Christmas is being spent in Northumberland with family. Today included a trip to a fresh, breezy, blue-skied Tynemouth – the anti-Hanoi.
Yesterday we got married again. This time with the whole family present, sisters, kids etc and a lovely day was had by all.
For a number of reasons, 2012 has been a trying year for us. In October, on our anniversary, I asked Loan to marry me (again) and yesterday was the culmination of that. It also seemed to break a run of bad luck. Since then a new job has been secured by me and a new cafe opened by Loan.
All of the above means that, for the first time in 12 months, we’re absolutely committed to Hanoi. We wobbled this year and the wobbling made us more unhappy than anything Hanoi could throw at us. In the end all we needed to know was our near future would work out and when that fell into place we happily settled again.
Beyond this the only thing I need to really love/survive Hanoi is an annual day like today in Tynemouth. Head, sinuses and cobwebs cleared.
I will hate Hanoi again. In the middle of next summer, in a pool of sweat, I’ll dream of windy Tynemouth but I’ll also love Hanoi many many times inbetween.
Happy Christmas to all. I hope your year is ending as well as mine is.
I’m taking advantage of the immobility of a bad back to catch up on the blog which has been left idle for some time now.
These pictures our from my sister-in-law Diep’s wedding. It was agreed that I would be photographer. I had mixed feelings about this. I know that is the dark greyness of Tet I’d had my work cut out to try and get anything even vaguely useable without the flash constantly going off and making everything look unnatural. They’re not great but I think I just about got away with it.
On the plus side, a camera in my hand gave me something to keep me occupied with us spending 12 hours there. On more than one occasion I was told “get the camera and get out quick” as a drunken uncle zig zagged over to me with rice wine drinking in mind. It’s hard to say no and yet once you’ve said yes once, you’re a goner.
The second pic is the same location and tent as the lunchtime do for our wedding. However there weren’t the tall buildings behind then. The lovely little enclave of Hanoi where the inlaws live is slowly being ringed by development. I hope they can keep their own walls intact in what is a lovely quiet community – kids playing in the streets and all.
The happy couple look as nervous in the shots as I did in ours. Now Diep is living with her inlaws, as is the way of things here.
When I married my wife she was the first of four sisters to find a husband.
On our way back to Vietnam we learn youngest sister is next up.
We hear the news when we text from Newcastle airport. We arrive jetlagged in Hanoi the best part of a day later.
Just as I start to take for granted the following day off, the last before work starts again, the family swing into action.
My wife is summoned to talk weddings.
We drive across town in now cold, damp and wet Hanoi. On arrival father in law offers me a brandy. I say no half a dozen times before I give up and just drink the thing.
They discuss the plan.
Since I have last been in the room the family had purchased a large flat screen TV. It plays continually over the top of the conversation.
I am referred to only once. Could I take the pictures? Every picture I have ever taken has been on auto setting. This is too much pressure but my protests fall on deaf ears. The decision is made.
A couple of hours later we return. It takes the best part of an hour through traffic. Hanoi is now wetter and colder still.
Soon-to-be-married sister follows us to try on my wife’s ao dai and wedding dress. A friend of my wife’s turns up to pick up the baby clothes she requested we purchase on her behalf when we were in the UK. They start a long conversation about how cheap shirts are in Britain. This will surely mean buying shirts for this lady’s entire extended family next time we travel.
Then an alarm goes off on my wife’s phone. A reminder. It’s her brother’s birthday! In all the wedding planning it has been forgotten. She rings the family home. Father in law isn’t happy at the oversight so invites us all the way back for an impromptu birthday dinner.
My wife, sensing that I may not fancy another trip across town and yet more wedding chat, plays up my cold. I am excused.
She goes. They eat hotpot with prawns and squid. I stay at home and eat half the “quiet dinner” I had prepared for the two of us before birthday plans evolved.
The engagement (an hoi) and wedding are scheduled between now and Tet. No time like the present. Nothing is finalised but I’m keeping my shoes shined and suit pressed.
