Monday, December 30, 2013

A Beautiful Wedding experience and more on Cu Chi Tunnels

A smiling group of happy guests sharing a wedding photo with the
Bride and Groom with Leanna in her new purple and flowered ao dai.
Yesterday we published our blog story on the Cu Chi tunnels where we went a week ago.  Today an amazing and astounding thing happened when we were honored to attend the wedding Reception/Party of a friend and TDT colleague's niece in HCMC (we were the only non-Vietnamese in attendance).  
        At the wedding we were introduced to and then seated next to a Cu Chi patriot by a Vietnamese friend who is also patriot from Cu Chi.  This Vietnamese woman from Cu Chi (who is probably around Hollis' age, maybe a bit older) lived in the Cu Chi village and went underground repeatedly to survive in the tunnels when the village came under attack by the USA military and South Vietnamese Army in the 1960s-1970s.  During one attack she spent 10 days probably 18 foot underground with only three days food so she went hungry for 7 days with others waiting for the American attacks to stop.

Folks who know us both know we often talk a lot, but we were frankly over whelmed by this very strong woman who before her retirement served as a member of the People's Committee in Cu Chi and later in HCMC (People's Committee is similar to our City Council) as a social and political leader.  We asked a few respectful questions, but mostly just listened and tried to fathom what it must have been like living for those ten days underground with no way of knowing the outcome and whether you would live to fight another day.  What it must have been like in Cu Chi for both the political leaders, guerrilla fighters and residents during and immediately after the American War.  What is means to have lived through all the changes in Cu Chi up to the present.
When this woman spoke at the table of nine people, every one hushed and listened -- not just us older folks but the young and middle aged women, too.  Our eating, talking, sharing toasts with this woman will be a cherished life long memory -- she is an inspiration!  And from after the war to the present she has been a leader of People's Committees in more than one location, an educator and a champion helping build the new Vietnam that honors both its thousands of years history and its present growing place in the world.

While we were in Cu Chi visiting the historical and political sites, we also got to visit our friend's family home in Cu Chi.  The property included three typical design and size rural houses -- the original was built by our friend's grandparents and parents.  Later she and her younger brother each built smaller houses very close by, all sharing a patio area.  Over the years a couple of small fish ponds were added.  There was enough space for at least 100 chickens (who literally had the run of the place), several active dogs and a cat or two.  There were many stands of bamboo trees (which are harvested each year), peanut trees, plenty of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, several types of chili plants.  We enjoyed a great dinner of special Cu Chi food on the patio. The pace and feel of the countryside is truly different from HCMC!

The wedding reception we attended was the final event of the two days of a typical Vietnamese weeding.  The day before, Friday, in Cu Chi had been the traditional visit of the groom and his family to the bride's family home with a special meal (perhaps with a traditional ao dai for the bride).  That was followed by everyone visiting the groom's family home for another special meal and ceremony. Early on Saturday there was a more modern marriage ceremony in Cu Chi when the bride wore a Western style wedding dress and probably Cu Chi friends joined with family in celebrating the wedding.  Then folks traveled in decorated cars to HCMC city for the more modern wedding reception/lunch we attended along with HCMC friends as well as Cu Chi family and friends.

We were made to feel so welcome as we met the bride and groom (who both teach at TDT Vocational College in HCMC), family, friends of the family and couple, many union and political leaders (since our TDT colleague and friend is a long time union leader).  There was great food as always, lots of toasting for the happiness and well being of the couple, live music, a magic performance, kareoke, many happy children running around -- quite an event.

Picking up our Wedding gift on the way to the Reception.
The young woman made the gift of pillows --
a popular wedding gift here.  The beautiful purple ao dai
is on of Leanna's favorites now.
While we were in the midst of the warm, relaxed celebration and later, we both repeatedly were struck by the deep sense of how much Vietnam means to each of these generations, how much each generation has sacrificed to be able to celebrate a joyous wedding in a union hotel/restaurant, how the stories of sacrifice and horror are shared in such a way that individuals are inspired to continue to contribute to the building of not just their daily lives but also in a connected way to the building of their country.  When the groom and his buddies got up to sign together they sang a revolutionary song.  Leanna compared ao dais with these strong women of Cu Chi who take great pride not just in their political history but their culture of beauty, music and artistry which includes outrageous embroidery.

The gift of sharing a special family moment with us, introducing us to a true woman patriot of Cu Chi, giving us the chance to glimpse the depth of the connection between the Vietnamese people's politics, economy, culture, history and day-to-day lives -- our TDT colleague is ever more dear to our hearts and minds as we appreciate the many insights and lessons of Vietnam.

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