An American Dream
Double Happiness Vietnamese Style
Text: Johanna Kaestner
Photography: 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
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
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.
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
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!