My brother is having a traditional Vietnamese wedding tea ceremony. What does this mean? Hell. I’m just kidding… I haven’t been to Hell, so I can’t compare but I can imagine it’s pretty close.
I didn’t have a tea ceremony or a wedding that my parents were happy with. My mother wanted a church wedding with a priest, while my dad wanted a lavish over-the-top wedding with the entire village and then some. Instead, I chose a no-frills, all-in-one venue, Sunday lunch wedding with a celebrant and invited only close family and friends. It was a simple understated affair and suited us perfectly.
Unlike me, my brother and his fiancée are doing the whole shebang. It’s so big that they have to split it into two separate events. The tea ceremony is going to be held this weekend while the civil ceremony and wedding reception will be held in a fortnight.
The tea ceremony is a tradition where the groom’s family visits the bride’s family bearing gifts (dowry) and the groom officially asks the bride’s parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. It’s basically an elaborate engagement party.
The groom’s family (my parents, my family, uncles and aunties, groomsmen) will arrive with a $500 suckling pig and five trays full of alcohol, tea, jewellery, fruits, Vietnamese mung bean cake and Vietnamese sweet glutinous rice.
There will be a formal introduction (aka awkward meet and greet) then the bride and groom will serve family members with tea in exchange for their well-wishes and a red pocket. A red pocket is a red envelope with money. How much money they will get depends on the generosity of the family member. There’s a celebratory lunch and then the groom’s family head back to my parent’s house and await the bride’s family to visit us. The same process then occurs at our place minus the proposal.
By the end of the day, the bride and groom will have officially met the family on both sides and will be richer for the experience. And by richer, I mean literally richer with money. And it’ll only take a whole day.
Anyway, my brother is keen to do things the traditional way so it means my mother, my daughter and I have to wear something called an Ao Dai. It’s the Vietnamese traditional dress, usually worn by women and only looks flattering on thin people.
I’m not what you would call a typical looking Vietnamese woman. I could give Shakira a run for her money in the hip and bust area, so I don’t particularly like the idea of wearing an Ao Dai. I mean, if I wanted to rock the toga look and it was a Greek themed wedding then sure, but this is a traditional Vietnamese wedding and I want to look hot not a flop.
A couple of months ago, I ordered a cheap purple Ao Dai from an overseas online company. According to their measurement chart, I was a heffer and needed a 3XL, the largest size available. When it arrived in the mail a month later, the thing didn’t fit me. The arms and legs were so long that I could have made myself an extra pair of pants with them. Despite being way too big in the limbs, the body of the Ao Dai was too small. It was obviously made for a willowy giant. I tried salvaging it but even with my reasonable sewing skills, it was impossible.
With only three weeks until the event, I felt the pressure to find something to wear and reluctantly agreed to go with my mum to the store where she bought her yellow Ao Dai.
Shopping with my mum is like going to the dentist. It’s painful, costly and it feels like an obligation. You just gotta suck up it and get it done. That’s how I felt going to this Vietnamese fashion store with my mum.
The minute we stepped into the store, my mother started barking at the poor owner to get me a size 14 Ao Dai. Fortunately, the lady didn’t take offense at my mother’s poor manners and simply told her to step aside.
“I think you’re a size 12. Let’s try that first and we can see what we’re working with.” The lady passed me an Ao Dai to try on. As I was in the change cubicle, I could hear my mother and the lady argue about sizing and whether or not my ass would fit into a size 12. Talk about mortification!
“She’s got a big ass and boobs but has a small waist. That’s why it’s so hard to find clothes for her.” I heard my mum tell the lady. “She eats too much pasta.”
Why do mothers do that? It was so embarrassing. I felt like a teenager again with my mother choosing hideous outfits for me to wear and me having to grin and bear it.
“Did you have a big bottom before having kids? Do you eat a lot of Western foods?” The lady asked me a bunch of in-your-face questions before giving me a size 10 to try on. “You should eat purple wild rice; it’s much better for you.”
Ignoring her comments, I returned to the cubicle to try on another Ao Dai. The two women continued to argue about sizing but then changed to what colour would suit me best. It was basically a pissing contest. Eventually, I found a purple size 10 Ao Dai that didn’t offend my sensibilities too much and went to pay fo it.
Now, if there’s anything worth knowing about my mother, it’s that she loves to bargain. And she’s ruthless about it. It’s mortifying and embarrassing. To a spectator though, it’s utterly fascinating human behaviour to observe.
“Can you give her a discount? Your prices are too high!” As my mother was likely embarrassed about being wrong with my sizing, she doubled down on her efforts with haggling for a discount.
“This is not Vietnam! You can’t just haggle for what you want. It has the price on it, and it’s already discounted!”
This went on for about ten minutes with me holding my money out for the lady to take. Why wasn’t she taking my money?! My mother wasn’t paying for it but for some reason, the lady felt obliged to argue with her on pricing. It didn’t matter that I was willing to pay whatever damn price it took to get the hell out of the awkward situation. I didn’t want a discount! I wanted to skedaddle and find myself a nice hole to bury inside.
“Fine! I’ll give her $5 off. Take it or leave it. But there’s no guarantee this dress will still be there when you come back.”
“Round it down. Make it $10.”
Another round of arguing and hard stares between the two women ensued and it was at this point that I lost patience with the whole situation. I cracked the shits.
“Mum, I don’t want a discount. I am happy to pay the price. I got what I wanted, and that’s what is important here.”
I shoved the money into the lady’s hand and all but dragged my stubborn mother out of the door with me.
“You paid too much! Five dollars is still money. Your husband works hard, and you shouldn’t throw money around.” My mother was still ranting about the lady’s overpriced Ao Dai by the side of the road.
Exasperated with my mother’s antics, I turned to face her and putting on my “mum” voice, I told her that not all juice was worth the squeeze but I’ll bet it won’t stop her next time.
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