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My Little Sister’s Wedding

Congratulations Mark and Thienbao!

It’s been planned for a long time, and now we’ve finally here. My sister’s married and I have a new brother. Congratulations and best wishes to Thienbao and Mark!

This was meant to be a quick post and has ended up being quite long. It’s all from my own perspective of the wedding. I wanted to immediately put thoughts down so I don’t forget something I may want to say now. Also for posterity sake so I don’t forget things when I look back at this time in the future. But most importantly to share all my love for Mark and Thienbao. Hopefully you get something out of this too. I know the day must have gone by in a blur for you guys.

Wedding Countdown

My little sister Thienbao was and is still over at Lehigh University pursing her Physics PhD degree. She met Mark while living in Pennsylvania. I could tell that Thienbao really liked Mark because she introduce him to my mom (a fierce and conservative Vietnamese lady). There was definitely going to be struggles between mom and daughter. I’m sure those close to Thienbao know. Mark loved Thienbao enough to embrace our family with open arms, to appreciate the cultural divide he was crossing and to find a way to show his love. That has all culminated into a marriage here in Denver on August 20, 2016.

In addition to having Mark and Thienbao fly in from Pennsylvania, many folks are making the trip from across the country to attend. Mark’s family and many of the couple’s friends from Pennsylvania are coming. My mom is also using the opportunity to have many of her friends she hasn’t seen in many years visit. It’s not the biggest wedding, and budget wise probably comes well under the national average for weddings nowadays. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the preparations have all been catered to best fit everyone’s wishes for the wedding and to have an amazing planed set of events to truly celebrate a special one day of your life occasion.

The wedding is a mix of traditional Vietnamese traditions as well as many modern Western traditions. This past week I’ve been mostly the link between the Vietnamese and Western (more on that later). Prior to this weekend, I was in the background letting everyone else do the planning. Staying in the background affords me a unique role. I’m close enough to the action that I have a rough sketch about the plans, but don’t have to do much of the work or make any of the decisions.

My big role is that I’ve been tasked as the pianist during the church ceremony. It was only until the day of the wedding that I was asked to translate the Vietnamese ceremony, as well as MC the event for English speakers during the evening’s reception. That’s really neither here nor there though. The wedding is of course about Mark and Thienbao and I’ve already written too much about the backdrop. To sum up the weeks and months prior to the wedding, I’d say hectic and stress-filled but also filled with waves of growing anticipation.

Wedding Rehearsal & Dinner

On Friday, we had a quick rehearsal at the church. The anticipation builds with the wedding rehearsal and dinner. It’s the first real event where folks are gathered for the wedding. I hadn’t met any of Mark’s family until then so it was good to see who was actually participating in the wedding. The rehearsal went smoothly enough in making sure things the church ceremony went okay. We’re smart people and though things never seem to work out at the rehearsal, they ended up working at the wedding.

I’m familiar with the structure of mass as a long time accompanist. Personally, I’d rather have a rehearsal of the traditional Vietnamese ceremony happening at the house the next day to make sure things run smoothly at that ceremony for the blushing bride and grimacing groom. Deacon Kevin was very accommodating and we made it through the rehearsal while he help direct things. A few assumptions were made about the music, I kept some mental notes, none of which mattered to much the next day at the wedding.

Dinner hosted by Mark’s family was at Beatrice & Woodsley. This was the first of many times where I was tasked with directions especially for the Vietnamese folks my mom from my side of the family. Briefly: old asian drivers don’t do well – yes I admit it. Also its tough in an old business district to find parking. I still like you Denver, even if parking can be a pain sometimes. Rain was sprinkling that evening, making for a wet and gray close to the day. There were some fears with the weather forecast previously portending cool wet weather the day of the wedding.

The dinner was great. What more could you ask for in life than pretty good food and great company. I’ve known of the restaurant for a long time and always thought of it as overpriced. Having finally gone there and tried the food. I would say it was definitely decent. Not being a foodie though, I’ll leave the criticism to a minimum. I was able to catch up with the maid of honor Rachel. I also got to better know Thienbao’s friend Andrew, who would later play the violin at the church ceremony. At the end Mark and Thienbao presented gifts to the members of the wedding party. The musicians (Andrew and I) were given nice cards and gift cards. Thanks, for that! I don’t know how I’ll ever use it though. (ie I’m more frugal than you think and despite it being “free” money want to make the most of it by meticulously deciding on something with good value).