My boss has been warned that family events could come at any point and I will need to be excused from work.
It’s good to be back.
Grooms should be given the same advice as football players at a cup final – take time to enjoy the day or it’ll pass in a haze.
Even now, just over a week on, it seems like it happened to someone else. A Vietnamese blue marquee event in the morning with a cast of hundreds. A smattering of my extended Vietnamese family and assorted must-invitees from “their countryside”.
Then later a lakeside reception with a smaller more international crowd.
It started the night before which became an impromptu stag do with friends that had arrived from home. It wasn’t meant to be that way. Two beers with a mate fresh off the plane, followed by two more at dinner. Parents headed back to the house while friends promised just a couple more. Then they switched allegiances, twisting my arm to stay for a further three then four.
But I needed it. I was dead on my feet that week. Work pressures, worry and stress. I needed those friends from home just as I needed the night out.
The next morning. A headachey start. A beautiful day. Undoubtedly the most beautiful of the year.
Our minibus to the bride’s home is repeatedly stuck in traffic due to Asean motorcades. The bride is kept waiting at the altar. She calls. Friends giggle at the earbashing they imagine I’m receiving.
Then, by this time sweating, I climb the stairs again. Now with both bride and father in law. We approach the altar at the top of the house – dedicated to family ancestors. We burn incense.
We are married.
A short walk to the marquee – greeting people outside as they arrive and again, individually at tables. Both sets of parents joining us as we go table to table shaking hands and clinking glasses.
Soon I’m taking my wife home. In the evening she is to swap her traditional ao dai for a western white wedding dress. That means we can’t set off for the reception together – I want to be surprised by that dress too. I get there early to do the greeting – she is to arrive later for a big entrance.
Her “Here Comes the Bride” music is the Local Hero theme. We both love the film but it’s also a private joke for me and friends from Newcastle. Local Hero is the music my team run out to. I meet her at the gate and we pose like a red carpet couple – flash photography surrounds us. She looks heart stoppingly beautiful.
I am aware of my lip wobbling and my eyes watering.
And we do what you do. We mingle – often apart. Trying to spend time with each guest. Trying to introduce those on their own to others. We intend to not get involved in the running of the event but we have to sort out music and the timing and after we’ve eaten – the speech.
My father in law spoke at the lunch time event so now it’s our turn. My Father thanks everyone and, in the absence of a best man, I make a longer speech.
My notes soon go out the window. I tell how we met. I tell them how I had to fight myself not to ask Loan to marry me after only two weeks. I thank my parents for their ongoing support and their understanding. I thank my friends for making the long long trip to Hanoi.
Incredibly, without those notes I almost forgot to thank my inlaws. To do so would be unthinkable. I remember in the nick of time. Just before the toast.
Glasses are raised: “To the bride!”
Glitter cannons go off. We’re in a whirl of smiles now. We fill a pyramid of champagne glasses. Already undrinkable Russian champagne made literally poisonous by a “dry ice” chemical in the glasses.
And then the first dance. Grow Old With Me. The Glen Campbell version.
And these are the moments. Whole minutes perhaps. Speeches, glitter, smiling friends, dancing with my girl, other couples joining in.
And the look on Loan’s face is as it should be. Like she too thought she would never enjoy such a moment. A moment not just worth the stress, hassle and expense of a wedding but also a lifetime wait.
Grow old along with me. The best is yet to come.
Then dancing and drinking. Good times. The group slowly diminishing and then, with the music off, stragglers sit around to talk a while.
Before long Taxis come and soon it’s just us again.
Being Vietnamese, my wife asks for the buffet leftovers as takeaway.
It being Hanoi we drive the short distance home by scooter. The five foot sober bride drives in her wedding dress. The six foot, worse-for-wear groom is on the back, carrying armfuls of presents.
Most of the day is already a haze. Most but not all.
A life together starts here.
Grow old along with me
Two branches of one tree
Face the setting sun
When the day is done