to go downstairs to begin the wedding. Huyen and I made our way down to the first floor and headed to the front area where the ceremony was going to be held. Let me tell you, this was easier said then done. There were so many people crammed into a small space that Huyen and I couldn't walk side by side. In fact, it was tough to just walk through the crowd. I found myself slightly pushing through people in order to get married.

(PICTURE: The wedding aisle.)

When we got to the front we were joined by our two MCs and our parents. The MCs were my friends Tu and Quynh. I'll write a blog about them soon. The ceremony began and included the following:

(PICTURE: Putting the ring on.)

1. The ring exchange between Huyen and me. Unlike in western weddings, this happened right off the bat. Also right off the bat, Huyen started to cry. The moment we slipped rings on each other was very special and something that we'll remember forever. I'll also remember going in for a peck and getting Huyen's cheek. Huyen and I had briefly discussed our "first kiss." Huyen said she wasn't sure she wanted to kiss in front of everyone. I said, okay, I'll just peck you. Well, that didn't happen either as I gave her a big nose to the cheek. Literally, this is my wedding kiss:

(PICTURE: I didn't want to kiss a girl with a fur shall anyway.)

2. Speeches. Huyen's father and my parents each gave a speech which was translated by the MCs. Here's a copy of my parents' speech in both English and Vietnamese:

We'd like to wish a Mazel Tov to Huyen and Ben on finding each other and as we say in America, tying the knot. When Ben left home 2 1/2 years ago, we expected him back in a year but something stronger than the love for his parents kept him here - his love for Huyen.

Trước tiên chúng tôi xin được nói: Mazel Tov (có nghĩa là chúc mừng) tới Huyền và Ben đã gặp được nhau và giờ đây, họ được kết duyên tơ hồng. Khi Ben rời Mỹ 2 năm rưỡi về trước, chúng tôi đã mong muốn rằng Ben sẽ quay trở về Mỹ 1 năm sau đó, nhưng đã có 1 điều gì đó mãnh liệt hơn tình yêu của Ben dành cho bậc làm cha làm mẹ chúng tôi, và đó chính là tình Yêu Ben dành cho Huyền.

The Ngyen family has opened up their hearts and home to make Ben feel a part of their family from early on. We look forward to Huyen and Ben coming the the US and we want to assure all of you that Huyen will be welcomed into our family with open arms since we know that parents round the world always worry about their children.

Chúng tôi cũng muốn thể hiện lòng biết ơn tới gia đình Nguyễn đã giang rộng cánh tay và bằng cả trái tim họ đón nhận Ben như một thành viên trong gia đình. Chúng tôi vô cùng hạnh phúc và luôn giang rộng cánh tay đón Huyền trở thành 1 thành viên mới trong gia đình nhà August chúng tôi.

We see all the hard work that Huyen's family has put into readying their new home and preparing for so many people at their wedding and we truly thank you. We hope that one day you will travel to America so we can return the hospitality.

Hơn nữa, chúng tôi vô cùng cảm kích với tất cả những gì gia đình họ nhà gái đã làm để chuẩn bị chu đáo cho đám cưới ngày hôm nay, chúng tôi xin gửi lời cảm ơn chân thành đến gia đình họ nhà gái và mong rằng sẽ có ngày chúng tôi có thể trả được ơn này.

At home, we have 3 generations waiting to meet Huyen. Grandma Cele who just had her 94th birthday, Nanny at 91, Zev - Ben's big brother, Kathy his sister in law, and their daughter,Ben's niece Lilah who thinks Huyen and Ben live inside the computer. We wish everyone could have come to be here today and we plan another celebration when you arrive in New Jersey.

Chúng tôi xin giới thiệu về đại gia đình August của Ben ở Mỹ rất mong chờ được gặp Huyền: Bà ngoại Cele đã bước sang 94 tuổi, bà nội 91 tuổi, anh trai cả của Ben: anh Zev, chị dâu Kathy và cháu gái Lilah của Ben.

Cuối cùng, chúng tôi xin gửi lời cảm ơn chân thành đến toàn thể các quý vị khách quý đã dành thời gian để đến tham gia lễ cưới của 2 con chúng tôi ngày hôm nay. Chúng tôi mong rằng một ngày quý vị có thể tham dự lễ cưới của Huyền và Ben ơ quê hương của chúng tôi: New Jersey, Mỹ.

