Two days

Before the wedding period began, in my head, I knew my mom would get mad at me about something inane and ridiculous within two days of the wedding happening. And the sad thing is that I was actually spot on.

Two days after the wedding on Sunday, I called her to see where she and my dad were. The caterer was quite nice and packed up all of the leftover food for us to take home despite their standing policy on not doing this in fear of violating health codes or getting sued for people who could get food poisoning. I had forgotten about the food that the hotel offered to store for us in their fridge until Chris remembered it. By that time, our farewell brunch had long ended, and my parents had already left the hotel, so we kept some of the food and also gave some to remaining family members and some bridal party before heading up to LA. My mom was furious about this and said that I should have taken the initiative to reach out to her to ask her first. “It’s up to you to ask me, not for me to ask you,” she admonished me. “Why don’t you ever think about your parents first?”

Was that really necessary, and does that question really need an answer?

Cousins and cousins

The funniest thing about having the majority of close family and friends all in one place for your wedding is seeing what the dynamic is like not just in how they act around each other, but how you act with all of them in one place. Who are you going to spend time interacting with, or the most time interacting with, and who are you going to have the most fun and laughs around?

Having my cousins in the same place with most of Chris’s cousins was interesting and clearly revealed who I cared and didn’t care about the most. Chris’s cousins are like my own family, the functional family I never had, and they are fun and enjoyable to be around. I genuinely enjoy spending time with them and have had many a session when I have laughed so hard that my ribs ended up hurting. With my own cousins, I barely spent any time conversing with any of them, and they made no effort to talk much to me or approach Chris and me at all. In fact, my cousin and his wife and children who came from Redwood City barely said anything to us until I went to their table, and they left without saying goodbye or thanks for having them. My cousin and his wife and son in Brooklyn left without saying bye early… in fact, they barely said hi to me at all. They actively chose not to socialize with anyone and instead were all rude during the reception speeches, talking amongst themselves with whatever gossip and negativity they like to occupy themselves with, and allowing their children to make lots of noise without discipline. This resulted in a lot of glares from Chris’s aunts and uncles table, who actually did care to hear our speeches and came because they truly care about us. Chris’s parents later asked who those people were at that table and suspected they must be my cousins. I’m sure they noticed I barely talked to them at all. It says everything about how much we value each other.

The end of the wedding period is over and is sad because it was so much fun, but it’s kind of nice because now, I have no reason to be proactive or in touch with any of those cousins, or my dysfunctional aunt, who decided to complain about her estranged son and his children she didn’t know about to me, and also came to my wedding wearing jeans. As always, the world revolves around her in her head, even when her niece is getting married. Colleagues later commented that this was the ultimate way to disrespect me and my parents, but in all truth, I really didn’t care and dismissed her presence right away. I’m getting better at ignoring idiocies in my family. It’s the end of my relationship with family members who truly don’t care about me, and I don’t really think about much seriously.

Wedding ceremony details

There’s nothing worse than a long, boring wedding ceremony. The most boring wedding ceremony I had to attend was over three hours long and had way too many meaningless readings done that meant absolutely nothing. It was clear it was like a template that brides and grooms were blindly following. We agreed on thirty minutes max, twenty if we could possibly pull that off, and tried to abide by that and squeeze in a solo by my bridesmaid, a reading from a bridesmaid and a reading from a groomsman, our own personalized vows, and a unity ceremony in the form of a poured cocktail. I think we made it work.

During Chris’s vows, he surprised me with a quote that I did not recognize but did sound vaguely familiar. Who said this quote? He pulled out a Pooh bear from under the unity ceremony table. I love Pooh and was so excited. I knew he’d do something to surprise me at some point during the wedding, and this was it.

We wanted some visual for a unity ceremony toward the end of the ceremony, and we knew a candle would be too boring and trite, and a sand ceremony just seemed pointless because we’d need to carry that back to New York or give it away, which would defeat the purpose of having it. We both like cocktails, Chris said. So why don’t we just get some drinking vessels, pour our own into a single glass, and drink out of it to symbolize our union? It was an idea that amused so many of our guests, and some complained that they didn’t get a taste of it afterwards to see what we decided to mix. Of course, I chose tequila as the liquor of choice.

The readings were done really well — the one by my bridesmaid was chosen by herself, Sonnet XVII of Pablo Neruda, to reflect our bond and love, and the one by Chris’s cousin and groomsman, “If” by Rudyard Kipling, was to mark the next stage of our lives as adults. “If” is Chris’s favorite poem, and I’ve always loved the writings of Pablo Neruda both for his poetry as well as his novels. And the song that Crista sang, “Your Song,” was so beautifully delivered that it made me tear up when she was singing. She definitely put her own spin on the song that is unique from Elton John’s.

