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...