Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hue? No Way...

The morning after our Vietnamese wedding we woke up early and headed to the train station. I have to admit. I was a bit excited. I wanted to see as much of Vietnam as I could. Since we had limited time that I could stay, we decided to only go as far South as Hoi An. The first stop, however, was Hue.

Hue is the home of the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam, or Annam. Think of it like China's Forbidden City for Vietnam.

Part of the charm of the trip was that we would make the trip via train. You can't beat the romanticism of train rides through a sunset. Well, now that I've actually been on one; yes, you can.

Fortunately, my in-laws decided to splurge and we got our own cubicle with cots. We hung out, listened to music and ate snacks that we brought. I was glad for those snacks when the meal came around.

Train Food

And this was the best of the train meals we had!

I now know fear.

But the worst part of the train hits you about the same time the food finishes it's trip through your large intestine. One look at the toilet they expect you to use and you'll be amazed how long you can hold it in.

Plush Toilet?

If I dropped my iPod in there, I'd just let it go...

Why must this trip resemble Fear Factor so often?

But there was one great thing about the train ride that made most of the 16 hour trek worth it - the view.

Rice Field

The rice fields full of women with home woven hats working. Like nothing has changed in 100 years.

Fishing Nets

Home made fishing nets along a nonchalant river.

Once in Hue we made way to our hotel. We ran across this quaint cafe.
The DMZ (De-Militarized Zone)

Ironically titled the "DMZ" or De-Militarized Zone.

Once we checked in and ate lunch, we caught up with our tour, apparently in progress. We first came to the palace.

The Palace


The Mandarin (Court Advisers)


Can you guess which one is actually Anna?

And the highlight of the trip was seeing the pictures of the old kings. I think the one that stood out most to me was the greatest king in their history. The pictures are so old that they have faded some, but you can still feel the nobility and honor of this great king Anh Beo.



Now there's a guy I'd take a bullet (or arrow) for.

And what would be a trip to any city in Vietnam without visiting it's local pagoda. A pagoda is a holy place for Buddhists. Not quite a temple, but close enough.

Pagoda Gate

Following the pagoda, we boarded a boat and headed back to the center of Hue. We passed some old school fishermen.

Fishing Boat

They get GREAT gas millage!


This is the famous bridge in Hue as seen from the left pontoon of our boat.

Then suddenly, we found ourselves sitting at the war-torn DMZ cafe once again. They abandon you and expect you to find your own way back to your hotel. Once we got back to our hotel we noticed that we hadn't seen a fraction of what we paid for and were told we'd see. Sure enough, our tour agency messed up and was trying to cheat us out of some stops. Anna's dad arranged for some early morning sights before we had to leave to Hoi An the next morning.

We woke up ready to run. We caught the first half of the tour route that we missed the previous day to a village that makes incense and those famous pointed hats. We watched them make some.

She can finish a stick of incense in about 20-30 seconds.

That big blog of brown stuff to the top and center is the incense. It looks far less enticing in that form.

A few more pagodas and deceased king's palaces later we parted from the tour and set sail for Hoi An.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Vietnamese Wedding...

Well, not being the traditional Vietnamese groom, my parents-in-law didn't really insist on a traditional wedding. I have to admit, I did kind of want one. However, given the circumstances, we did the closest to typical as we could. Let me be your guide to a Vietnamese Wedding.

First, there is the part that I could not do without having my parents there. Being so far away, I had no representation of my family there. It was all Anna's side of the family only. So that made it all the more awkward.

Normally, the groom and his parents will go to the house of the intended bride. The groom's dad then speaks to the bride's dad and asks for the son to marry the daughter. Usually a gift is offered. They don't give cows or anything. But I wouldn't be surprised given the current nature of the country if you heard brides boasting about how many scooters were traded for them.

Since this is done the day of the wedding, the actual agreement was done long ago - this is all for show and custom. The bride's family accepts and then the groom is taken to the families ancestral alter in the house (they all have one) to introduce him to the ancestors.

