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Laura Hunt

An American Dream

Double Happiness Vietnamese Style

Text: Johanna Kaestner
Kurty Photography

 When Kurty sent me an email and pictures of this wedding, I did not know what an interesting story this was going to be. Coincidentally, this story of a Vietnamese family came to my attention just as we are remembering the end of the Vietnam War, thirty years ago. Out of that time comes a story which shows  that dreams still can come true if you work hard to make it happen.

This story is the description of a dream wedding, but the story begins much earlier in August 1978 when Hua Ngo with his wife, Nag Lam, his four-year-old daughter, and his baby son left Vietnam. The small family was among the Boat-People, who risked their lives to leave their war-torn country in order to provide their families with a better future. I remember the reports of these desperate attempts, during which so many perished. The boat carrying Hua and his family, thanks in part to Hua's navigational skills, safely reached Malaysia's shores. They stayed in a camp for six months until their sponsors' request was approved; on March 29, 1979 Hua and his family arrived in San Francisco.

An unfortunate loss of the commercial fishing boat he and friends had invested in, ended his first business venture. Undaunted, Hua started a second venture. Early in the morning he bought fresh seafood from independent fishermen and sold it to restaurants and supermarkets in the San Francisco area. High quality and reasonable prices brought him more and more customers, and his business took off. Today H & N Foods has expanded into the international market, working with leading seafood producers around the world.

One of the happiest days in Hue's life was when Christine, his daughter, joined the company. When she told him about her plan to marry Dat, whom she had met at a cousin's wedding two years prior, the proud father wanted to announce the wedding to the whole world.  Dath had the same Vietnamese/ Chinese background as the Ngo family. He was industrious and hard working, and as far as Hua was concerned, there could not be a better match. Christine's mother was more interested in choosing a lucky date for the wedding and consulted a Chinese fortune teller who suggested January 8, 2005.

Originally Christine had imagined a small family wedding, but her father wanted the opposite. "You have to think of your future as owner of our company and invite all of our business friends," he told her. "After a large, extravagant wedding everybody will remember you." So the first undertaking was the enormous guest list, which included nearly 1500 names; 1,000 guests would actually attend. Right then Christine knew she needed major help. At that time she worked at the company's recently opened branch in Los Angeles. She turned to Kayla Pressman, of Signature Events, who had impressively planned and executed the company's opening.

Together they flew to San Francisco to look at venues and event professionals. The only places large enough to hold such a big crowd were the pavilions at Fort Mason. It takes experience and knowledge to turn the plain facilities from which soldiers once shipped to Asia into a festive reception hall. They picked McCall's Catering and Event Design. Jane Hammond from Jane Hammond Events was the local representative for Kayla. She recommended Torino Bakery, and Rose and Radish Flowers. Kurty from Kurty Photography was Christine's pick. She had met him as a bridesmaid at her aunt's wedding and really liked his personality as well as his fabulous work.

The wedding day celebrations started about 10 o'clock when Dat and his family arrived at the Ngo family residence. They brought the traditional wedding gifts: fruits, pastries, tea, and wine, presented on lovely platters wrapped in red cellophane. Christine's father accepted the presents and took the couple to the family shrine to burn incense and to pray to their ancestors.

A traditional Chinese/Vietnamese Tea Ceremony, comparable to the western wedding ceremony, followed. Christine dressed in the traditional red and gold Chinese ao dai dress. She and Dat served bowed as they served tea to all the married relatives.

Only the immediate family witnessed the American vows in the afternoon at the Vietnamese Ana Mandara Restaurant.

In late afternoon the pavilion doors opened to the wedding guests. Guests entered through the foyer where they were shielded from the elements by the surrounding transparent tent.
The plain walls had gone through a complete transformation.

The concrete was hidden behind draped red fabric, huge red chandeliers in the shape of Chinese lanterns enhanced the ambiance.

The tables appointed with red and golden linen and spot-lit centerpieces surrounded the red and white dance floor. Light from the ceiling splashed patterns on the floor.

Also spot-lit were the seven-tiered wedding cake and the tremendous bouquets of cymbidium orchids scattered throughout the room. Golden shimmering drapes defined the size of the large stage, which was decorated with two light pyramids and two of the exceptional cymbidium bouquets. Food stations displaying delectable food were strategically placed around the pavilion.

The breath-taking reception started with a cocktail hour and appetizers. About 8:30 two famous Vietnamese MCs introduced the wedding party on the stage. Christine and Dat, realizing they never visit personally with everyone, greeted the guests with thank-you speeches from the stage. Mike Izumi of Zoom Productions projected images on the large screens: a video montage from the couple's childhood years and excerpts of the wedding ceremony.  Entertainment was provided by a popular Vietnamese singer and bands.

"I felt as if I were at the Oscars with a red carpet leading the way," Christine told me. What better description for an American Dream come true!



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