The Other Wedding Tale

It was 7pm the night before the wedding. I was sat in a taxi with Mandy whom I’d just picked up from the airport after two flights totalling ten hours. We hadn’t seen each other for five years and Mandy needed to go back to Xian in two days, so I really wanted to make every minute count, catching up and having fun. There was a problem, though: I felt like throwing up.

7pm in downtown Hanoi means chaos. People drive carelessly in the half-light, trying to get home before meal time. It is not at all good for those with travel sickness like me. The fever that I had for the last few days did not exactly help either.

My stomach turned each time the driver slammed on the brake. My throat itched, but I dared not cough, terrified it would start off something nasty. I had to stop talking to Mandy because of nausea. I felt bad not being friendly, but I was more exhausted.

Somehow I survived the journey. Mandy and I got back to find my parents’ house in quite a state. Chairs, tables, and tea cups took up the ground floor without presenting an order. Water buckets stood among the chaos for some bizarre reason.

“Tap water is off. You can’t take a shower for a few hours” said Dad, taking Mandy’s suitcase into the house.


Dinner was ready at eight, plenty of food. My family tried hard to send me away full but had failed to anticipate the taxi journey.

The nausea was overwhelming: I couldn’t eat a thing. Weakened by the fever, I stayed ten minutes at the dining table before crawling away to bed.

The following two hours were blurry. I drifted in and out of sleep. Whenever I awoke, I tried to apologise to someone: Mandy whom I took to my home and left sitting in my room without any companion; my soon-to-be husband who worried sick about me on the phone; and my family who insisted on me eating at least something before the wedding day.

Rescue only came at 10pm. Miki – my best friend and my guardian angel – showed up with some salted plums for my travel sickness. She also took Mandy away leaving me to rest without feeling guilty. Finally, my dad managed to fix the water, so no smelly bride.

After a shower and many salted plums, I started to feel human again.

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7am the day of the wedding found me sat on the back of Miki’s scooter going to have my hair and makeup done at the salon. I would rather have had two more hours of sleep. Who could make me look pretty when I felt like such a heap of mess? Three hours before the groom arrived, I still ran a fever, cough heavily and breathed through a stuffy nose.

By 8:45am, I was back at the house. My hair was braided with playful curls and my lips were bright red to match my shoes.

I was supposed to have the photographer follow my taxi from the salon to my house, but he was nowhere to be seen. “I hope he’ll show up as I don’t really a plan B”, I told Miki over the phone. She went to have her makeup done with other bridesmaids.


Miki, on my wedding day


Downstairs, the house was packed with relatives and family friends. Most of the men stood outside, chatting away among themselves. They hardly noticed me slipping into the house.

I headed straight upstairs wearing my fancy red high-heels. Despite being very careful, I got the right heel caught in the back sleeve of the traditional “ao dar” I was wearing for the first ceremony. I heard a tiny tearing noise, but kept climbing.

The first floor was also packed. The women gathered to get changed and put each other’s makeup on. Each and every one of them seemed captured in that very moment, not noticing much else. I was happy to sit down at the edge of the bed, watching and taking it in. Then I realised the dresses for two of my bridesmaids were crumpled up at the far side of the bed. My bridesmaids were nowhere to be seen, either.

I remember a lot of phone calls following to make sure everyone who needed to be there would be (and that they would wear the right costume). I remember feeling so hot, though it was only April. My nose was sweating so profusely that I was never more grateful for an air conditioner and paper napkins.

When the clock hands moved into their 10am position, I was finally alone (waiting for my man to come rescue me). Everyone went downstairs to welcome the groom and his troop. Somehow none of the noise, neither the speeches nor a clap, traveled upstairs. It was all very quiet – the calm before a storm.


It had been one year since the day the two families first sat down together and picked the rough date. Twelve months did not seem enough as the logistics were never ending.

My parents wanted to hold the wedding in Vietnam, so many guests – including Ian and I – had thousands of miles to travel. Visas, tickets, accommodation – you name it.

Communication was another challenge as most of two families speak either English or Vietnamese, not both. Not to mention that there was always someone who refused to listen to any reason.

For months, I kept telling Ian that if there was no fighting, no shouting and no-one leaving our wedding in tears, I’d call it a success.

Apparently it was a success!


Even Gau was not crying in this photo

Everything went as planned, even though the three-hour schedule was tightly packed with three different ceremonies, two venues, one reception and quite some changing of clothes. The only minor delay was due to me not being able to change out of my “ao dai” and into the wedding dress in time. I had to get changed in front of ten other girls as there was no time to be spared for embarrassment. Four of them actually joined force to make the dress stay on me, yet still it took them like 20 minutes.


You can’t come in yet, still changing…


Another time, I shall tell you why I had to wear a wedding dress on top of a traditional dress, but I can tell you right now that it wasn’t worth it. Despite how glamorous a wedding dress might look in photos, nothing is worth feeling overheated and afraid you might not be able to stand up if you sit down.



“My hips hurt, actually!”


However, I did it. I smiled in most of the photos. My loving husband constantly padded my nose with a napkin to stop the streaming sweat from ruining my makeup, so I presumed that I looked pretty in all photos. The photographer did catch me in a weak moment drinking from a glass of terrible champaign, which is made solely for toasting purposes.



