by Le Ha
Last weekend, I attended a friend's wedding. It was very imposing, but a little boring, like many modern weddings. Too organised!
Everything was done on time and to order. The imposing dinner and lavish services were provided by a luxury hotel. The bride and groom as well as all guests turned up within minutes of the appointed start – to make sure everything ran smoothly and, let's face it, to make sure they did not miss out on the lovely dinner. The staff even presented small gifts to surprised guests.
Staff seated everyone quickly so that they heard the speeches, especially from the newly wedded couple – and then the real business began, eating!
The event just lasted just one hour. Everybody was so busy enjoying the splendid food that they did not have time to talk each other. After dinner, guests smiled, said their quick good-byes – and went back to work, or to their families.
The organisation of the event was impressive but perhaps just a bit too slick, like many big, modern Vietnamese weddings. Everybody appeared to be in a rush. The urgency of modern life seems to have wormed its way into the lives and culture of the people.
Some wonder where the beauty and spirit of the old Viet Nam has gone, the leisurely, measured way things were done. And they privately wonder if the glitz and glamour, the speed and rush, the over-supervised, ever smiling presentation of these events is worth all the effort.
Modern city weddings differ significantly from those still enjoyed in the countryside, but even there the influence of the cities is creeping in. One laments the passing of the old costumes, the old traditions – the simple old-style banquets.
Weddings in the cities and countryside are still an opportunity for all relatives and friends to gather. The big difference is the input. In the country, relatives and friends still spend days buying and preparing the banquet to honour the young couple.
However, at my friend's wedding, no guests were asked to do anything because everything had been hired or bought from "the experts", right down to the music and spectacular floor shows.
I have to say I have a penchant for the past, for the endless chatter of the guests, the opportunity to meet people one hasn't seen for ages – and a chance to make new friends and business acquaintances. Modern weddings, I am afraid, are just too fast and insipid. In addition, they are too expensive ... some would say a waste of money.
Before weddings in the countryside, my friends and I often help the happy couple to prepare flowers and trees and cut out decorations to hang over a wedding gate. Then we organise the music, making sure we collect friends who can sing well. Everything can be difficult and time consuming, but we feel very happy with all the work and conversation.
Ha Noi has a reputation for observing traditional culture, including at weddings. But in recent years, marriage ceremonies here have become so Westernised. They often look like Hollywood presentations.
Which is good, I suppose, in that the real function of the ceremony is still apparent, the food is good if not splendid, and the needs of a fast moving population are met in time for everyone to get back to the office and look at all their photos. However, this also means losing the "people" value of traditional weddings.
Of course, urban life is busy, frantic even. Urban people are forced to match their lifestyles to the needs of a speeding society. We all get caught up in it and it takes a true adventurer and lots of time to try and stage one of the old events.
But the rural weddings have a beauty and poetry ... and haunting music. The ao dai, one of the most beautiful women's costumes in the world, are rarely seen at modern weddings. Brides look so beautiful in them that it is impossible not to shed a tear. However, many modern brides think they are "cloddish". Help!
Today, people, particularly foreigners, can be excused for wondering which part of Asia they are in when they attend a modern marriage event. Tong Van Tuy, head of big family clan in Ha Dong District, loves the traditional weddings that have been passed down for centuries. He says weddings are an expression of one's social life, of national culture and inherited traditions.
In the old-style weddings, betel and areca nut symbolise the bond between husband and wife. It is an ancient tradition believed to go back 3,000, 4,000 years or more and represents the beginning of society.
Rice wine and rice cakes are also a feature of the old marriages, again a product of a civilisation that developed wet-rice agriculture. Everything has a meaning. But in modern times, the only thing left, apart from the marriage, is a huge feast – and more often than not, the food is not Vietnamese!
I suppose it all means that the rate of urbanisation in Viet Nam is too rapid, and no one can be forced to live in the past. However, as people attempt to display their 21st Century values – and money – there will always be modern hotel managers and wedding organisers who will offer to do everything for them.
Tran Thanh Tung, a member of Cau Lac Bo Di San (Heritage Club), a respected heritage group, agrees that modern weddings can erode traditional values. He says that too much has been simplified or Westernised.
He hopes that despite the inroads made by Western culture and despite the interests of young people and the need of a fast moving society, Vietnamese will always remember their respect for family, ancestry and cultural identity. — VNS