Tuesday was the day of our engagement party. We woke up and went to the bank to withdraw some money that was a gift from my parents and my grandmother. This took a long time. We then went to a jeweler and Tien bought a lot of jewelry, then we exchanged the remaining dollars for dong. This also took a long time. The jewelry was beautiful though, and it is tradition to buy these types of jewelry with the money given by the family of the groom. We got lunch and headed home at mid day and took a nap.
When we got up I thought I was supposed to get ready for the party, but I wasn't. Tien had gone to get her makeup done so I just hung out and played on my computer even as the guests began to arrive. A girl came in and began speaking to me in very basic english, very unsure of herself. Her name was Ngoc and she was 15. She was Tien's cousin. We talked a little about music and other standard chit chat. I soon thought it was time for me to get ready, but alas it was not and Tien's sister Thule told me to take another nap. Then when I got up she told me to come out and visit with people and gave me coffee.
Tien soon showed up and said "get ready!" I explained that I had been trying to, but her sister kept making me drink coffee and take naps. I showered and put on my suit, the one they hadn't measured me for. It actually looked pretty sharp and fit pretty well. I was happy with it. A good suit makes a man happy in a unique kind of way.
I went out into the room where the party was taking place and there were a bunch of people I didn't know, including a table of all men. A man came up to me and spoke to me in broken english. Ngoc said he was going to fill the roles that my father would fill if he were here.
Somebody gave me some things to hold in a specific way, then grabbed a bunch of the men and gave them things to hold, then we were all told to walk outside. A photographer was directing us on where to stand and how to stand, but of course I couldn't understand anything he was saying. The photographer had a disfigured hand but was rockin' the camera like a true pro. The group of us stood there in the gentle rain with traditional engagement gifts and had our pictures taken by the disfigured photographer. Then we went inside and had our pictures taken in there. Then I had my picture taken alone in there, still holding that stuff in that specific way, still not knowing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Somebody took the stuff away from me and instructed me to do some traditional poses while I had my picture taken.
I itched my ear and noticed that there was a mosquito bite on it. I also had one on my eyebrow. There is no part of my body that is free from those suckers.
The photographer ran off to do something else and the man who was acting as my father said "You stand there alone for ten minutes until your bride comes." So I stood there by myself for about ten minutes while a bunch of other people had their pictures taken, and things were opened and candles were lit and more pictures were taken.
The man acting as my father came up and asked me something about religion, and I wasn't sure what he was asking, but when I asked a clarifying question he just said a statement and didn't respond as if he still needed an answer to his original question. I realized that this is a common phenomenon with miscommunication. Somebody will ask you a question, but when that question isn't understood they simply turn the question into a statement about their stance on what the answer had to do with.
Tien appeared in the door and had her picture taken. Then she came out where I could see her. She was wearing traditional clothes and looked amazing. I think she looks great in red, and that's what she was wearing. One by one I took the jewelry that we'd bought earlier in the day and put it on her, posing for a photograph with each piece. We were then instructed to do this and that, and I was really confused as to what to do because there were several people talking loudly to each other in my immediate vicinity. Tien tried to explain something to me, but a man was shouting in my other ear so I decided it was probably best to just go along with whatever.
I thought about how I was a lot like a dog living with Tien's family. Her sister tells me to go sleep, then feeds me. Everybody talks in a language I don't understand except for a few words. They feed me, laugh with me, I entertain them with tricks. Then when a group of people show up I get confused as to who to listen to and do my best to behave the way I think I should, but I honestly have no idea how that should be other than behaving, smiling and minding my manners.
Tien and I were instructed to walk slowly outside to have our pictures taken. Traffic was flowing on the road near the front of her house where there were flowers adorning the entryway. Trucks and motorbikes passed by and honked, and for a moment I thought they were honking congratulations but I then remembered that they always honk like this and were simply driving by.
We made our way out to a van, piled in and drove off through the rain to a restaurant in Long Xuyen. As we were driving I again appreciated how nice my suit was. I felt like James Bond looking so sharp in a nice suit in a third world country passing by a river with boats and machinery around it. I tried to think of a spy plot but couldn't come up with anything specific.
We crossed over one half of a bridge where the other half was still being built. One of the cranes had fallen into the river because the ground below it slid out from underneath it. Thankfully it landed on the river bank instead of on the one good part of the bridge.
I thought about the paradox between the actions of reality and the ceremony that celebrates an occasion. We were celebrating this engagement between Tien and I, an occasion that is romantic and amorous, but I felt like I was participating in a play where I was merely playing a part but wasn't actually supposed to feel anything. Like I was supposed to appear in love, but couldn't actually act on the feelings of actually being in love.
We arrived at the restaurant and had more photos taken at the entryway. When we got to the dining room floor everybody was already seated, eating and drinking. Tien and I had more photos taken in the surrounding area. We walked down the aisle between the tables, having our photo taken, and got onto the stage where we had our photo taken. I was finding it very hard to concentrate because a light nearby was trying its hardest to set something on fire, and I could see and smell the smoke. This was going on right by a big cake that we were supposed to cut, and we cut it while we had our photos taken and the light bulb kept trying to set things on fire.
As we got off the stage there was this really loud, really awful music playing. I looked up towards the DJ booth and saw a karaoke display cuing words, but nobody was singing. We had instrumental karaoke music. Soon the man who had acted in place of my father got on stage and said some things, and then began to sing. Tien and I were finally allowed to eat. They brought me Saigon Red Beer, and gave us food and people sang.
I was having a really good time. The singing was fun, the company was great, the occasion was great, the beer was good, the food was good. I asked Tien what it was we were eating but she didn't know what it was called. She just said that it was part of a pig, and after looking again at it I guessed it was pig stomach. It was delicious.
The table of men who had been at Tien's house was now sitting at one of the tables at the restaurant. They were a bunch of badasses. They were smoking and cheering and saying loud things while pointing like they were totally going to go do something awesome as one big gang. One of them got up on stage with Tien's brother and sang karaoke with him.
A woman next to me was trying to get me to eat my rice quicker, so I obliged, but when I did I got the hiccups. Then I thought I was going to look like a drunk with the hiccups so I drank beer to wash the rice down and that probably made me look more like a drunk.
Tien sang some songs, and after one she stayed on stage and danced a little and then I got on stage and danced with her and we had our photos taken. Then the end of the song erupted into another big photo session with everybody in the restaurant coming up to take turns being photographed with Tien and I underneath a green light. This went on for some time, and all the sudden the party was over. The music was off, people were going back to the van and it was dark out.
We hadn't even eaten a single piece of cake.
We took the cake, got in the van with a bunch of other people and drove back to Tien's house. When we got there Tien's mom started cutting the cake up and putting it in bags for people to take home. There were hardly any people left though, but some of us got spoons and started eating the cake right off the platter. It was delicious. There were butterflies and flowers made of white chocolate and mint chocolate. We ate until we didn't want anymore and there was still half the cake left over. Then everybody left and I laid in the hammock for a while and somehow ended up asleep in my bed.
It had been a great party, even if I didn't understand a word of what was said during the ceremony.