My travel plans and itineraries have changed slightly since my last E-mail. Im married, but have not traveled to Hoi An for the honeymoon yet, which Ill explain later. I first want to give some details about the wedding, because many had asked about it.
Ha and I were married in traditional Vietnamese custom and ceremonies. Although different from a Western ceremony, the wedding turned out to be a lot less complicated than I was lead to believe. The wedding had four basic parts to it, which are:
Vietnamese couples have an engagement ceremony in lieu of a wedding proposal. This is basically a party between the families to formally announce the marriage intentions of the bride and groom. The engagement ceremony was held on the November 9th. My family caravan to Has parents place with food candies and booze. Pictures were taken. Speeches were made. I was told to fetch Ha out of her room, which formally indicates that Ha and I were engaged. After that, everyone ate like pigs and drank like fish. The engagement ceremony is usually a few months before the wedding. Ours was set just a few days before our wedding to accommodate for all the traveling that my family had to do.
Ha and I had our traditional Vietnamese marriage ceremony last Sunday (November 12th). The wedding was in three parts and two ceremonies. This would give the impression of being complicated, but it turned out to be very easy and simple.
The first ceremony was at Has parents place, and followed a similar pattern as the engagement ceremony. My family had caravan over. Pictures were taken. Speeches were made. Someone told me to get Ha from her room, and we were married after that. It was literally that simple. No preacher, monk, church or vows were involved. Ha and I were whisked away shortly after to take wedding pictures around Hanoi while the family caravan to the wedding reception.
The wedding reception is where the rest of the family and friends participate in the wedding. It was held at the Government Guest House, which is a stones throw from Huan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Heres some coordinates for those of you using Google Earth: 21° 1’36.60″N, 105°51’16.63″E. It seemed like Ha and I were taking pictures non-stop for two hours straight after we arrived, because every aunt, uncle, cousin, friend or neighbor lined up for photos with us. We were ready to parade through the reception when the photo-op drew down enough for us to work our way into the building. I was still expecting a formal exchange of vows, even though we were already married by this time. The only formal exchange was the rings and a kiss. Once again, no preacher, monk or church was involved. The whole ceremony was remarkably simple. It just took three days to go through it.
Ha and my family spent several months preparing the reception and especially the selection of food. The food was excellent from what I heard. However, I didnt get a single bite of it because Ha and I proceeded to greet and take pictures with every single person that came to the reception. We were, again, whisked away to take more pictures moments after we greeted the last guest.
Both families caravan to my familys place and proceeded with the final part of the wedding ceremony while Ha and I were taking more wedding pictures. It is customary for the brides family to inspect the bedroom before the wedding couple is allowed to retire to it. I figured this would be the most embarrassing part of the whole wedding, and I was correct. Not only did both families parade through our bedroom, the photographer took dozens of pictures too. The line was crossed when the photographer wanted pictures of us in bed. Subsequently, I threw the photographer and anyone that wasnt my wife out of the bedroom, which ended the public part of the wedding. Shortly after that, Ha and I unwrapped our presents .
What Happened to the Honeymoon?
As I indicated a few times before, Ha and I were to be on our honeymoon in Hoi An right now. These plans have been set back a little bit, because of my Dads recent change in his health condition. I am happy to say that his health is improving.
My Dad suffers from numerous health problems related to his tour of duty in Vietnam, and, the best place to treat him appears to be Vietnam. He just started acupuncture therapy that is already causing great improvements in his health. It will take a couple weeks before it can be determined whether the therapy is working, and the familys travel plans will be determined based on the results. Its likely that Ha and I will leave for Hoi An sometime next week and then to Saigon where we will stay until I return to America.
Pictures, Pictures, Pictures .
There are a few of you who would swim here and beat the hell out of me if I didnt produce some pictures for you to look at. Im not going to let you down. Following is a link to some of the wedding pictures with many more to come:
[ click here ]
Things are settled down a bit since the wedding, and it looks like I will be in better contact than I expected during my honeymoon travels. Ill catch up on things with a few e-mails over the next few days.
Ha wants me to unwrap my wedding present now, so Im going to close this E-mail.
I hope everyone is well, and please write back with more questions.
Dan Harley, Jr.
Today’s the big day! I have some time to myself to think about my past, and ponder my future. This will probably be my last E-mail for a while, as I will be on my honeymoon.
