When the opportunity to go to a traditional event comes up, I am eager and excited. An awesome one that I enjoyed was an engagement party, to which I was invited by a woman who worked in an office on campus. We have had some pleasant conversations and she said she wanted me to see one of their customs. It seems to be different from the Western notion, like part one of the wedding. It was at 9AM Sunday morning and the official ceremony is 2 weeks later, on a Friday morning.
When I arrived there were a few puzzled looks. I was the only foreigner around. Someone quickly spoke English and invited me to come in to sit. The bride came to welcome me. She was absolutely gorgeous, in her ao dai (tunic and pants) with heavy embroidery and beads. All ladies in the family also wore theirs. The men wore Western suits or shirt and tie.
The entry had a flowered trellis. Guests were in an adjacent tent. The bride’s family and party lined up when word came that the groom and family were arriving. They come bearing gifts to ask for the woman’s hand. The groomsmen presented large, heavy baskets to the bridesmaids.
The families were hard to see but an emcee described gifts, exchanging of rings (plain gold bands), and paying homage to ancestors. Someone translated for me. Excellent singers provided entertainment. Then a FEAST began. It was a 13 or 15 course meal of delicious food for the 200 or so guests. The bride and groom went to each table for a toast, then the four parents did the same. When formalities were done the bride even spent time where I was, and arranged a ride home for me. (On a motor bike where I had to ride sideways since I was wearing a dress).
In other opportunities to be with local people, I have been volunteering to teach English. One place is a massage spa where the therapists have visual impairments. They want to cater to foreigners living here and tourists. There is a problem of sexual harassment in the industry, especially sensitive for these young, disabled people, some who are naïve, coming from rural areas. In return for the classes I enjoy great massages. There is also a hospitality and handicrafts school. Their clientele will include foreigners, but even their teachers speak English hesitantly.
I thought I came to do one thing and I find that my satisfaction and pleasure are coming from different situations. I do want to fulfill my responsibilities and do the work well. The others activities are like dessert after the main course. That’s always my favorite part of any meal anyway
- Yanick Douyon, WorldTeach Vietnam 2013-2014.
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