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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.