I left the rehearsal dinner tired and wondering how I might manage the long day tomorrow, but in a very happy mood. It’s one of the feelings that you can get addicted to. I’m sure Mark and Thienbao’s emotions were that much more amplified.

Traditional Vietnamese Ceremony

The wedding day itself – August 20, 2016 – started in the morning with a traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony at my family’s house. Also known as a tea ceremony, it is a combination betrothal to publicly announcing the intentions of the couple to marry as well as a ceremony that is meant to honor the two families who have been brought together. The groom is formally introduced to the brides family and offers gifts to the bride in exchange for her hand in marriage. The couple then pays tribute to and honors their parents by offering them tea.

I woke up early greeted with a beautiful day. The wet cloudy evening the night before refreshed the earth for a perfect sunny day with temps in the low 80s. A perfect weekend. I had to go pick up the pig roast from the restaurant and a few of the gifts the groom will present to the bride for the ceremony. I went to dropped these things off for the groom and headed home to change. I had my suit already, but didn’t know what dress shirt to wear. I texted my sister asking, but then made a decision to go with blue as I literally only had 10 minutes to change. We were already behind schedule and folks had shown up at our house already.

The grooms side waited outside around the corner. The pig and as the other symbolic gifts that were placed in 8 red trays covered in special red cloth were given to 9 gentlemen who lined up and would process into the house. The representative of the groom’s family asked for the groom and his party to be invited in. After the bride’s family invited the groom inside the men bearing gifts then process into the house. A corresponding number of ladies from the bride’s side would then accept these gifts. Once this was complete, the bride’s representative then presents the bride.

My sister descended the stairs and definitely looked beautiful in her traditional Vietnamese outfit. My parents say a few words of prayer to God and our ancestors and finally offer to Mark their daughter. They said a few words of farewell and give advice to the new couple. The grooms family in exchange offers the bride jewelry and congratulates the couple. Lastly, the couple offers their thanks to their parents by serving them tea. Glad to have a few photographers in there to get some different angles as it was pretty cramped with so many people. The first of many picture opportunities were made use while lunch was quickly prepared.

I joined in the excitement in having a whole roasted suckling pig to dig into for lunch. Lunch was brief. The pig was delicious. We did some socializing with folks who attended the ceremony before getting ready to head to church for the actual wedding.The whole ceremony was somewhat improvised as halfway through I started translating things for English speakers present, but it was still beautiful nonetheless. Seeing both my dad and mom speak to the couple and seeing my mom break down to tears was very emotional for me.

Wedding Ceremony

The wedding itself was held at Notre Dame Catholic Church – it was the church my sister and I grew up in as well as the church school that my sister attended from late elementary through middle school and where she met her maid of honor. I was pleasantly relieved to have Andrew as an instrumentalist with me. His violin playing was great. As a mediocre pianist I did my best with the piano playing.

Focused on the music I had to play I don’t remember parts of the ceremony. I had already seen my sisters dress and saw how she looked in it. Unfortunately I missed the wedding procession and Mark seeing his bride who he’ll marry for the first time in that dress. What I do know was that the mass was beautiful and Father Elder’s homily was amazing. I wish there was videotape of the homily. A poignant Christmas story, beautiful imagery, insightful messages rooted in Christianity, strong insights into humanity, the whos, whats, whys, hows and everything about the word feeling and all aspects of love – there was a lot there to learn from. The day had just so much to take in and I’m sure there was plenty of wisdom to be gleaned. I’m sure most folks there no matter their religion had a few takeaways. The church was already beautiful but having the few extra flowers here and there, having everyone dressed up, everyone really happy, and having family and friends present really makes the setting that much more wonderful.

After the mass I was able to catch up with a couple of folks who only could attend the wedding briefly and would miss the reception. I gladly caught them up on the couple. I’m glad there are folks who keep things on track like my parents as it felt like time flew by. Before I knew it, I had to start playing the piano. In what felt like a few minutes we had to already make sure we got out of the church in time. It was probably stress but my mom definitely needed the down time before the wedding reception. She changed and just lied down. Others had told me she didn’t look well at the church. She recovered well for the reception though.

Wedding Reception(s)

I was first to make it to the restaurant to scope out the sound system making sure it would work that evening and oversee that the restaurant was set to go. Right after church I had to log into my sisters computer and find a way to upload her music for the reception to an 8-year-old iPod. She wasn’t able to do it successfully before. I had already suggested getting a stereo to RCA cable to interface with an old sound system as well. Good thing I did as I really did not want to worry about file format issues for the different songs. I was able to find a way to load the music as well.

