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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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“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.

 

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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.

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Guess who’s in my team now 😉

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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.

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Saying it literally: I have swum.

 

 

Mafo

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.

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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.

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On the road again and missing Mafo dearly

 

Java Part 1: cities

Two weeks after the wedding, we found ourselves in an Indonesian small city called Jogja (by the locals). Our host said she would rather categorise this place a village, but I beg to differ. Jogja has an international airport nearby, some traffic jam and a decent size train station full of taxi scammers.

We arrived yesterday after seven hours and a half on the train, an early rise and a second-degree trauma – me losing a bank card. As soon as we walked out of the platform area, an apparently official taxi booth offered to get us a taxi for 80,000IRP. We could have taken it if our host hadn’t given us an estimate of around 40,000IRP. We found another taxi driver ourselves outside the station and ended up paying 24,000IRP even though the driver did take us the longer, round-the-block way at one point. We missed Uber!

Jogja is surely at least a town. Maybe my host was thinking of Jakarta and Bandung in comparison. They are indeed mega cities with traffic going on for miles. We happened to be in Bandung last weekend, among the visitors who wanted to splash out shopping at factory outlets or enjoying some dramatic views of nearby volcanoes and crater lakes. We did neither despite sitting on a taxi for 3 hours to go to the Tangkuban Perahu. That three-hour taxi journey covered about 30 km from Bandung centre to its northern mountainous area.

From Jakarta, where we landed the first night, through Bandung to Jogja, we have spent a lot of time in slow trains and slow moving cars. Before seeing Java, Hanoi and Bangkok were at the top of my list for busy roads. How little did I know!

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We’ve learned a lot about patience and anticipation in Java. Would we make it to the volcano site before it rains in this traffic and under those hanging clouds? What would we do then? Would we make our train despite setting off more than one hour in advance for a distance of 4 km? If we don’t make it to the station, how would another day in this craze city be like? Should we make a desperate attempt to walk there and there?

We did walk several times. Pavement is rare and litter is common. Javanese cities have little to none street lights, which makes an evening stroll much less pretty and reassuring. Some scenes are like a stab to the heart. In Jakarta, I’ve seen extremely dirty side streets with open holes next to food stalls. In Lembang, I’ve seen a stream running through forest land covered in used plastic bags and giving out pungent smell. I couldn’t bring myself to come near and look closely at the colour of the water.

Jogja does not have bad traffic and a serious pollution problem like Jakarta or Bandung. We managed to walk the old town without being hit by cars and motorbikes, but the constant pestering from touts is unpleasant. We tried shaking our head with a smile, many firm “no”s while gesturing with our hands, pretending not to understand English. Nothing works. Some drivers followed us a long way, shouted at us names of places, presumably we would want to go and they would take us. One even stopped his becak (Indonesian traditional cycle rickshaw) on our track, so that we could not walk anymore. We just wanted to explore his city in our own pace and in peace but it didn’t seem possible.

Though Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja definitely have their own charm and some delicious food, they are not for us. We booked more train tickets, packed our stuff and determined to leave cities behind – big and small – to (hopefully) find mountains, jungles and quiet beaches.

Jogja, Tuesday 26 April 2016