Not sure if this post will be really related to my practice experience, but I wanted to share.
One of the greatest privileges that I have had while I have been in Vietnam is the ability to travel to different places around the country. When I went to Quan Lan, I spent less than $50 for three days. The hotel costed < $15 dollars night, split that between 4 people and it’s less than $5 a night. It was super clean. It included a hot water, two beds, blankets, air conditioning, and a really nice view. Where can you get that in America? No where.
A lot of the international people that I’ve met here, travel nearly every week, easily taking days off work to be a tourist. This just brings in a concrete example of “voluntourism”. Most of us aren’t here for very long, and then, we take off more days to travel and have some fun. I haven’t been traveling that much because 1, my first priority here is to do my practice experience and I feel like I just can’t take so many days off even though my organization would not mind so much and 2, I can’t afford to travel around every week.
But last week, I took off two days to go to Can Tho because I went to see my family. Can Tho is a city in southern Vietnam.
I flew there on Friday afternoon and was picked up at the airport by two of my aunts.
[Digression: To explain the relationship of my family members to me is a little difficult because they’re not directly my aunts and uncles (not my father’s or mother’s siblings), they’re more like my paternal grandmother’s nieces and their kids. It’s kind of difficult to write that all the time, so I am just going to keep it simple with “aunt” or “cousin”.]
I was taken to one of aunts’ house, where I was quickly brought me upstairs and showed me my room. I noticed a few things.
- My aunt has a 3 story house. The house is narrow and tall, as many buildings in Vietnam are. But, I could tell that she and her husband have a little bit of money to afford this house. People in Ha Noi own houses too, but they’re usually in very cramped in neighborhoods.
- My room had air conditioning and my own bathroom. Wow! I have never had that before, not even in the States.
I was quickly showered in fresh fruit and bottles of water. I ate mang cut (mangosteen, LOVE these), mang cau (cherimoya), and bon bon (not chocolate, but I am not sure of the English name for this. My aunts were so worried that I would be hungry from the plane, so they even brought me to the restaurant next door where I ate lunch.
Mind, this was happening at around 4pm, and they were expecting me to eat again at 6pm, when we went to the wedding.
So, I chose this weekend to go because I was going to attend a wedding. My grandma’s niece’s wedding.
Would you like me to explain what happens, or what I understand, at a traditional Vietnamese wedding? Well, first thing to say is that the wedding typically happens over two days. So, the first night was like a wedding reception. We celebrated at a restaurant with food and this was where I met a lot of new aunts, cousins, and grandparents (grandparents’ siblings). Everyone was so nice and wanted to meet me. I took pictures with a lot of people, and I just was just meeting them for the first time.
The reception was nice, and food was good (food is always good). There was live performances from people they knew. It was really funny because one of my aunts actually went up to sing and in the middle, she didn’t know all the words. So, her husband pulled them up for her on his phone, but she couldn’t really see on the small screen. But, she still continued to sing; I thought that was amusing and sweet. The reception ended early (around 7:30-8), which is different from the ones I have been to in the States.
Then, I went to go have some coffee with my aunts, all of whom I’ve just met. But, they were really kind. They drove me around the city, so I could see Can Tho at night. They took me to a meet one of my grandpa’s siblings and daughter. We sat a coffee shop for a while.
This is a picture of me in front of a huge statue of Uncle Ho Chi Minh:
They finally took me back to the bride’s house, where we had part of the wedding ceremony. It’s when the “bride is given gifts from her family before she goes off to live with her husband”. It’s a very sweet ceremony. Brides are typically given money and jewelry, anything that she may need in case of emergencies. Then, we have a some wine, as if to say we drink to the occasion. It was like a farewell. I had to represent my grandparents, her aunt and uncle, in that ceremony. They wanted me to say something to her as message from my grandparents, but I couldn’t. I wish I did though, at least some words in English.