Guess I drink this one then

Others said that the wine at the reception was nice. I didn’t have even a single sip. Instead, I drank horrific pink champaign out of pure exhaustion.

Others said the food was nice. I couldn’t eat. Besides, as a friend of mine pointed out, a proper bride was only  “allowed” to stand greeting and thanking the guests, not sitting down to eat.

Being proper or not, it did not matter to me then and does not now. What matters is that Ian did come to rescue me.  He held my hand tightly and nudged me forwards. His broad smile reminded me why I walk the line. When all were full, tipsy and ready to go back to their everyday life, he stayed and got back to being my everyday life. There is one thing that differs: he is now my husband.


Guess who’s in my team now 😉


Over the Edge

Very slowly I swam further away from the shore. I aimed for the line that was made visible by the obvious change in the colour of the sea water. On the other side of the line, it was a lot darker, signifying a bottom so far down that one could not see through to it even though it’s definitely there.

The closer I was to the line, the more slowly I swam because I knew what’s waiting. I had put my face down several times and I had seen the big drop. My sweetheart was out there, telling me all about flocks of colourful fish. I know he hoped the fish would sound like a reasonable payoff for venturing out of my depth. It was actually his hopefulness, more than the promise, that pushed me.

Though unwillingly, I kept moving towards the line. When I were closed enough, I put my face down to find some cool fish hanging around the cliff. They were was as beautiful as he promised,but I got to turn right back. I felt my breathing shortened fast as soon as I put my face down. Breathing under water through the snorkelling mask just seemed all unnatural and wrong. My brain couldn’t handle it, and I found myself turning back to the shore.

It’s only when I had my feet firmly on the sea bed, I could believe what had happened. I had faced my fear swimming out to the deep sea.

For the large part of my adolescent years and up until that very morning, I was daunted by the sea and its fearsome waves. I chose to stayed very close to the beach and very far from any strong waves so I could avoid any possibility of being nearly drowned like I was once.

I would forever be humble before the ocean and the power in its vastness, but I have stepped over the boundary I drew for myself many years ago.


Saying it literally: I have swum.



Gili Trawangan: A morning run

After a two-month break from running, this morning’s jog was deliberately challenging. I am on Gili Trawangan, a 3-km long, 2-km wide island. That means I could, in theory, run around the entire island. However, such a jog got to be torturous unless one runs at midnight in the rain for the heat seems unbearable any other time of the day.

When it rained yesterday’s evening, my host told me it’s the first time in three months. It lasted longer than normal tropical showers, so I calculated that the morning wouldn’t be so hot. Man, I was quite wrong.

As I set out at 7am, there was no hint of the late hour rain but some damp sandy paths spotted with puddles. I started on the shadowy back streets where riders were giving their horses the morning wash before heading out to pick up tourists. This part was nice and pleasant, but did not last very long. Gili Trawangan is pretty small, remember?

As soon as I reached the beach front, the extreme heat attacked every single cell of my body. Sweat streamed down my face. My habitual reaction was to wipe it off, but I had to give up after a while because it seemed so useless. I pushed on through resorts and restaurants on both sides to get to the quiet beach in the North. By the time I got there, my top was totally soaked, and I counted myself stupid for not bringing any water or money to buy some.

The northern part is quiet enough so that one can see a relatively long stretch of beach without being interrupted by a snorkelling boat or some sun beds. I got a spur from the space and picked up on my speed along the firm sand. It was hard work though. I miss Amsterdam parks and their perfectly paved paths. But well, like I said to my man: no pain, no gain. The view here is pretty paradise-like.

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My nephew will be three this August. He asks a million of questions and he has a dozen of names for everyone, including himself. Mafo is one of them.


Mafo seems to come from a cartoon character who can transform into different things. It is just like how my nephew changes his lego from a chocolate cake into a dragon without much of a rearrangement. Quite the imagination that he has!

Sometimes it seems he repeats himself by asking everyone in the house the same question about twenty times a day. But if you keep talking to him, you will notice that he picks up your vocabulary and make it his own. Now I see why children can easily learn more than one language at the same time.

He also plays the same game and watches the same video over and over. I would get bored with his cake-making game after three attempts and only stay for his company. He would play it twenty times more, then move on to “really” make it with whatever toys he can find lying around. Sometimes he is so into it that it seems all real even for me.

My husband got Mafo to help him bake a real cake once and Mafo mixed the dough like a pro. I often wonder if he would remember, when he gets older, the time he made a real cake comparing to when it was lego or an iPad game. Probably not? 

Sometimes I also wonder if Mafo would be different to my husband once he realises that my husband doesn’t understand all the things he says. For now, Mafo asks him the same question, plays with him the same game and, when in the mood, tells him to go away all the same like everyone else. I like that!

Travelling means seeing a lot of people. I like to talk to other travellers as well as the local. But I know I always do a bit of judging before I open up to a casual conversation. I know it holds me back from some amazing exchanges, but I can’t help it. I am worried about getting stuck in a conversation with some creepy guy or a boring lot. I’ve been there before. But I hope I could be more like a child, like my precious Mafo, less judgemental and more open to imagination.


On the road again and missing Mafo dearly