Ive avoided marriage all my life, and had thought that I would be at least a little nervous towards the last few moments of being single. Whats strange to me is not being nervous, and actually being a little anxious. The last few weeks with Ha has removed any doubts that I may have had about marrying her. Her and I are soulmates, and are meant to be together.
It turns out that my wedding is going to be a pretty big event with or without me. I have relatives from all over the country here right now. Ha and our families have done an incredible job at planning and preparing for this event, that Im assured to have a memorable experience. The reception will be held at the Vietnam Government Guesthouse near Hoan Kiem Lake, which is a spectacular place with or without a wedding reception being held in it.
Tomorrow is also the beginning of APEC 2006 here in Hanoi, and the whole city is decked out for it. George Bush is supposed to show up tomorrow with an entourage that requires four 747s to transport. Its going to be interesting to see how my wedding party is going to get through town with the President here.
Ha and I will be heading to Hoi An by Wednesday, which is when I will start doing some real traveling around Vietnam. Ive been enjoying Hanoi so much that Im probably going to miss leaving it.
Thanks to everyone that have been writing to me. I really appreciate it, and will catch up with answers to some questions after my honeymoon.
Dan Harley, Jr.
The wedding plans are coming down to the wire, and I haven’t had much time to write. I have been taking lots of notes on things around here, which could make for some interesting reading. I have been living in Hanoi for the past few weeks, and making the best of it in this strange world.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
The house that my family is renting is located in a rather busy area. We’re about 1 block from the Red River, and about 1 km from Hoan Kiem Lake. There are all kinds of noises and smells that I can experience by just opening my balcony door. I call it the essence of Hanoi, while others call it the essence of spoiled garbage.
The house opens into a busy street. Directly across the street is a beauty salon, and two doors in either direction are Bia Hoi and Bia A Chau. Both are places that serve draft beer. Every once in a while, there is a lady that cooks and serves food right from the steps of our house.
There’s a couple infamous spots very close to the house. About a block away is the Titanic Night Club, which is moored in the Red River. Also not far away is the Bia Toilette, which is another infamous hang out for locals and expatriates.
My last trip to Vietnam convinced me that this country is not as backwards as I had thought. This trip is quickly proving how much Vietnam has in common with America. One thing that’s common are supermarkets. Hanoi has a few chains of supermarkets, which FiviMart is my favorite.
The FiviMarts are stocked somewhat similar to a Super Wal-Mart, but about half the size of a regular supermarket. There is a food section, clothing, household appliances, etc. The items lean toward an Asian market (for obvious reasons), so you will a lot more rice and vegetables than huge meat department. The FiviMarts are so similar to an American supermarket that I don’t think Ha will experience as severe of culture shock as I had originally thought.
A perk for me is being able to reach the top shelf for an item, because everything here is designed about six inches lower than in America.
Bia Hoi literally means gas beer. It is draft beer found virtually everywhere in Vietnam. Locals come to these places for more or less the same reasons Americans go to a bar. There is an infamous Bia Hoi location not far from the house, which is nicknamed Bia Toilette. The name of the place almost sounds like toilette. The place is huge, and is usually packed every night.
Food is abundant and incredibly cheap in Vietnam. You can get a decent meal for less than $2 US. Lunch with Chuck Searcy, Ha and myself cost about $3.00 US. Much of the food here is very similar to Vietnamese food that I’ve eaten all of my life in America. What I found interesting during this trip is the abundance of Western Food available here.
As I mentioned in a previous E-mail, Ha and I went out for pizza. Although the pizza was a far cry from the quality found in America, it is edible. What’s interesting was the salad bar, where local greens and things of different colors was served.
For the Dog Lovers
If you are a dog lover in Vietnam, you will have to determine exactly what you love about dogs. There is an ancient myth about Vietnamese and other Asians eating dog. The myth is actually true, but I still found some irony about how Vietnamese look at dogs.
Believe it or not, owning a dog is considered a status symbol here. I had seen many Viets walk their dogs around Hoan Kiem Lake, just like they were Americans taking a stroll with their trusted four-legged friend. There seems to be a commonality among these “man’s best friend” varieties. They all are very small or toy dogs. Putting it bluntly, there’s not much there to eat. I believe that staying below appetizer size is what keeps such dog alive.