We know that you two are so in love and see how happy you are together and we pray that this continues for a long and healthy marriage with many happy celebrations and generations. L"CHAYIM "TO LIFE"

Chúng tôi xin có 1 vài lời rành riêng cho Huyền và Ben: Bố mẹ biết rằng các con rất hạnh phúc bên nhau, và bố mẹ mong rằng tình yêu các con dành cho nhau sẽ là mãi mãi, chúc các con luôn hạnh phúc.

I thought it was a pretty great speech by my parents. Many of my students have commented to me since that my parents said very sweet words.

3. After the speech, as per Vietnamese custom, different family members from both sides put gold jewelry on Huyen and me. Huyen's mother, aunt and two sisters all gave her and me gold rings. Then my mother, sister and aunt all put gold jewelry on Huyen. This moment ended up being quite comical as the gold rings they tried to put on me didn't even come close to fitting my fingers below the second knuckle.

4. My family took out my Bar Mitzvah kiddush cup and said the Jewish prayer for wine. Then, for maybe only the second time in my life, I saw my father sip wine. This wasn't no Kedem though; this was hard core home made rice wine. Needless to say, my father had quite a grimace on his face and I believe coughed once or twice like a pissed off dragon.

5. Also in accordance to Jewish wedding tradition, I broke a cup with my foot. The MCs explained to the crowd that the tradition's meaning is that our marriage will last as long as the pieces of glass are never put back together perfectly. They then told everyone that once I broke the glass they had to yell, "Mazel Tov." They had everyone practice twice and then it was time for some glass smashing. My parents had brought a special glass from home which I totally stomped the crap out of. As soon as the glass was broken about three hundred people yelled, "Mazel Tov." If anything, it as this moment that will stick in my mind forever. In my wildest dreams I never pictures a village of Vietnamese yelling anything in Hebrew in unison.

(PICTURE: Those aren't water bottles; they're filled with home brewed rice wine.)

After the ceremony, Huyen and I went from table to table thanking everyone for coming. Part of this tradition is that the bride and groom are supposed to have a drink with everyone. Well, I tried to do that but it lasted about five tables. I hadn't eaten yet so the powerful rice wine was going right to my head. I decided that I'd fake drink for the rest of the morning until I got something to eat...which never happened.

(PICTURE: My students singing to us.)

Once all the eating was done (except for Huyen and I), the singing began. We had some great performances including a couple of songs by my students. This was only topped by my family singing the Beatles, "When I'm Sixty Four."

Overall, the wedding was an awesome experience. It didn't come close to matching the party atmosphere of the an hoi but it had a very special feeling from start to finish. My friend Long made a comment to me during the wedding that it was the most stadium like atmosphere of any wedding he had ever been to. There were pump-up-the-crowd theme songs when people walked into the wedding, tons of cheers and chants and great joy all around as if a team had just won the championship.

People keep asking me how the wedding was and all I can really say is that it was an experience -- one that I think nobody who was there will ever forget.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Jewish Hats

(PICTURE: My dad and me wearing Jewish hats.)

In case it wasn't 1,000% apparent, Huyen isn't Jewish. This fact struck home in a comical way right before we got married. You see, before my parents flew to Vietnam they had asked me if I wanted to wear my bar mitzvah kippah at the wedding. When they asked me this, I was sort of taken aback since I hadn't even thought about wearing a kippah. I think I told them I'd think about it. Well, right before we were to walk into the wedding, I said to my parents, "Did you bring the kippah?" They had in fact brought about ten. All of my wedding guests (the ones who were on my bus -- Jews and non Jews) put the kippahs on. I thought that I should give Huyen a heads up (no pun intended) about our skullcaps and wrote her a text message. The text message said this, "We're wearing our Jewish hats." I wrote this because clearly Huyen would have no idea what I was talking about if I wrote, "We're wearing kippahs." I smiled as I hit send and then turned to Hannah and said, "You know that you're marrying a non Jew when you have to call a kippah Jewish hats in a text message."

The kippah ended up being a big hit. In fact, some of the wedding guests from the other bus asked me if they could wear one too. Unfortunately though we didn't have enough to go around. Then at the actual wedding, all the Vietnamese were extremely perplexed by the kippahs. Clealry they had never seen any before. Everyone kept asking me what they were. In the weeks since the wedding, many people have written comments on Facebook that have asked, "What is on Ben's head?"