Then both sides of the family go to the groom's house (again you can see why this was not so easy to do for a Vietnamese and a Phoenician). At the groom's house the bride-to-be is taken to the ancestral shrine there and introduced as well.

After that, it's time for lunch. The families eat and talk and blah, blah, blah.

Ok, so all of that stuff is what we skipped. But the rest we did.

In the evening, the families meet up at a rented ball room or banquet hall.

The sign outside the building to let people know that this is the place.

There is an outside sitting area for the early comers to sit and mingle until it's time to make it inside the big room.

This is the "big room" just before it was ready to be filled with guests.

Anna and I stood by the entrance greeting every single person that came through that door. That may not sound that impressive since it was only her family and none of mine. However, that ended up being just over 300 people!

As score after score of people came walking by, I had the chance to put my learned Vietnamese greetings to the test. This only proved how bad my language learning skills were.

You see, in Vietnamese, there is no "you" or "me". Rather, you say a special word that describes your relation to them. For example, when I see my wife's aunt, I don't say, "Hello." No, I say a translation of, "Male nephew says hello to older female aunt." And if I'm saying hello to an uncle it's a different set of words. If it's an older or younger uncle the word changes even still. Not just the word I call them, but also the word I call myself to them. Yeah, it's all very complicated. Just to play it safe I often just said "Chau chau chu" to every older woman. Of course, it looks on paper as if I'm repeating words. Nope, I'm not. Don't forget the inflection. Believe it or not, the inflection makes all of those words very distinct in meaning. I usually would let Anna greet them first and I copied her. I think I only called myself a girl a couple of times...

The language barrier was obvious to the guests as well. The older uncles that couldn't speak much English would simply say the one English word they could think of for such an occasion, "Happy...happy..."

Once the crowd filled the room I realized just how many people were there.

And this is only half the banquet hall!

And then it was time to begin. Anna's parents hired an MC. This MC must have a great job. He shows up in a suit, says about 10 lines, and leaves. And he isn't very poor for it either.

In a radio voice that spoke what sounded like gibberish, the MC said something that Anna recognized as instructions for us to come to the front, so we did.

And then we stood on the stand as the MC said one more line of gibberish. Then Anna's parents came up. The MC handed the mic to Anna's dad, he said something. Then the MC said some more meaningless words.

At this point, I was handed a bottle of wine.

I had no idea what to do with it. Well, I knew that I was supposed to open it, but only about 30 seconds before it was handed to me. My wife sort of forgot to mention to me that I'd be opening a bottle of wine at our wedding. Normally, this is no big deal for someone. However, for a very Mormon boy such as myself, this was all new territory.

So, there I am, on stage with an MC speaking gibberish to me and 600 eyes of my closest strangers staring at me to open a bottle I had just met. Yeah, I know a thing or two about pressure.

After what felt like eternity, the cork flew off to the side and Anna and I began pouring wine onto a tower of glasses making our own fountain.

As my face suggests, I was not sure I was doing anything right.

At last I had poured two bottles and was done with that. We were not handed nearly enough wine to fill the cups, but since it took us so long to get where we did, I guess everybody was tired of waiting and wanted to get to the food. The MC said one more sentence and then was off to cash his hard earned check.

Meanwhile, Anna, my in-laws and I went around to each and every one of the 300 guests to clink my cup with them. Of course, this was after Anna and I switched to grape juice to the amusement and shock of the guests that noticed.

By the time that we had finally finished cheering with each of the guests, the first of the guests were finishing up diner and ready to leave. Anna and I sprinted to the door to then say good bye to them, one by one. Again with the "chau chau chu" and whatnot.

Once the guests had left, it was just the small group of immediate family left. So the very few of us got on the stage to take a picture or 60.

Some of my new aunts and uncles could not be there, so that's why the group looks so small.

Most of our wedding gifts were envelops with cash in them. But we did get a couple of actual gifts that we opened there.