Ed was at the wedding. You just had to look and listen for him.

“Table numbers are so boring. I want table names,” Chris said to me ages ago. Okay, I said, but you have to come up with a theme that makes sense. A few weeks ago, he asked me questions about what Ed’s favorite foods were. A few that came up off the top of my head included pork ribs, dim sum, mango mousse, and rocky road ice cream. Think up a few more, Chris said. I also thought up Gordo’s burritos (a mini chain of San Francisco style burritos back home), Funyun chips (our favorite junk food purchase at the corner store near our house growing up), Jamba Juice (in particular, the berry smoothies), and fried chicken. “Let’s have the table names be Ed’s favorite foods,” Chris said. “Not everyone will know right away what it’s about, but I’ll tell everyone during my reception speech.”

I immediately started crying when he said this. I felt like it would be another reminder for my mom and me that Ed wasn’t there, but Chris was insistent. “It’s a way to remember him and make him there at the wedding,” he reassured me. “It’s a good idea.” So I reluctantly agreed. And then after having the table names printed along with photos to accompany what each was, I decided that this would be a really fun and cute idea for our quirky wedding.

(What we later found out from discussing the wedding with guests is that some thought that the name of their tables was the only food they’d be getting for the evening. The “Pork Ribs” table wondered if they’d all be eating pork ribs, and the Dim Sum table thought they’d only be choosing from different bamboo baskets during the dinner reception. Boy were they in for a surprise!).

Ed was all over the wedding. He was sitting at the ceremony in my good friend Adam’s pocket on the ocean terrace. When Adam was manning our welcome table, little Bart was there with him, too, and apparently was handed off to a few other friends who took his photo in different wedding venue spots. I had photos of Ed and Ed and me placed at the gift table of our wedding welcome area. His favorite foods were the names of each of the reception tables, and a shout out to him was on the ceremony programs we stayed late at my office printing on the gold Indian paper that Chris’s mother bought in India. There was no way I’d have a wedding and pretend my brother didn’t exist or wasn’t important to me. I needed him to be everywhere, otherwise I couldn’t pull this wedding off and be sane.

We even had some of Ed’s favorite songs, such as Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On” and Mariah Carey’s “Hero played. And what not a single person knew, not even Chris, was that right before my parents walked me down the aisle for our wedding ceremony, I took out a tiny 1″ by 1” photo of Ed when he was just in elementary school and tucked it into the ivory ribbon that wrapped my bridal bouquet. This way, Ed would be closest to me during the ceremony and near me all night long; at the ceremony, during photos, at the reception head table, and back with me at the end of the night when everything has ended and everyone has gone home.

He lives on in me, and we hope he also enjoyed the wedding as much as we did.

Wedding customization: food and flowers

The truth is that although I don’t like cookie-cutter weddings, in general I love, love weddings. I love the idea of family and friends getting together to see two people join lives. I love the corniness of “love in the air” and people thinking about falling in love and being together forever. I also love everyone having this excuse to dress up in their finest and get decked out for a special occasion… and taking lots and lots of pictures to prove how good looking they all really are. I am a little brainwashed by Disney and love a happy ending.

But to try to prevent us from seeming like we would have a cookie cutter wedding, Chris and I spent the last year trying to figure out the best ways to make this wedding really “us.” How do we infuse this with the ridiculous and funny, light-hearted but heartfelt beings that we try to be?

Where did we start thinking about this? Well, if you know me at all, we started with the food. I sought out the only caterer of the three preferred caterers our venue was contracted with that would allow us the most cultural customization with our menu to reflect our cultures and our food loves. We had Vietnamese (which exceeded any and all expectations for both quantity and quality) for our welcome/rehearsal dinner, so we didn’t have to worry about that. For our reception, this ultimately resulted in Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Thai, Mexican, and American-influenced dishes. We had to have a good mix of meat, seafood, and vegetables to accommodate our pescatarians and our meat-eaters alike, and there absolutely had to be rice. And because we’re in California, we wanted the option of tacos and quesadillas. so we made it happen via interactive food stations instead of formal plated dishes. We asked for a lot of customization, additions, and deletions (which, frankly, we had to pay quite a bit for), but in the end, it was all worth it. The food we had at our wedding was exactly like what we ate during our wedding tasting. And for the dishes we didn’t get a chance to taste but totally took a chance on, like the leg of lamb, the chicken tikka masala, and the butternut squash soup with ginger-poached pear, they were even better than they sounded on paper.