Looking back, I'm really glad that I wore the keepah. It definitely helped bring a traditional Jewish element to this very non traditional Jewish wedding. But as you'll see soon, that was just one Jewish part of the wedding...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Late For My Own Wedding

(PICTURE: One of our pink buses for the wedding.)

Despite waking up at 5AM, I was somehow late for my own wedding. Yes, it's true. The guy whose first post on Ahoy Hanoi was about punctuality was late for his wedding. Well, as bad as that sounds, it wasn't my fault. A few points:

1. Everyone was ready on time for the bus. The bus just wasn't ready for us.
2. The night before the wedding, Huyen had said that we should all show up at 10:30AM rather than 10AM as originally planned. Yes, I'm partly blaming my wife for my tardiness. Technically we were on time for the 10:30AM scheduled start but about fifteen minutes late for the 10AM one.

Right around 10AM, I started to get calls on my phone asking where I/my group of 20+ were. I told them that we were on our way but the calls/texts seemed to be getting more frantic by the minute. Meanwhile, at the same time that we were making our way to the wedding, the bus I hired to pick up all the guests in Hanoi was also on its way. This bus had started at 8AM and was being managed by three of my students who we had designated as bus captains.

When my bus arrived at 10:15, the other bus still hadn't come. Hang came out to our bus and said, "Okay we have to start now." I quickly protested saying that we couldn't begin until the other bus arrived since there were many guests on that bus who wanted to see the wedding including six who had flow in from abroad the day before. Luckily I didn't have to protest too long because the bus pulled up about a minute later. I quickly ran over to the other bus and greeted everyone as they debarked. It was awesome seeing so many of friends and students who I greeted with hugs. Even cooler was seeing my buddy JR and my friend Lily and her family who I hadn't seen in quite a long time. Hugs and welcome words were exchanged before I was nearly yelled at to get inside to the wedding.

So yes, technically I was late for my own wedding.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

At least announce my wedding if you're going to wake me up!

(PICTURE: The view from the hotel. What you can't see are the megaphones slightly below the balcony.)

After going to bed somewhere in the ballpark of 1AM, I was looking forward to sleeping a little bit late. You know, like to 7:30 or 8. However, the local radio station didn't get that memo. At 5AM, the Phu Ly announcements started to BLARE from a telephone pole right outside my window. As I've written in the past, whenever you go out to the countryside/small towns, they have morning announcements that start around sunrise. Apparently, like many members of my wedding party, I don't read my blog. I mean, if I had, I would surely have taken a room that wasn't two feet away from the loudspeaker outside the window. I'm not sure why I didn't record the audio of the announcement because I can't really put into words just how loud it was. After god knows how long I finally blurted out, "Are you serious?". This immediately got a good chuckle from my sister who was trying to sleep in the bed next to me. I forget what was said next, but I was definitely thinking that I hoped they were at least announcing my wedding.

After realizing that there was no way we were gonna be able to go back to sleep, Hannah and I got up and explored the city for some breakfast. It didn't take too much walking before we found an alley with a whole bunch of street food options. My sister and I sat down at the first "restaurant" and got some kind of noodle dish that I'd never seen before. Yeah, eating a dish you've never seen before isn't usually a good idea before your wedding but heck, how could I not try it? Thankfully, the food sat well.

Around 7:30AM, Hannah and I returned to the hotel. I had a weird feeling in my body that was a mix of absolute exhaustion (at this point I hadn't had more than five hours sleep in over a week) and excitement to get married. While I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I decided to play a little joke. I walked out into the bedroom in a seemingly total daze and said to my sister, "I can't do it." We both started to crack up. Clearly we were over tired.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Late Night Pool

(PICTURE: My Uncle Barry and Aunt Donna on Huyen's roof during the an hoi.)

If I had even one ounce of smarts in me, I would have gone straight to bed after the an hoi. However, for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to make use of the billiards hall in our hotel. I mean, how many times in life can you play pool with relatives and friends in a Vietnamese pool hall the night before your wedding? Seriously, how could I not play?