After that, we got to eat any leftovers there were to be had. We were hot, sweaty and tired after all that. It felt so great to get into Anna's parent's house once again. Just when I though Anna and I might enjoy some honeymoon time alone in the hotel, her and her parents pulled out the pile of envelops and began counting money.

Seeing as how my wife is an accountant, I should have guessed a detailed and accurate ledger of the intake. It took over 3 hours with all of us working to get the mess organized and accounted for. Anna was taking meticulous notes but not because she wanted to know what to say in the thank you letters. No. I learned that night that everybody in Vietnam does that because when those guests have children who get married, they expect the same or more in return. To me, that cheapened the whole purpose of calling it a "gift." I think they should just call it a low interest loan, since that's what it apparently is. I fell asleep during the tedious process.

When I awoke, I saw piles of money that accumulated to about 4 million dollars...uh, that's VND, not USD. Yeah, I was excited, but then I remembered that Vietnamese money is very much like Monopoly money. It's colorful, playful, and worth the same. Anna and I owed much to her parents and we able to convince them to keep the money to help offset the costs of the wedding.

After that, Anna and I slowly stumbled our way back to our hotel and fell asleep instantly. We knew that our rest would be short. The following morning, we were off to our second honeymoon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

First Flight into Hanoi...

Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have come a long way from the last helicopter out of Saigon to my first flight into Hanoi. So I wasn't really worried about the whole government/communism thing as I landed. I was more worried about the family/confusion thing.

I saw my wife and mother-in-law waiting for me as I was finally let through the security into the lobby of the airport. Then my father-in-law came up in his new car and we had a quick handshake as we loaded up the luggage and hit the road for Hanoi.

When we first reached the city, Anna asked me what I thought. This is what I saw:

I didn't know what to say, so I just said the first thing that popped into my head, "It looks like Mexico." And that seems true. However, when we got more into the heart of the city, it got a bit more unique. Especially due to the over crowed streets full of scooters, shops and pedestrians.

I particularly liked the way that they hang wires there:

The first stop was the Taylor to get my suit sized up. For some reason, it's hard to find a suit that fits me off the rack there.

I'm not sure if their tape measure was even big enough for me.

Before we could even get home, I got to witness my first scooter accident. There were many more like that to come. I'm surprised I never saw a death...that I know of. Looked at Anna and said, "Honey, you are never going to get on those things in this city again."

After time in Hanoi, I started to get used to the scooters. I even got to ride on the back of one a few times.

Anna and mother-in-law on the scooter behind me

And later, I even took my life into my hands and drove myself.

Being my first time to every drive one of these things, I naturally didn't use any helmets or protective gear. Later, I drove it to have diner with Anna's friends and her dad sat on the back. That was an adventure for both him and me.

Luckily, I didn't cause any face marring scars before our second wedding.

When I first arrive at Anna's parent's house, I was taken back. She told me it was small. But it was...well...small.

This is not a part of the house, this is the entire house.

Sure, it's small and cozy, but it's nice and clean. Anna grew up sharing the bed behind the stairs and tv when she was young. Moving to the loft when she got older.

One of the things that came as a pleasant surprise to me was Mia Da. Basically, sugar cane water. Trust me, it's better tasting than it sounds.

Just don't stick your hands in there.

I also enjoyed the breakfast of choice, Pho Bo (beef noodles).

Not what you'd think was breakfast, but still good.

Of course, I think I could do a whole separate blog post of the food. I know this sounds very "Chevy Chase" of me, but after three days I felt like asking, "Do you have anything besides Asian food?"

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I Don't Think I'm Turning Japanese...

"...No, I don't think I'm turning Japanese, I don't think so..."

When I first landed in Japan, I was surrounded by a sea of shiny black scalps. It was instant; I was more the minority than every before.

The flight in was very pleasant, however. Thanks to my frequent flying, I got a bump up to First Class. Ah, it was great. The seat had so much leg room I literally couldn't touch the one in front of me with my foot if I wanted to. And the powered foot rest really adds that extra touch. The food is always much better on first class as well. I don't think I want to every fly coach again. However, I am sure the travel to and within Vietnam will be much less comfortable.

