Oh, Great Mother, never again. I can’t believe I actually *did* that…
So, I spent yesterday morning wandering around Hoi An, and napping–I’ve been feeling a bit tired and so have been sleeping more than usual, to forestall any new colds. The vendors had all watched me wander around for several days now, and–this being a small town in Vietnam–everyone knows what everyone else is doing. So one of An’s friends (An was my guide for the long moto trip, the South Vietnam vet) hailed me as I passed, and we spent some time chatting about her ceramics shop and business. I told her I’d been invited to a wedding, and she was quite curious whose it was–unfortunately, I couldn’t tell her, since I hadn’t the slightest idea. But she wished me well anyway, thought the whole thing was absolutely hilarious, and waved hi to me as I walked by later, on my way to the wedding. (Somehow I have the feeling I’ve been providing fantastic gossip fodder in Hoi An.)
But I turned up at the seamstress’s shop anyway, at 3pm, and after a brief discussion we decided that bright orange with white silk pants was the way to go. One of her friends offered to do up my hair in traditional Vietnamese style–which appears to be a fairly simple, quasi-French braid in the back–so I sat down while three or four of them fussed with my hair and finally tied it with a slip of lovely blue-fuschia silk, chattering all the while. She took a photo, and we went off to the wedding.
Well, I discovered immediately that I was massively overdressed–everyone else was wearing jeans or a Western-style blazer or something, well, Western-looking. And here I was in a brilliant orange traditional Chinese outfit, looking very conspicuous. Normally being outrageous doesn’t particularly bother me, but when you’re crashing the wedding of someone whose name you don’t know and whom you’ve never actually met, accompanied by someone else you barely know, whose relation to the bride is totally unclear, it’s sometimes nice to be a little, well, low-key. Or lower-key. Or something. But at that point, it was a little late for that.
At any rate, I was sitting around trying to be inconspicuous, or at any rate as inconspicuous as you can be in a bright orange outfit with your companion showing you off to everyone in sight…fortunately, everyone was quite friendly, and insisted on feeding me all sorts of delicacies while we waited for the bride and groom to appear. (Apparently the ceremony takes place elsewhere; the “wedding” is really the reception.)
Eventually, the bride and groom did show up, she in a traditional white European dress, he in a conventional Western suit, and they started making the rounds around the tables. Apparently, the bride and groom go around all the tables and get toasted by everyone at each table (that’s all they do all evening); halfway through, the bride changes from the wedding dress to a more conventional evening gown. My companion introduced me to the bride as soon as she came by (so much for being inconspicuous!). I still have NO idea what the bride thought…but.
Anyway, while the bride and groom are doing the rounds, the guests traditionally provide entertainment. A musician plays backup while individual guests do progressively drunker and louder renditions of Vietnamese pop tunes.
…They made me sing.
I mean, just imagine it. You’ve crashed the wedding of someone you’ve never met, in a different country, you don’t speak the language and have no idea of what the customs are, and the next thing you know the entire table has gleefully signed you up to be the next singer on the program. Good gods.
Oh yeah, and I can’t sing.
So anyway, they propelled me up there, and took a bunch of gleeful photos with the bride and the groom. After a brief moment of complete panic, I launched into a rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” (it being the only thing I could come up with in five seconds–hey, *you* try thinking under that kind of pressure), with the accompanist following five bars behind, trying desperately to provide backing music to a tune he’d never heard before. It will probably go down as the single most embarrassing moment in recorded history, but everyone seemed highly amused, and took it in good spirits. I *hope* I didn’t mortally offend anyone…but my God. Talk about conspicuous. I absolutely wanted to DIE.
(On the way back, Mr. An’s friend with the ceramics shop hailed me and asked me how it went. I said, “They made me sing!” and she thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. I showed her photos of the bride and groom, and she said, “Oh! I know them!” so I’m sure there’s a lot of gossip floating around. Next year, before I come back, I’m having plastic surgery.
At any rate, I got back to my hotel, and almost immediately got a phone call from Mr. An, my guide. I don’t remember if I mentioned it, but he worked for the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam war, and has been trying to find some of his old American friends for decades…asking passing travelers if they know of them, or can help. I decided to do what I could–it is touching how fond he still is of the U.S., even after so many years (plus four years in a “reeducation”, i.e. concentration camp)–and had sent him some preliminary results, which made him very happy. So I had breakfast with him in the morning, before heading off to Hue.
(It is, incidentally, amazing how little money will make a difference to someone in the Third World…Mr. An is currently stressing because he can’t afford to send his oldest daughter to college. This is not an uncommon scenario in the U.S., of course, but…in Vietnam, college tuition, room, and board is $50/month, so an entire year is $450. Unfortunately, a “good salary” is $75/month, so it’s still out of reach. I am tempted to do something about this, but not until after I’m employed again.)
At any rate, I arrived in Hue, did one day trip to a palace, and here I am…tomorrow I go on a twelve-hour tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), and on New Year’s, I’ll head up to Hanoi.