Wedding – Laos style

1 Mar
Stealing the wedding show

Stealing the wedding show

What would we do without internet? It’s via the chat that I got to know this Lao friend and we hung out together when I was in Luang Prabang (more for VIPs here). One day he asks me if I’d be interested to come with him to a wedding of a high school mate of his. My first reaction was to decline, because I thought it would be a quite personal affair, so I didn’t want to party-crash the wedding banquet. But that’s not how it goes in Laos as you can read below.

I was quite curious though to see a wedding from up close, so it didn’t take a lot more of convincing for me to jump into this smile-arousing intercultural experience.

Me in an Asian size S suit...

Me in an Asian size S suit...

The first challenge though was “what to wear”. Even though the wedding was a quite ‘informal’ affair, and there was certainly no need for a suit and tie, I had not taken into account that I was going there with a cocky photo-model. He was definitely not let me come with him in my ‘backpacker’s outfit’ (the one pair of sloppy trousers I brought and the cheap tourist T-shirts I bought along the road). So we dived into my friend’s wardrobe and came out with a fancy black suit and a checkered shirt. It’s a good thing I was in Asia, with all the rice and noodles, for over 2 months now, so I actually fit in a size S now (so proud!). My dusty runners or sandals were not going to do the job, so I had to wear my friend’s high heel black shiny shoes (he likes to be taller than he is). So now I was also sticking out even more than I would.

We were definitely looking the part – and were definitely looked at. Being with a photo-model in a fancy red shirt and striped black suit was a sure head turner – as well as the high heels and Falang factor (I was the only white guy at the wedding

Outside on the plastic garden chairs and tables

Outside on the plastic garden chairs and tables

).

The wedding party took place outside in some school yard (with a ‘rope’ around it to keep unwanted visitors away?? As if). The wedding entrance is traditionally a heart shaped arch, with lots of flowers, through which all the guests enter the party. Just after it stand two urns, one in gold, one in silver (or sometimes blue and pink) where you drop the envelope with the money (no presents here) – that was another 250000 kip gone which I paid for the two of us.

Next is the couple and all the family (including uncles and aunts) standing in line to greet all the guests with the traditional Wai (putting the palms of the hand together in front of the chest or face). Of course, when I arrived, some of the male members of the family were showing off they knew the Western style and went out of their way to shake hands with me. How considerate.

The whole family lining up - wai wai wai and more wai

The whole family lining up - wai wai wai and more wai

After doing 3 dozens of Wai’s and handshakes in just as many seconds, we basically just looked for a place somewhere at a table, wherever there was some space free amongst the 500 other guests. So all my worries about ‘who will I end up sitting next to’ melted like ice cubes in a warm beerlao. We just sat with a couple of friends at one of the plastic garden tables and chairs. On the tables were just plates and spoons and some plastic cups – and as soon as we sat down the bottles of beer arrived instantly. That’s the moment when I learned and will never forget ‘sok dee’ (cheers in Lao) because a wedding is basically a drinking affair, with family and friends moving around tables to toast (drink) with the guests. And each ‘sok dee’ normally means ‘bottoms up’ – emptying the whole glass. Good thing that there’s a bucket of ice on the table (because beer in Lao is warm most of the time), so you can stuff your glass with ice, to limit the alcohol intake…

Besides the beer there was only water to drink. I have heard that other weddings would be celebrated with the far more dangerous Lao Lao (strong rice liquor) – but as beer is a lot more expensive (Lao Lao you can make yourself) so it is sort of prestige to be serving beer at your wedding. A city thing.

Attacking the buffet strategically

Attacking the buffet strategically

Then the couple came around to “wai” to everybody to express their welcome and grattitude, and they start the buffet (this wedding had food centralized on buffet tables, sometimes there is also ‘Chinese table’ as they call it when every table has its own food). Next thing I knew is that people rushed out with the spoons & plates to the buffet to fill up all the plates – and put them in the middle of the table, to share them, Lao style. We divided tasks strategically amongst ourselves: one was getting the chicken, someone else the rice, the chicken, the salad – and tamarind for desert.

the buffet: rice chicken salad curry and tamarind - and lots of beer

the buffet: rice chicken salad curry and tamarind - and lots of beer

Once the main food attack was over, the bride and groom were asked on the dance floor (the patch of badminton field in front of the improvised stage) – and to the tune of live music they started the dancing. They were basically walking rhythmically in a wide circle on the dance floor facing each other and turning their hands up and down. Soon lots of people jumped up from their chairs and joined in, making like one big circle of couples that were turning their hands up and down while walking in a circle after each other.

It didn’t took long – or it didn’t take a lot more alcohol than was already flowing generously – to get me on the dance floor as well. One of the lady friends had the courtesy (damn!) or lost her scruples (in the alcohol?) and dragged me on the dance floor with a big smile (no English, so we only spoke ‘smile’). All of a sudden there were lots of flashes and even the camera man filming. “Wow, a falang dancing at my wedding…” So I just smiled and did my best turning my hands up and down. Very gay actually.

Yep, they are dancing... Lao style

Yep, they are dancing... Lao style

I thought there would be different dances coming after the initial one(s), but no, the whole evening the dancing continued with the hands turning up and down. There was one kind of line dancing later (see youtube) but that was as much variety as it would get – and it would continue with intervals for as long as they had paid the singer for.

Later that evening, some of the guests (drunk obviously) would be grabbing the microphone and do sort of improvised karaoke on the little stage. In the mean time the kids were getting hold of all the hart shaped balloons, and some of the girls were stealing roses and flowers out of the floral decorations. So soon the well decorated open air wedding party gradually turned into a basic noisy beer garden with drunk people scattered around tables. Cheers.

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One Response to “Wedding – Laos style”

  1. eric 13 March 2009 at 17:32 #

    the shoes are killers!
    i like ’em! :-)

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