Vinh is from Hue and her family lives there so the first wedding (of three) was held there. Three solid days of ceremonies, family gatherings and meals after meals, all in extraordinary places. At one extreme was the wedding dinner, at least 7 courses served efficiently but unobtrusively to 800 guests seated at round tables in the Full House ballroom of the Century Hotel. At another extreme was the final breakfast before we got on the plane back to HCMH, which took place at a noodle shop under a tent out in the countryside, Quail eggs and pho.
I did not take photos of everything. Other people were on the job. Here are a few of mine. These are from the family lunch, at a restaurant overlooking the Perfume River. The little woman on the right is the grandmother of Vinh’s husband. When all the family was assembled, there were at least five grandmothers with similar hairdos, nice jewelry and very attractive garments including ao dais. This grandmother is in her 80s, likes to travel, travels alone around Southeast Asia going to pagodas while her husband, who doesn’t like to travel, stays home. She seems to be in perfect shape and is fearless.
This is the major media moment, when the whole family is assembled onstage at the big banquet. There was entertainment throughout the meal — many singers, and a great clown show (see below)
The small thin quick clown is a lecturer at TDTU in environmental and labor health and safety. He performs magic all over Europe. THe tall husky slow-moving clown is his brother. The essence of their act is that each is trying to perform magic to impress the other; the other guy always figures out the trick, and reveals it. The audience loves it.
Joe and I took a quiet moment to sit on the deck on the 12th floor of our hotel, The Gold Hotel, and look out over Hue, toward the Perfume River. Hue is in the middle of Vietnam, about 15 K from the sea. It is a city of one million with many colleges and universities. It is the cultural and historical heart of Vietnam and the seat of the old emperors.
In the free moments between wedding events we went to The Citadel, which is the 3-mile square site of the forbidden city of the emperors. It’s surrounded by both a moat and a canal. Although its design is feudal, construction didn’t start until the early 1800s. Emperors lived there under the French, protecting their dynasty by making one concessionary deal after another with the French. In 1945, when the French supposedly left, the last emperor handed things over to Ho Chi Minh.
By the time of the American war, the inside of the Citadel was full of the houses of ordinary people. Only a small proportion of the population lived in the other side of the river. So much of the fighting happened in the Citadel. This was at Tet, 1968. Viet Cong came into the city dressed as peasants and ordinary people and brought arms on covered wagons that looked as if they were going to the market. When the uprising started, they were in place. People talk about the Tet massacre, and it looks from what I can see on the internet that were were about 2,500 – 3,000 people killed on both sides. Many in mass graves. Many of the buildings we saw — more than half — were war-damaged. The ones that had been renovated were amazing.
The site is huge These pictures just capture a tiny part of the space. Here’s a long loggia. The documents all along the wall are from the archives and show documents with the different kinds of signatures, comments, approvals or denials written by the Emperor of the time. On the right, a bigger than life tiger-dog that Aunt Margaret would have liked.
Painted clouds and flying dragons on the pillars and walls of the tomb of Le Duc, at his country palace, also a tomb. This is out among hills and has a lake with an island in it.
Renovation is taking place here as well as at the Citadel, and it’s being done by hand using tools and materials that aren’t much different from what was used to build the place the first time. All over both sites we saw people varnishing, sawing, smoothing down the joints between stones. Lots of women were doing this.
The car that drove him to that intersection is on display at Xa Loi Pagoda. The Pagoda is more than just one building with ceremonial spaces. It’s a whole monastery, with dormitories and many young monks in gray robes. It sits on a high bluff overlooking the Perfume River, nearly across from the Citadel.
This photograph of a turtle, also at the Pagoda, is dedicated to Terry Prachett. Somewhere in the place where imagination and reality meet, there is a turtle.