If you think Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are the only ones who have perfected crashing weddings you are sadly mistaken. Although, admittedly with Vince and Owen the crashing is intentional but for some of us...crashing a wedding is just one of those lucky days.
My big entry into the crashing wedding world occurred on February 20, 2005 when I was in SaPa, Vietnam—a destination that is famous for its jaw-dropping scenery, trekking and a springboard to visiting the traditional Hilltribe markets. Sadly, for me and my travelling campaigns a thick fog had rolled in and the only landscape we could take in was the scenery captured on postcards. Not unlike Vince and Owen we had a plan--a good plan but plans do not always turn out the way you expect.
For me and my travelling companions—two New Zealanders and two fellow Canadians making the best of the situation involved renting a jeep and armed with a tour guide we headed to the Tram Tom Pass where the weather was rumored to be clear. Fortunately for us, the rumour proved to be correct and as soon as we approached the pass the dense fog lifted, and we caught a glimpse of what we’d been missing. The view was spectacular—rolling green terraces, mountains, jagged rocks and for those of us who get carsick (moi!) a welcome sight because we would soon be getting out of the car to visit the traditional Binhlu and Tam Doung villages.
Our jeep turned down a narrow dirt road and slowly made its way past a crowd of 50 villagers congregating in the yard. As the jeep rolled by all eyes gravitated to the vehicle. As soon as it registered that there was a load of foreigners on board the yard erupted and we were frantically waved over. Curious as to what was going on the 5 of us pilled out of the jeep and headed towards our expectant hosts. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon a wedding. It was day #2, the bride and groom were long gone but the remaining family and friends were still in the process of consuming vast quantities of the local hooch. So needless to say…they were just a weeeeee bit happy. And, the festivities were about to ramp up even further.
As soon as we crossed the threshold we were embraced by smiles and a lot of laughter; our hands were sought out and within seconds we became part of a large dancing circle. The entertainment had arrived! and it was in the form of 5 unsuspecting foreigners. Our dancing partners were little old ladies whose faces were fold upon folds of wrinkles, twinkling charcoal eyes, blacked teeth, red stained mouths and a grip—these old girls swung our arms back and forth with an exuberance that had my eyes watering. I might have enjoyed the dancing a little more if I hadn’t been resisting the urge to cry. In all the excitement by the time we finished dancing and the little old lady loosened her vice like grip my left hand was red, throbbing and my ring was bent (I do not exaggerate).
There was some shuffling as family members vacated their seats and we were ushered into a circle of white plastic chairs. All the wedding guests were watching our every move and smiling, laughing and pointing. True to Vietnamese hospitality tea was served. I watched as tea was a poured into previously used, white chipped cups—fearful that the water had not been boiled long enough but not wanting to offend the generosity of our gracious hosts we sipped our afternoon tea.
One of the Canadians shared some of his smokes with the men and this went over VERY well with the fellas. They were so appreciative that our hosts reciprocated with a round of the local hooch. Now, if one has ever had the pleasure of sampling Vietnamese hooch you are aware that it is not a tasty beverage that is delicately sipped over a leisurely afternoon. Hooch is shot back in one fierce gulp. After numerous samplings, I can assure you that regardless of where the hooch is made the route to the stomach is not an enjoyable one. It’s a raw burning that begins in the throat and explodes in the stomach with an inferno like power that could heat the city of Toronto during the month of January. After two days of consuming the homemade brew, it would appear that the wedding guests didn’t mind the taste.
As I sat on my white plastic chair, stomach nicely heated grinning as a means of communicating with our wedding hosts—I remembered that my Nana had provided me with an ample supply of Canadian Flag pins. I figured…now would be as good of time as any to distribute the pins to our hosts. If the smokes were a hit with the fellas, the pins proved to be an even bigger crowd pleaser for both young and old. I distributed the pins until I had no more to give. Even adults came over to me to shyly request pins and were deeply disappointed when I had no more to give.
After a demonstration and some pinning assistance a peak around our circle revealed a contented bunch. Even the old guys were grinning like kids proudly displaying their Canadian Flag pins on worn suit jackets. Suddenly some instructions were given in Vietnamese and the old girls were off in a flash and came back carrying a tray of goodies to fix us a little something special.
I watched in awe as my smiling black toothed, red stained mouth dance partner selected a broad green leaf from a pile, smeared some white paste on it and proceeded to wrap it with red bark. She made 5 and handed the finished products to her tourist guests. I found myself thinking...this can’t be good…if the tea and hooch didn’t have me running to the bathroom this little bark package was bound to get me. Years of regular trips to the dentist, braces, faithful brushing and dedicated flossing was about to go out the window.
Not wanting to offend our new friends, I accepted our betel nut packages and partook in the local chewing custom. I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, all the while trying to figure out how long I would have to chew before it would be safe to swallow. For me, betel nut tasted just as you would think tree bark would taste and after a few minutes of continuous grinding I was wondering how the heck I was going to get this down. Luckily, before any attempts were made to swallow the betal our guide informed us that we were to spit it out. And, he also addressed my dental concerns that betel nut wouldn’t cause any lasting damaging; it only made your mouth a little numb and relaxed you.
As the last remnants of betel nut hit the ground, it was time to abandon the wedding. With a heartfelt thank you to our lovely hosts, we all piled back into the jeep to animatedly relive the whole wedding experience all the way back to SaPa. I’d like to think that the wedding party was just as thrilled as we were and would reiterate every detail to the absent bride and groom of how a group of crazy foreigners crashed their wedding.
For us, crashing the wedding was a welcomed glimpse at true Vietnamese hospitality outside of the traditional tourist stops. An experience that didn’t require a common language to appreciate each other’s company. I’m sure that both Vince and Owen would agree that crashing weddings doesn’t always turn out the way you would expect and perhaps, you get a little more than you bargained for.
I have LONG since returned to Canada and the red stain has long faded from my mouth, but my ring is still bent and is a delightful reminder of the day me and my travelling companions stumbled upon a Vietnamese wedding. When I look at my mangled ring, I smile and remember: firstly, how much it hurt and secondly, when crashing a wedding whether it be intentional or not, fasten your seat belt you’re destined for the ride of your life.
I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed I am not to be able to share a picture of us at the wedding. I took pics from the drive as per below but was so engrossed by the goings on at the wedding... not one. So I'll have to leave it to my memory and your imagination.
Activist, World traveller. Fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.