Alternative titles: One of these kids is not like the other, Hennessy Nights, and Sticky Rice-Sticky Thighs
Reading Noony’s post was the motivation I needed to get on here and spill some words.
I’m a lover of all things culture and being married to a first generation Laotian-American makes me a participant observer for life. And I’m not complaining. Through the six years we’ve been together I’ve been to several Lao New Year’s celebrations, more Lao parties, one Lao funeral, and my own Lao wedding. Sometimes I forget that my husband and I are from different cultures, but it’s at events like these that I definitely remember that he’s Lao and I’m not. My family would never order a whole roasted pig for a celebration, never grind anything using a mortar and pestle, never hack a coconut properly with a cleaver, never eat fish sauce, never eat tripe (I should include that my family is not adventurous at all in the culinary department), and never ever never eat baby duck eggs. Also, my family would never be able to sit for hours at a time the way Laotians do at the temple. Not possible.
Over the years I’ve come to respect, love, and cherish this culture that my husband comes from. He wasn’t born in Laos, but his family preserves Lao culture as best it can in the diaspora. While spiritually the temple might not hold the most meaning for my husband, we both love to go to the temple for Lao New Year and be immersed in Lao culture if only for a few hours. Some of my favorite things about Lao culture: the nop, a slight bow with hands folded (Noony, correct me on anything), utmost respect for elders, taking shoes of by the door, communal meals/food on the table all the time, sense of duty to maintain tradition, and last but not least, mangoes with sweet sticky rice.
One of the best experiences of Lao culture was my own Lao wedding and because I found some pictures of our Lao wedding ceremony I’ll take this opportunity to post them before I forget. Let me just say the Lao wedding ceremony involved a week-long preparation by many many family members which involved cooking literally non-stop, cleaning up my in-law’s house and backyard to host the wedding and gathering supplies for the wedding. It was so humbling the way everyone pitched in to prepare for the wedding. The night before the wedding we had a party and some Hennessy shots. Lots of dancing, eating, and drinking. The morning of the ceremony, which was supposed to start at 10:30am, I woke up early and got ready for a good hair pulling/tender-headed session with the lady who does Lao wedding hair. My eyes were watering the entire time. I guess she isn’t used to Lao brides of the red-haired variety so she only had fake black hair to use. Once I had my scalp pulled in every direction imaginable and had my make-up done, there were at least 5 women helping me into the sinh/ Lao skirt, putting the belt on, jewelry on, and safety-pinning everywhere.
After I was ready we processed out the front door and around to the backyard. Normally the groom processes to the bride’s family home, but since I was at Daniel’s family home I processed with a large posse. On-lookers may have thought there was a CIA sting going on. At the backdoor, two Lao elder-women held up a belt where my Mother-in-Law “bartered” for me to be able to enter the home. Then, Daniel and I sat down and the ceremony was underway. It involved eating rice and boiled egg out of a stranger’s hand (oh, the things we do for love), chanting, and finally having guests file by one-by-one and tie white string around our wrists while giving us blessings and well-wishes for a happy marriage. Some of the best wishes I got were advice from elders. I love this tradition and think it’s way better than signing your name in a card–instead the guests speak their wishes to the bride and groom. There was so much food…so. much. And it was 90% homemade. Like I said, so endearing and humbling that our family and friends came together to make our Lao wedding possible. Guests stayed basically all day. There was karaoke, dancing, eating, drinking, and lounging around. I am so thankful and happy that Daniel and I got to experience this part of Lao culture and share these memories with the ones we love.