Enjoying a Wedding in Vietnam! Until I Discovered It Was a Funeral.

Have you ever happened upon a wedding in a country other than your own? Oh, the flowers, the atmosphere, the attire! What could be a more transfixing, happy, unique occasion?

Upon stepping out of my guesthouse in Hoi An, Vietnam, minutes after arriving – and after surviving a night on a cockroach-infested train from Nha Trang - I encountered dozens of people wearing white crowded into a building where music – including a gong! – played, in front of which sat several automobiles decked out in hundreds of flowers. A Vietnamese wedding! I rejoiced.

White-clad people at a gathering in Hoi An, Vietnam

A wedding!

Decorated car at a funeral in Hoi An, Vietnam

Festive, no?

Inside a small open-air building, dozens of people clad in white faced a red and gold dais, solemn as could be – after all, this was a wedding. On the street where I stood a colorfully costumed man wearing a mask walked about, amongst the ten or so autos briliantly outfitted in rugs, bunting and flowers. Such a happy occasion.

Man in a colorful costume outside a "wedding" in Vietnam

Cheeful man in his colorful costume

In fact, the atmosphere seemed so upbeat, that I didn’t hesitate to ask this masked man to have my photo taken with him. He said yes. Hurray!

Me and a man in costume at a funeral in Vietnam

Let the rejoicing continue!

After several minutes of celebration, I began speaking to a local man who said he’d like to take me on a motorbike tour of the area. I declined, but asked him to tell me a little about the celebration at hand.

This is a funeral, he stated flatly.

A funeral? I responded. Are you sure?

Yes, said he. The woman was 81 years old. We are sad, but not so sad. She had good life.

Oh, my.

A clearer-eyed look around, and I noticed that indeed, there were elements of this event which indicated death.

Several people wearing white, with white headbands

The solemn expressions

Vehicle standing outside a funeral in Hoi An, Vietnam

A hearse-like vehicle

A truck outfitted with a canopy, perhaps used as a hearse, in Vietnam

And the actual hearse?

Yes, this was definitely a funeral. You can stay, said the man who was speaking to me. No, thank you, I responded, feeling this was an occasion better left only to those were grieving. I turned and left.

I learned, though, that funerals need not be macabre. In fact, they can be downright, if not deceptively, cheerful.

How about you? Ever stumbled an event you were sure you understood in another country, only to discover you were “dead” wrong? Please tell.

12 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Steve says:

    What an interesting story. It kind of reminds me of something that happened to me in Nicaragua. I was getting a horse drawn carriage ride and talking to a local when suddenly we got surrounded by a large group of people that came seemingly out of nowhere. The street was packed with people all walking around us. I thought maybe I came across a protest or flash mob so I was a little concerned. Then I saw a couple of them carrying a casket and realized it was for a funeral. The really sad thing was that the casket was small and obviously meant for a child. It was quite a memorable experience.
    Steve recently posted..Always Pursue Your Dreams – No Matter What HappensMy Profile

  2. Wow! That has never happened to me, yet I, too, never would have expected it to be a funeral. I never imagined being so festive when losing a loved one, yet love their focus on celebrating a person’s life.
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..New Zealand Moment of the Week: This is What a Public Library Looks Like in New ZealandMy Profile

  3. Hahahaha ohhh dear! I love this post, especially the part when you realise and put all the signs together. I’ve never mistaken a funeral for a wedding before. Luckily in the UK and Korea, they’re pretty easy to distinguish from one another. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a funeral procession in Korea…which is a good thing, obviously.

    I’m loving the costume that the guy who you snapped a photo with is wearing, by the way. I want him at my funeral, or someone similar. I don’t plan on dying for several more decades yet.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Four Fab Photos of TurkeyMy Profile

  4. I’ve never had anything like that happen to me, I must say. What an interesting post it’s made!
    Andrew Graeme Gould recently posted..Hecho en Casa: Primer Festival de Intervención Urbana en SantiagoMy Profile

  5. Shaun says:

    The title made my lol even though it’s not something to lol at….

    Sounds like they are doing it right though. Most people want to go out with a celebration of their life not a weary get together.

  6. Nico says:

    I can just imagine your smile dropping as the man told you it was a funeral. Quite a moment.

    As for me, I had a somewhat similar experience myself when I was invited around to the house of a stranger I just met. It turned out his father had just died. It felt quite strange meeting people for the first time at such a solemn event.
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  7. To tell you the truth I knew that some Asian countries hold colourful and “happy” funerals. I just have never had a chance to attende one of them.

    You must be very lucky to get a chance like that.

  8. That was a pretty funny line, “We’re sad, but not so sad…” I probably would have thought it was a wedding too. It sounds like quite the upbeat event!

  9. Shalu Sharma says:

    Very interesting story. Sometimes one can get confused. Just by looking at these pictures, I cannot make out if its a wedding or a funeral hence anyone can get confused. But looking at the car, its more like a wedding car. Really confusing.
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  10. I have to admit that here in Cambodia I have made that mistake more than once. Dread is when a THREE DAY wedding starts in the neighborhood. Funerals usually, luckily, only last one (and the music is better).
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..Worry and ConcernMy Profile

  11. Sabina says:

    Hi Shalu, it sure looked like a celebration. So colorful and happy. Perhaps this is the way we should handle funerals in the West.

  12. Sabina says:

    A three-day wedding? I did see what appeared to be wedding dinners while I was in Kampot. I didn’t realize this could go on for three days, though!

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