For the record: Some Vietnamese do eat dog. Furthermore, dog is not served in secret from a street restaurant in the dark allies of Hanoi either. My uncle went to a huge “dog” restaurant that could seat over 300. Also for the record: I did not eat dog, cat, rat, mice or anything exotic during this trip (yet). I’m sure this snippet is not going to go over well with PETA.
The Missing Communist Flags
If I can choose one distinct difference between Saigon and Hanoi, then that difference would be the numerous hammer & sickle flags found in Hanoi. The communist flag was seen in massive numbers around Hanoi and North Vietnam, while only seen on government buildings in Saigon. The communist flag is flown at the same level as the Vietnam country flag, which symbolizes that the party is equal to the country.
There is something distinctly missing in Hanoi today. I haven’t seen a hammer & sickle flag anywhere in the city. Even Lenin Park failed to display a communist flag. This is unusual because the communist flag was quite prevalent during my last trip here.
Ha jokingly said that the Vietnam Government knew I was coming, and removed all of the communist flags while I was staying in Hanoi. She said the flags are stored in Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.
Actually, the APEC conference is in Hanoi this weekend, starting the day of my wedding. A special guest to this conference is George Bush, which spells out why any trace of communism in Hanoi has been hidden for the time being.
Spa & Massage
My uncles, Dad and I had visited this incredible spa and massage place. My Uncle Hung claims that he has never visited the place before, which seem unusual because all of the staff there knew him. Nevertheless, we weren’t there to meet one of my uncle’s girlfriends, but to see if the therapy treatment could help my Dad with his numerous health issues. Also, I had a stomach flu that I was having problems trying to shake off for the past few days.
The therapy starts with a cup of tea made from herbs and ginseng. The tea was like a miracle elixir, because I could feel my stomach problems go away almost immediately. Afterwards, we sat in a wine barrel filled with warm water mixed with herbs and then sat in a whirlpool filled with the same herbal elixir. I was beginning to wonder if I was going through a health spa or being prepared to be the main course at a dinner that night. My Dad went immediately to massage therapy, which I sat for a while in a sauna that was steamed with lemon grass.
The real experience was the massage therapy. A tiny Vietnamese girl contorted my body like a rag doll for about an hour. She was doing things to me that I’m sure would be illegal in several states, and especially Utah. She massaged just about every bone in my body, from my fingers to my toes. She even walked on my back, and I didn’t know someone could do things like that with their feet.
The session ended with a bowl of hot chicken soup. My stomach flu disappeared, and my Dad was walking without his cane, where he could barely stand up just a couple hours before.
I have a few other things that I’ve taken note of around nere, and will save it for another E-mail. Ha is yelling at me to eat dinner now (looks like she’s getting used to married life very quickly), so I gotta go.
Talk to you later!
Dan Harley, Jr.
Its been about a week-and-a-half since I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ha and I have been spending a lot of time together, and its been a slice of heaven so far. Ill save the mushy love stuff for later, and give an update on other things that are happening. Here are some bytes from Vietnam.
Pics and Blogs
I havent taken many pictures, because I havent gone anywhere where I havent already taken a thousand pictures. Pics from this and the last trip are located at:
Also, this and other posts can be viewed on my blog at:
Vietnam Is Not Just For Weddings Anymore
Some of you know that Im in Vietnam for many reasons other than getting married. Ill be here for a few months, and thought that I should make the best of my time. So, Ive planned for some Rotary related activities and some business opportunities too. Such activities are starting to roll out very smooth.
Working from 10,000 miles away.
Contrary to popular belief, I am not here on a long vacation. I am actually working every once in a while. I setup my equipment in Apple Valley for remote access through the Internet in order for me to continue working. I also setup an Internet phone that allows free incoming and real cheap outgoing phone calls from here to the U.S. The only hang up I had was getting Internet access to the house in a timely manner. It took a week longer than expected, but Im finally completely connected in Hanoi just like I am back home.
Meeting Chuck Searcy
Ha and I had a very good lunch with Chuck Searcy yesterday. Chuck is a Vietnam Veteran who has done some incredible things here in Vietnam. He has already been a valuable contact for potential Rotary activities. Chuck immediately came across as a very nice person with a kind heart, and has already made a lasting impression on me. I am looking forward to becoming good friends with him. We covered a lot of ground in short time, and Im expecting to meet him several times before I return home.