A handful of people decided to join me for some late night pool. I quickly taught everyone the Vietnamese pool game that involves cards. We started playing and failed to impress any of the Vietnamese who were in the hall and equally shocked to see foreigners there and to see how terrible we were at playing pool. The only person with any legitimate skill was my Uncle Barry. Barry has a pool table at his house which gave him a slight advantage. After a little while, most of my friends went to bed (which I should have) and only Barry, Justin and I remained in the pool hall. It was great getting to spend some alone time with my uncle and cousin as we shot pool and chewed the fat about Vietnam. Barry, like my parents, was draft age during the Vietnam War. Like my father when he first visited, I think Barry was struck by how open and friendly the Vietnamese were despite the still fresh history between our countries. We ended up having a pretty philosophical discussion which lasted past midnight.

The game/discussion finally ended when I sank my final ball. I'm pretty sure my uncle let me win since I was getting married in a few hours and he didn't want me to start the day on the wrong foot.

* Two notes: 1. Earlier in the day my uncle basically said this to me: "You know, my whole life I've had a hard time understanding what you said because you always talked really fast. However, since you moved to Vietnam you're really easy to understand." My uncle meant this and I took this as a compliment since English teaching has made my pronunciating much better than in the past.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ain't Nobody In Here But Us Chickens

(PICTURE: Mark and the chicken cleaning crew.)

One of my favorite Broadway Musicals ever was a show called "Five Guys Named Moe" based around the music of Louis Jordan. One of the hits that always brings a smile to my face is the song, "Ain't Nobody In Here But Us Chickens." Here's the chorus:

There ain't nobody here but us chickens
There ain't nobody here at all
So calm yourself,
And stop your fuss
There ain't nobody here but us
We chickens tryin' to sleep,
And you butt in
And hobble, hobble hobble hobble
With your chin

There ain't nobody here but us chickens
There ain't nobody here at all
You're stompin' around
And shakin' the ground,
You're kickin' up an awful dust
We chicken's tryin' to sleep
And you butt in
And hobble, hobble hobble hobble
It's a sin

So what does this have to do with my wedding? Well, during the an hoi celebration, there was a little commotion that got everyone's attention. Behind the karaoke/stage were a group of women who were preparing the chickens for the wedding the next morning. In true Vietnamese style, preparing included killing, bleeding out, boiling and plucking more than thirty chickens. Once it became known what was going on behind the curtain (Yes, I kept thinking of the Wizard of Oz's line, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.") every one of my guests found it necessary to take a look and snap off some pictures. At first the locals were into everyone taking pictures but after a while they just wanted to do their job without the paparazzi going crazy for chicken plucking photos.

At some point, Mark Morgan volunteered himself to help the crew with their job. He threw back his tie, grabbed a stool and started to pluck away. Mark took the saying "get your hands dirty" to a whole new level as he still had blood on his hands the next morning. Apparently it wouldn't come out with soap.

Every time I think about these scenes at the an hoi, "Ain't Nobody In Here But Us Chickens" keeps coming into my head. Fittingly the last lines of the song are these:

It's easy pickens,
Ain't nobody here but us chickens

(PICTURE: My favorite thing about this photo is Mark's tie.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Mother's Ao Dai

(PICTURE: My mom looking like the other Vietnamese women.)

On the second day that my parents were in town, Huyen and I went up to their hotel room. While we were leaving, my dad quickly shut the closet door in what couldn't have been a more conspicuous action. I asked him what he was hiding and he said it was a surprise. Naturally this got my brain working a million miles a minute trying to figure out what the surprise was. My guess was that my parents had put together a chuppah for the wedding similar to one that they had made for my brother's wedding. I was so confident about this theory that I eventually started questioning Huyen about whether or not she had been part of it. Well, like many times in my life, I was totally wrong.

I finally saw the surprise in the hotel, right before we departed for the an hoi. The surprise was that my mother had an ao dai made for herself. I must admit, I was very very surprised and extremely touched. I thought it was an awesome gesture by my mother to show her acceptance of the marriage and of Vietnamese culture. I don't know if she knew (mom, did you know) how touched I was because of the rush to get ready for the an hoi. However, every time I saw my mother at the ceremony, I felt a great sense of pride. It was truly an awesome thing to do.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Hoi Ceremony

(PICTURE: My five unmarried men holding the presents we gave to the Nguyens.)