I was so proud to have wedding food that no one grumbled about or said was tasteless or worse, over-salted. And since Chris has always been a big snacker, he wanted to have little bowls of some of his favorite snacks, which include banana (plantain) chips, and his Aussie favorite Arnott’s Barbeque Shape crackers. Chris could gorge on these all day if you allowed him to, so we felt this was representative of us. We made sure to have Ben, his brother, groomsman, and MC, let all the guests know during the reception what these little snacks were in the bowls on their reception tables. And our wedding favors were many different flavors of Tim Tams, Chris’s favorite biscuit/cookie, which is also of Arnott’s from Australia. So we sent guests home with these biscuits packaged in plum purple organza drawstring bags with “With Love” labels that had on our names on them that we got complimentary from Wedding Paper Divas, courtesy of my cousin who works at Shutterfly.

What about dessert? We both love tropical flavors, so my first instinct was to try to find a dessert shop that could make us a mango cake. The only one that offered this was a shop that had a very high cake minimum and was hell-bent on using fondant; they were the ultimate cake Nazis. Neither of us likes fondant, so that was nixed. We finally found a dessert shop that could not only make our wedding cake image come true, but also accommodate mini desserts for the dessert table I’d always dreamed of having and having styled in our wedding colors. The wedding cake flavor was not mango in the end sadly, but was still tropical: vanilla cake with passion fruit filling and coconut cream cheese frosting. And because having wedding cake and four different mini desserts was not enough for me for variety, we also hired and got a great deal on a gelato cart, offering flavors that reflect us: pistachio (my favorite gelato flavor by far…with real pistachio chunks), tiramisu (hello, gelato is Italian, so we can’t NOT have tiramisu), pumpkin pie (very American), and mango sorbetto (to make up for not having mango cake). (Full disclosure, the dessert shop completely messed up on our cake design, as we ordered a completely different design and shape than what was delivered, but we’re taking it up with them now. It’s happily the only thing that really went “wrong” during the wedding day).

I researched and hand-picked every single seasonal floral and leaf stem put into the bridal and bridesmaid bouquets, the corsages and boutonnieres, and all center pieces and altar flowers. I loved the plum anemones, the white garden roses, the bright green cymbidiums, and the plum and white lilies the most. They gave a romantic but fresh look to the entire venue that I was so excited about when my florist presented the bouquets to me. She was happy to hear what I wanted, but also very proactive in giving me suggestions for the look we were trying to achieve. Chris said he didn’t care what I chose as long as there were orchids. We had two types of orchids, so he was very happy in the end. In fact, I’m surprised by how much he actually raved about the wedding flowers. He seemed more thrilled with the end result than I was!

He was there smiling at me.

When people say that your wedding day is one of the most emotionally charged days of your life, they are really saying the truth. On our wedding day, I woke up crying and feeling sick in the stomach because I knew Ed wasn’t going to be there. I texted my friend and bridesmaid, who came to my room immediately to hold and comfort me. “It’s normal to feel this way,” she said, “but Ed wouldn’t want you crying on your wedding day. He’d want you to be smiling and happy.” I sucked it up, put ice on my eyes, and had my hair and makeup done with our design team with the moms and bridesmaids.

When “Jupiter” played during the bridal processional and my parents walked me out to the ocean terrace towards the altar, we stopped at the top of the stairs where Kim, my coordinator, asked me to stop so the photographers could get photos of my parents and me staring out at the water and our guests. We stopped there for a few seconds longer than we were supposed to because when I looked out, the first face I saw… was Ed. He was wearing a suit and a tie, and he was smiling back at me. I caught my breath and blinked my eyes, and then he was gone; what I thought was him was actually Chris’s friend’s husband smiling up at me.

I know I didn’t imagine him, though. He was really there. He was really standing there, smiling at me and happy that his baby sister was getting married. I missed him the entire day, but for him and for Chris, my family and friends, I was so happy. It was truly the happiest and most fun-filled day of my life.

Wedding vows revealed

We wrote our own wedding vows and tried our best to customize our wedding as much as possible to reflect us and what is most important to us. These are the words and promises I shared on an ocean terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California today:

Eight years ago when we first met, it was certainly not love at first sight. But, it was definitely the beginning of an amazing friendship that over time, somehow evolved into a passion that has reached a depth I never thought possible. The truth is that before I met you and loved you, I always thought that in the ideal life partnership, two people would accept each other as is, and that was it. With you, I’ve realized how wrong I was. The rawest and most genuine love is one that recognizes your potential, is able to challenge you to reach that potential, and is ultimately able to encourage you to be the best possible version of yourself. It takes great strength, courage, and a lot of tough love to get there, but when we love, we face our fears, and we move forward in spite of those fears.

In you, I have found my best friend in every sense of the word. Your empathy, understanding, and optimistic view of the world and our place to contribute to it have inspired me to love more, give more, and slowly lose the cynicism I’ve held onto for so long. In my darkest hours, you’ve cut through all surrounding chaos and made clear your endless devotion to me and making my world a better, happier, and calmer place. You are not only my best and most loyal friend; you are my fiercest defender, my cheerleader, my travel and culture buddy, my food adventure mate, my taste testing guinea pig (even when my dishes don’t always come out well), my laundry boy, and my soul mate and inspiration.

