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 pagoda...at 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!