I googled "An Hoi ceremony" to be able to explain exactly what we were doing the night before the wedding. Here's the first thing that came up:

Le an hoi (betrothal ceremony): Some time before the wedding, the groom and his family visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel leaves, tea, cake, fruits, wines and other delicacies covered with red cloth and carried by unmarried girls or boys. Both families agree to pick a good day for wedding.

By having picked a wedding date before the an hoi, we were clearly violating some Vietnamese traditions. In fact, we were in violation of a lot of Vietnamese traditions and tried our best to make up for it during the ceremony. As Huyen explained to my parents, usually a boys family has to ask the girls family three different times for permission for their relationship. The first is the "small ask" where the boys family asks the girl's family if they can meet each other. The "second ask" is when the boy's family asks the girl's family if they can date. The final "big ask" is when they ask for permission to marry. At our an hoi, my parents acknowledged that they hadn't taken these steps because of the proximity of our homes. They then combined all three asks into one and luckily got permission for me to marry Huyen.

(PICTURE: My parents asking the three questions. The Vietnamese version of the Passover four questions.)

After being given permission to marry Huyen, I for one breathed a giant sigh of relief. As mentioned, I know my family and friends love me but I'm sure they would have been quite pissed to have traveled around the world to not have a wedding. It was a good thing we asked for permission early in the day though because things got a little bit craaaaaaaaaaaaazy as the sun went down!

(PICTURE: Me and my finally official fiance who looked absolutely beautiful in her ao dai.)

Right after the ceremony, everyone sat down to eat a huge meal. The food was delicious which was only topped by the homemade rice wine. I had been fearing that my crew wouldn't like the rice wine but those fears quickly disappeared. Before I knew it, friends (Anthony and Mark) were figuring out ways to take the wine home with them to America. Many bottles (the wine was placed in used plastic water bottles) were finished before the sunset. The consumption of alcohol put everyone in an even better mood and helped get the party going...and what a party it was.

Some of the highlights in no particular order were:

1. Family and friends trying betel. There were mixed reactions to chewing on the nut which gave more than a couple people a pretty strong buzz.

2. Everyone being subjected to extremely loud music. Huyen and I literally asked the DJ about 12 times to turn the volume down. Each time he would put up a slight protest and then turn the dial...only to gradually turn it back up to deafening levels. Eventually we just started going over and turning the dial ourselves.

(PICTURE: Urszula and her dancing partner.)

3. Dancing, dancing and more dancing. Sebastian's mother Urszula lead the charge on the dance floor and never stopped breaking it down until we went home. In a moment none of us will soon forget, she started dancing with a 70+, four foot tall, village woman who I'm sure has never danced before in her life. The woman was having the time of her life getting down to the beats with Urszula. However, the woman's daughter must have feared that the excitement was too much for her mother so she eventually pulled her off the dance floor. About thirty minutes later though, the mother sneaked away from her daughter and started dancing again. It was classic. What was also classic was seeing Huyen's father on the dance floor. Huyen's father is such a great guy and just loves to have fun. Seeing him dance with a giant smile on his face is something I'll always cherish.

(PICTURE: Some of the kids that turned into dancing machines when the sun went down.)

4. Kids, kids and more kids. Every kid from the village showed up to the party; how could they not with the music blaring so loudly. The kids had quite the moves and were taught new ones by Mark, Anthony, Dave and Elissa.

(PICTURE: Singing the Kingston Trio hit "Tom Dooley" with my sister and dad. My childhood road trips prepared us for this moment.)

5. Singing, singing and more singing. Eventually we stopped the dance music and began to karaoke. As I've documented many times on the blog, I'm not a huge karaoke fan. However, it was perhaps the greatest time of my life doing karaoke with family and friends in the middle of Huyen's village.

(PICTURE: Anthony rocking it out.)

6. Everyone having fun. It was truly awesome seeing all of my friends and family having a great time. I'm pretty sure nobody knew what to expect going into this event and it turned out to be one of the best parties of everyone's life. Most importantly though, the locals had an awesome time. There were many moments when my friends and family asked me, "Are these people going to think we're crazy?" or "Are they having fun too?". I kept asking Huyen if everyone was having a good time and the answer was always yes. You could see it on everyone's faces as there were very few without a smile.

(PICTURE: Me with some happy locals.)

It ended up being a perfect night; you know, besides the fact that Huyen's parents said I could marry her. In truth, the an hoi was definitely a lot more fun than the wedding. However, the wedding was much more special...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Huyen!