I then patiently waited after making sure the mic worked okay and the mini logistics things that my parents tasked me with were going okay. I helped direct some folks as they slowly filed in. As is typical of Vietnamese folks many showed up late. We also were waiting to see if the priest and deacon would come. The reception planned for 6pm didn’t start till 7pm. I’m sure that folks who were waiting were starving!

After a majority of the guests has filed in, I was then asked to MC the event for the English speakers with the bride’s representative who did the Vietnamese speaking. Uh why wasn’t I told of this sooner lol. I then had to coordinate the plans of what to do as well as figure out when things would take place. We had to figure out when the couple would cut the cake and do a toast, when the couple would do their costume change to greet the individual tables, when the best man and maid of honor would do their speech. Glad things went okay enough.

For the reception I was seated with Thienbao’s high school friends whom I mostly all knew. The other part of the reason was my mom was trying to set me up. haha. Who wants to have their parents set them up? I was seated opposite her across the 10 person round table so couldn’t talk much to her and my mom wasn’t checking in trying to act as a shoddy wing person like I expected her to. I would’ve been so embarrassed if she did though. Thankfully, she was too busy with the other guests.

Having to run back and forth to the stage I did still get the chance to catch up with most of Thienbao’s high school friends. I learned about what amazing friends my sister has. I can’t say how much I love what Pauline and Nicole do. As someone with strong feelings about helping undeserved populations I am inspired to see other folks who care as well. I learned quite a bit about my high school. I really enjoyed high school and it did a great deal for me in my development as a person. I really appreciated it and thanks Emily and Kirstyn. Plus, it’s always great to see you Grace :p. I won’t avoid you the next time we have another happenstance run-in – uh unless I want to. Kim – great idea with the candy on a string. I was able to bond with Gina over our cars and barely started a deep discussion with her (I’m intrigued about what more you have to say).  I had someone who I had known since I was a baby cry tears of joy for me seeing me grown. I saw estranged-ish family members. My sister and Mark shared a great dance. Even though they didn’t want a lot of jumping around at the reception, it was fun nonetheless. It’s always good to have a wedding now and then for these moments – all these moments these past few days.

Tim’s and Rachel’s speeches were great! Both were funny and you could tell right away that the person speaking was genuinely happy for the couple. I was glad to hear more about Markles 🙂 and Rachel shared some great things I had forgotten about her relationship with Thienbao.

O and the food was okay. It was multiple courses of Chinese banquet food. Some of it too messy to eat for my liking – lobster and fish and duck especially. Also, we should have made it explicitly clear that people could ask for more drinks, more than was set out at the tables. We ended taking home tons of alcohol.

On Sunday, there was a large picnic in the mountains. They had rented a large shelter at Pine Valley Ranch Park. I was so scared about old Asian drivingness once more especially since there was some mountain driving. I was able to convinced my mom to give up her keys and have a younger guy drive her car following me from our house.

The park is right next to a rushing stream and a lake. While I was busy doing the short lake loop, my mom fell into the lake as she sat on the edge (facepalm). It was a picturesque setting for any Sunday afternoon. I ended going on a short two-hour hike all by my lonesome that afternoon – a hike that remained surprisingly secluded. Most folks understandable stayed at the shelter or explored at the lakeshore to socialize. I have another post planned that deals with that hike. It includes more than one funny story. In my mind it was a great cap to a wedding here in the beautiful state of Colorado.


Those were an intense couple of days followed by such abruptness. People are returning to their daily lives and folks are already flying out. The big change of course being that Mark and Thienbao will return to life as husband and wife! Love you guys! Make grand-kids soon so that mom finally has a distraction. Mark, I’m excited to get to know your friends and family even more and thrilled to have a new brother. Good luck to starting your lives as husband and wife in Pennsylvania and sorry I can’t make the reception you’re having over there.

Thanks for everyone who was at the wedding, and/or those who stuck with reading this long diatribe to this point. It was written over the course of a few hours Sunday night. Edited for glaring mistakes on Monday (It rained again today). Others might see signs into that, or just appreciate the tremendous luck we had. I’m posting now, but may add to/edit this more later. Just wanted to get it out right now just after the wedding.

For pictures: The vast majority of you want them, I know. Check Facebook as I’m sure there will plenty uploaded there (this is actually the first time I’ve been active on Facebook in several years – in that I log in and view/do something rather than passive maintenance of my profile – a topic for another blog post).

I won’t be posting any photos on my blog unless my sister and new brother want me to. Plus, most of the pictures will be from our photographer anyway. Links to the photo albums may be updated here.

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