The wedding continued the next morning, where the groom and his family are supposed to bring over offerings or gifts to present to the bride’s family. The women of the bride’s family stand outside to accept them. I was one of those women. We brought them inside and there were 8 different things (though I can’t remember them all): wine, fruits, chicken, xoi (sweet sticky rice), and other things.
Then, we all got on a bus to drive to Soc Trang. Soc Trang is a city about 70 km from Can Tho. This was the family’s way of escorting her to that family that she will live and take care of for the rest of her life.
There was tea ceremony there, and a lunch at a restaurant. The lunch was like a reception too. The bride and groom were officially introduced as bride and groom. Their parents were introduced and it was a celebration. The bride and groom went around to every table, where they had a drink and accepted wedding gifts.
And that was the end of the wedding.
We all boarded the bus back to Can Tho. We actually stopped for a bit at a pagoda on the way. There were monkeys.
Everyone was really tired though. I don’t really remember what I did for the rest of the evening. I remember hanging out with my cousins in the living room at night. My dad had Skyped us at one point, and he talked to my aunt (his cousin).
Some things about the wedding:
- The bride probably had 5 different different dresses. She was dressed in 2 ao dai ‘s (traditional Vietnamese dress), and 3 wedding dress / ball gown style dresses. She looked so beautiful. I didn’t notice what the bride was wearing.
- The father of the bride actually speaks a lot. He is the representative and the head of the family, so he gives his daughter and always says a few words. He extends to the father of the groom. I bet my grandpa is happy that his daughter got married, his youngest.
- I didn’t understand a lot that was said.
So, the wedding was two days of my weekend. The next two days were spent with different family members and eating different foods. I was eating ALL day in Can Tho. On the day I left, my aunt literally took me to 4 different places, saying that I needed to try these foods because I wouldn’t be able to. She did that in 4 hours.
Things about the trip overall:
- I love my family. I had just met many of them, but they took such good care of me. They made sure I was comfortable and having fun. They even made sure that I brought back things for my family back at home. They kept telling me to stay longer in VN or to come back soon and bring my parents. They took me anywhere I wanted. I really miss them now.
- I drank like two cups of ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) everyday. It’s sooooo good, but soooo bad. Well, only in Vietnam, right?
- I went to sing karaoke one night, and it was so hard because I didn’t know any Vietnamese, and there weren’t many English songs. I sang a Lady Gaga song and a Hilary Duff song, but it was SUPER awkward because I was the only that could sing the English songs. Hahaha. But, my family was still supportive, and my family sings with no shame. They’re all really good though.
- I went to meet one of my grandpas. It was really funny because he originally spoke to me in Vietnamese, and then, he switched to French. Yes, French. And I told him that I don’t really understand. But, he persisted. He even brought out a pen and paper and started writing the French words out for me to see, hoping that would jog my memory or something. My cousin even told him that I understand Vietnamese…. but, from the little French I know, I understood that my grandpa was a interpreter for the Vietnamese government when he was younger. He had also helped build some building that he was living next to. Overall, his life was impressive, and I really liked him.
- Can Tho is like a dialed down version of Ha Noi. From what I know about Sai Gon and Ha Noi, Can Tho is more like Ha Noi. In terms of the streets, the bodies of water, the look of it. It’s hard to explain.
- I could understand 95% of the Vietnamese that was spoken in Can Tho. You know why??? Because everyone spoke in my accent!! I didn’t realize how much I could really understand until I was surrounded by the familiar sounds. I am sooo proud myself.
The accent thing is definitely a thing that could butcher understanding.
- The first three days, the weather was fine and cool (much cooler than Ha Noi). On the fourth and final day, I wanted to go to the floating market, but it was raining heavily. Sad.
- People sell a lot of lottery tickets. So, you know how I said that at Sa Pa, the Hmong came up to me and tried to sell me things? They would stick their products in your face and ask you to buy it? Well, it’s kind of the same for lottery tickets in Can Tho.
- And my family members buy it once in a while. They say that if they win, they would have enough to visit America.
I learned a lot about my family that weekend, and even though it was so short, I am so happy that I went at all. I hope to return soon.
Over and out.