Today, in front of our family and friends, I promise to continue growing with you, to encourage you to be all you are capable of being as you do with me. I vow to laugh, wrestle, and play with you even when life circumstances are challenging and hard. I promise to cook you fried rice and chicken curry stew, to rub your scalp with coconut oil when it gets too dry, to sew up the holes in your shirts and pants.. since you are inept at sewing. 🙂 But, above all, I promise to cherish and love you forever, putting you, my fuzzball, above all else.

I look forward to all of our life adventures together as we grow older, have a family, and contribute to this world we share together. My world is a brighter place with you in it. Thank you for loving and believing in me.


Welcome and rehearsal dinner

Tonight, we welcomed our friends and family to a welcome and rehearsal dinner to kick off our wedding celebration. I was insistent that the food be Vietnamese and found a place within 30-minute driving distance that was a sister restaurant of a well-known restaurant in the Westminster area. It was authentic Vietnamese flavors with a modern take, and lots of fresh flavors and ingredients. I wanted everyone to know why we chose Vietnamese food, why I wore an ao dai, and a little more about our thoughts about my heritage, so I gave this short speech toward the end of dinner to honor my mom and her heritage:
Hi everyone – Are you all enjoying the food? Thanks so much for traveling from all over the world to be here with us this long weekend to celebrate our wedding. It really does mean so much to us, and we’re overwhelmed with gratitude knowing that all of you spent the time, money, and energy to be here these couple of days. Every time an RSVP “yes” came in, we were more and more overwhelmed.
We hope you’re enjoying the food. I’m not sure how much you guys know about the LA and Orange County area, but the OC actually has the largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam, and being half Vietnamese (or a quarter after taking a 23AndMe genetics test and realizing my mom is half Chinese, half Vietnamese), I wanted to honor my heritage and that of my mother’s tonight. My mom has no idea what I’m about to say right now, so she’s probably getting a little worried, but what I want to say is that I’d like to use this dinner celebration to honor her, not just with the food on the table tonight and her here in the room, but also with my traditional Vietnamese dress, which is called an ao dai. My mother left a war-torn country in the early 70s and all her family to marry my dad and start a brand new life here in the U.S. Unlike other immigrants, she had no way to get all her family over here. In fact, she never got to see any of them again until 2008, when we went back to Vietnam to see them. She came here without any other family, was able to get the equivalent of a high school degree, and then an office job that helped to support my brother and me and put me through private college. She dealt with extended family, who frankly, did not feel that happy about accepting a woman of Vietnamese descent into their Chinese family. My mother’s strength and perseverance inspire me, and I’d like to let her know today, in front of all our family and friends, that I love her dearly, respect the culture she has brought into my life, and hope to mirror her hard work, perseverance, and determination in my own life and give that type of hope to our future children. Love you, Mommy… and Daddy, love you, too. 🙂 (Thanks for bringing mom over and marrying her.)
Needless to say, she was completely embarrassed and caught off guard when she realized that the speech was about her. She turned away from me and started looking down and towards the opposite end of the room. She thanked me later, but I think she was still digesting everything she heard and trying to understand what had happened and why.

In-laws reunited

Today, we had brunch in San Clemente with my parents, Chris’s parents, and my aunt. It was an interesting lunch in that the usual things happened; my dad was sitting there awkwardly, not really talking much unless Chris’s dad said something to him first. My mom insisted on sitting next to my aunt and mostly talked to her the whole time, along with Chris trying his best to converse with the two of them. Then, there’s Chris’s mom and me, who are sitting on the other side of the table, and I’m listening to his mom talk about not wanting to eat such heavy food so that she can look good for the wedding photos.

And it all ended with my dad rushing up to the front at the beginning, pretending to get up and use the bathroom, and paying for the bill before anyone else had the chance to. It just gets more and more predictable and exacerbating every time.

A small hiatus

We were surprisingly very productive and efficient on our first day in the LA area, so we decided to use Tuesday to enjoy the day for ourselves and do what probably no one does during their wedding week travel: visit two presidential libraries in a single day. We visited the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, and the Reagan Library, which was huge and sprawling and even included an Air Force One, in Simi Valley. Both were grand and beautiful in their own ways, but both also managed to gloss over all the negative aspects of both presidencies, such as Nixon’s Watergate scandal and ultimate resignation from the presidency, and Reagan’s previous wife and first daughter, and how he used to be a Democrat in his life pre-presidency. Revisionist history never really works, especially when smart Americans rarely forget what really happened in the past.