So, I landed in Japan. It's a land of cleanliness and confusion. I thought it was interesting to notice the "exit" signs there. At an airport you want to see something more serene than some stick figure dashing out of a darkened hallway as if running for his life.

A bit dramatic, but it does make you want to exit.

I got in at night so I didn't see too much in my car ride from Narita to Tokyo, but I did get a nice view of the Tokyo skyline.

Tokyo Skyline as seen from my hotel room.

I awoke the next morning a couple hours too early (jet lag) so I got to watch some world-famous Japanese TV. I don't get it. And I have a feeling that even if I did speak Japanese I still wouldn't get it. They get some real old stern looking 40+ aged man and stand him next to a 16-year-old bright and bubbly Asian cherub that looks like she crawled out of anime. They never sit down. Ever. No one on Japanese TV sits. The anchors, the game show hosts, the guests, no one.

While the stern one talks about something, he/she will get interrupted at least once every 5 seconds by the Asian Cherub, some feminine mid-twenties guy slightly off camera with colorful square glasses, or the animated nonsensical images they splash on the screen incessantly. Of course, all of this is also accompanied by sound effects that were likely found in the dumpster behind Hanna-Barbabra's house. On the bright side, kids with ADD would love Japanese TV.

Of course, during the day time, I was in our Area Office in the center of Tokyo.

Asia Pacific Area Office for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (We love long titles in the Church)

In the time I could get for sight seeing, I tried to travel within Tokyo some. On my last day I got lost looking for two GeoCaches. I also visited the Tokyo Tower and an old Buddhist temple nearby.

Old and new combine in Japan well.

But despite the grandeurs of Japan, I appreciated the little stuff. Like robotic toilets, and signs with obscure English.

Not so familiar with the other features, but the bidet was a "fresh" experience for me.

This sign would be more at home in Vietnam during the 1960's, but I think they simply meant that traffic was to merge.

One thing I thought was funny about Japan was the labor uniforms. Everybody that has an outdoor job has a goofy uniform. If I didn't know better, I would think that the construction workers went as far as to iron their bright fresh tangerine jumpsuit and polish their ghost white hard hats. If you thought all Japanese looked the same before, wait till you see 20 of them at a construction site wearing matching just-off-the-rack uniforms. Come to think of it, they look like Lego men.

But the policemen were the ones that had me laughing. Take a look at these uniforms.

Fashion Police

Ha! This isn't the best shot, but it's enough to see how silly it is. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but this has to be the least intimidating form of law enforcement I've seen. Cops dressed in powder blue with marshmallow white trim? "Oooh, don't write me up me for not having my belt match my shoes, fashion police!" Even the potentially threating hand-cuffs or gun are covered in fancy white leather. I've had crossing guards in elementary school that instilled more confidence in public safety.

Well, all mocking aside, Japan is a wonderful place. It has rich culture, but also is very future forward. The people seemed by and large friendly and happy. I wouldn't wish driving there on my worst enemy, but I would recommend anyone to visit.

And as this business trip is now over, I've got to catch a plane to Bangkok for a short layover before I get to see my wife again in her natural element; Vietnam.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wedding: Cake Cutting...

This video actually is after the wedding where we cut the cake and feed it to each other. I have made a few versions of the video segment that shows the actual wedding. The one on YouTube right now is way too long. I cut it by over a minute and added some captions, but I'll have to wait to upload that until I get back from my second wedding in Vietnam.

Wedding: Get Ready...

The next chapter in my wedding movie series.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Jared & Ngoc...

This is a video that I put together for our second wedding in Vietnam. Anna's real name is Ngoc. If I put "Anna" in the video, they wouldn't know who I'm talking about. Anna didn't like some of the pics and videos I used, so I have since made a second version, but I don't care enough to post it. Here it is for your enjoyment. Other bits of our wedding video to be posted piece by piece.

*Note, the below video has been changed to the US version that I made later.*