(PICTURE: The birthday girl in Trang An, the morning after our wedding.)

Happy birthday to my amazing wife!!!!

I'd like to say that being married to me is the gift that keeps on giving but I'm not sure that line will make Huyen feel good if I don't give her a birthday present. After months of hard work putting together our wedding, Huyen deserves a phenomenal birthday. The problem with a Monday birthday though is that it doesn't allow for the proper celebration time that is due for one's special day. Sooooo, Huyen will get an extended birthday this year with a few different gifts along the way. I'll post about all of that though in some future blogs when all the wedding blogs have run their course...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hotel Stress

(PICTURE: The hotel bathroom, sans shower curtain.)

Coming into the wedding, one of the things I was most worried about was how my family and friends would react to the hotel we were staying at the night before the big day. I blogged about this a month or so ago, but to summarize, Huyen and had decided to stay at a hotel near her village the night before the wedding so that guests wouldn't have to brave the Vietnamese highways any more than absolutely necessary. In order to do this though, our guests would have to brave a typical Vietnamese small city hotel. We chose the nicest hotel in Phu Ly, which isn't really saying much. To put things in perspective, this hotel had a jewelry shop on the first floor, a cafe and pool hall on the second floor and some sort of restaurant on the third floor.

Here were my fears/stresses in no particular order:
1. The beds would be wayyyyyy too hard for people used to soft beds.
2. The hotel wouldn't be clean enough for everyone.
3. People would be worried that every criminal in the area would descend on the hotel once they saw 24 foreigners get off a giant pink bus.
4. That there was no room service...or any service of any kind for that matter.
5. That the showers didn't have curtains.

Although some people ended up making a comment or two about #5, the other fears didn't seem to bother anyone. However, that didn't mean I didn't suffer some serious stress at the hotel. Firstly, we arrived at the hotel and only had 30 minutes to check in and get ready before we had to depart for the an hoi (the ceremony where my parents must ask for permission for me to marry Huyen). Yeah, 30 minutes for 24 people to get ready after a day of sightseeing and sitting on a bus.

When the bus pulled up to the hotel, I jumped off and grabbed a couple of bags and headed to the front desk to manage the check-in process. The hotel was incredibly prepared and had keys laid out for 15 different rooms. Slowly but surely people took the one elevator up to the fourth floor or lugged their way up the four flights of stairs. While I was checking everyone in, I was barraged with a serious of questions like: "Why isn't there toilet paper in the room?" or "Is there heat?" or "Why isn't there a sheet on my bed?" or "Why do I have to give them my passport?". These were probably questions which could have been answered later in the evening but for whatever reason people wanted immediate responses too.

One question people didn't ask me though was, "Did you take up your dad's black carry-on bag with all of his medication?" The answer to that question was yes. In fact, it was right at my feet for everyone to see. What I didn't know was that four flights below me were my parents and a few relatives who were all having borderline heart attacks looking for my dad's bag. My father naturally panicked when his bag wasn't on the bus and thought someone had stolen it. Nobody thought to think that maybe some idiot (me) who was trying to be helpful took the bag upstairs. Anyway, at some point someone walked into the lobby and said to me, "Your dad is freaking out downstairs because he can't find his medication bag." As we sorted the situation out and got pulses back to normal, someone mentioned that Huyen had been called during the search for the bag. The last thing in the world I wanted was for Huyen to be bothered before the ceremony so I tried to call her back to tell her that everything was okay. But this turned out to be one more small stress -- my phone had run out of money. To put into perspective how many people were calling me with questions over the previous couple of days, my phone had run out of pre-paid money fifteen times faster than it usually does.

Well, after checking everyone into their room and answering about 293 questions, I had ten minutes to get ready. Luckily it doesn't take a groom as long to get ready as a bride. I went to my room which I was sharing with my sister and quickly jumped into the shower. At some point I heard Hannah say, "Oh no, I broke the table." Turns out ironing on a glass table top isn't a good idea. The broken table though turned out to be the only casualty in the panic to get ready. Miraculously everyone was good to go right on time and we headed to the an hoi where all of our fingers were crossed that Huyen's parents would accept Huyen marrying into my family. I just thanked my lucky stars that they hadn't been at the hotel during the panic mode or else they surely would have sent us all packing back to America.