A couple of interesting events this week:
On Tuesday, after my fourth trip to the tailor, I picked up my new ao dai--traditional Vietnamese dress. I was very excited when The Gioi Publishers first said they would buy me one, but by the end of the process, I had almost decided it was more trouble than it was worth. First there was the initial trip to the tailor to pick out fabric and be fitted. It was amazing how difficult it was for me to find one fabric I liked--an opaque fabric without sequins, glitter, large flowers, or LOUD patterns--even in a shop entirely devoted to cloth. "Simple elegance" is something few people strive for in Vietnamese fashion. Here, glitter does not serve as an accent; its role is more along the lines of "the more the better." Secondly, it was interesting that, for a shop that specialized in making ao dai, this did not seem to be its forte...
But! I got it. And I already got to wear it, which leads me to the second interesting event of the week...
On Thursday, I took leave from work to attend the engagement party of my host cousin, who I had met one time previously. Interestingly, I'm pretty sure that this is the cousin whose mom was anxious to set me up with him during my first month in Hanoi; turns out he's been in love with his now-fiance for about ten years! Although the couple has been as good as engaged for quite some time, the official engagement had to wait for a lucky day--as indicated by the fortuneteller. The same is true for the wedding, which takes place a week from tomorrow. Now that's what I call a short engagement!
The Vietnamese name for the engagement ceremony is an hoi (an=eat, hoi=ask). The groom's family takes an odd number of gifts (apparently odd numbers are luckier than even ones)--in our case, seven--and present them to the bride's family at their home. The bride's family sets up space for tea and light refreshment. Some words are exchanged, then the bride's family takes the gifts up to the family altar to inform the ancestors of the engagement and petition for their blessing. There may also be confetti, women in very flashy ao dai, men in suits, lots of the color red (also generally lucky), lots of glitter, and lots of pictures (which I will post sometime!).
After the ceremony, which didn't take more than a half hour, we went back to the groom's family's house for lunch. I received many compliments on my ao dai; I'm not sure if people actually liked it (I mean, it doesn't have any glitter!), or if they were just surprised to see a foriegner wearing one. Either way is ok with me. I received a similar complement about my chopstick skills. I have found that these large family gatherings exhaust me, even when I spend most of them sitting/standing around.
However, I had a nice opportunity for refreshment at the end of my tiring day--I received free tickets from work to go to a concert by the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra, which featured a guest Spanish conductor. The vocals weren't great, but I thoroughly enjoyed the instrumentals, not to mention the gold glitter covering the soprano's face.