Not Much Traveling Yet
I had traveled several hundred miles across Vietnam in just a couple weeks during my last trip. The brunt of this trip has so far been in Hanoi for the most part, and will be this way until Ha and I take off for our honeymoon. I have traveled extensively thorough Hanoi though. There is a lot more going on here that I had thought during my first trip here.
The Worlds Largest Wal-Mart
This might be a strange way to describe a city that happens to be the capital of a communist country. Then again, I tend to see things from strange angles. The Huan Kiem District in Hanoi can be like a great big Wal-Mart. Each block or street here seems to specialize in a particular item product. You go to the computer street if you want anything for your computer. Shoes? Go to the shoe street. Books? Go to the book street. Chuck Searcy told me of a street that can be compared to a Home Depot.
Pizza in Vietnam
I wouldnt believe there was a pizza joint in Vietnam if I didnt see it myself. Whats even more amusing is they deliver. Ha claims that pizza is her favorite food, and I naturally had to find out why. Ha and I went to Pepperonis on our first pizza date a few nights ago. The pizza was a little different from American style, and was pretty good.
Where the Heck Am I?
I know Ev Butcher is waiting for travel coordinates so he can follow me with Google Earth (http://earth.google.com). I havent gone anywhere yet, but I dont want to leave Ev without anything to do. So heres the coordinates of my house in Hanoi:
Lat 21° 1’52.25″N
The satellite pics dont show the tennis courts behind the house.
The Wedding and Marriage Debacle
Several of you wrote expressing confusion regarding the status of my marriage, so let me clarify everything. Ha and I have been legally married since last Monday. Our wedding will be on November 12th. For those of you who wanted to know if we consummated the marriage, I will say that the gifts were passed out, but the presents havent been unwrapped yet.
That’s going to have to do for now. Ha has a honey-do list for me to finish before we go to bed. Write back with questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them tomorrow.
Dan Harley, Jr.
My wife’s gallivanting around town somewhere, which gives me another opportunity to write a few more things about what’s been happening here.
I want to thank everyone who has written to me so far. It is always endearing to hear from everyone back home, and several of you have really touched my heart. I have read some very heartwarming things that brought tears to my eyes. Thank you very much.
Some of you are wondering what the heck is going on with this funky E-mail that you’ve received from me. That’s because I just added you to my mailing list, and you’re about to share my journey through Vietnam over the next couple months. You and everyone else can catch up on what’s happened on my blog, which I will discuss a little later. But first… What’s Happened So Far?
I arrived at Noi Bai International Airport (Hanoi) with my Uncle Hung last Thursday morning (Wednesday for most of you) after an uneventful, but somewhat annoying set of flights from LAX through Taipei, Taiwan that took about 18 hours to complete. The annoying part of the trip was the rude flight attendants on China Airlines. I believe China Air should consider replacing their flight attendants with vending machines, because vending machines don’t talk and therefore will not annoy their passengers like their flight attendants do.
We were greeted at the airport by my Uncle Bui, Aunt Ha Bui, cousin Cun and my beloved fiancee’ Ha. Ha and I have seen each other only over the Internet since December. My heart was pounding out of my chest when I finally got to hold her again. Words cannot accurately describe how wonderful that moment was for both of us.
This trip will be much different from my last trip in just about every aspect, and that includes accommodations. My family has rented a house in Hanoi for a few months, and we went to it right away. The place is in the Huan Kiem District, which is the epicenter of Hanoi, about 1/2 block East of the Red River and about a kilometer West of Huan Kiem Lake. Basically, it’s within walking distance to most of the popular areas of interest in Hanoi.
I took several cat naps during the flight to avoid jet lag, while my Uncle Hung decided to stay up the full 18 hours. Subsequently, my Uncle hit the bed and was out till the next morning, while Ha and I started right away in making up for lost time. We have numerous things to do in preparation for our wedding, and done so many things in a week’s time that everything seems to be a blur. Well.. With exception of one thing.
On Monday, Ha, her Dad, her older Brother and two of my uncles traveled to Tuyen Quang. This is a town province about 60 km North of Hanoi. It took about 4 hours to get there, but was well worth the effort. That’s where Ha and I obtained our marriage certificate after signing some papers and a short ceremony at the Town government center. So, Ha and I are now legally married or I just joined the Army of the People’s Republic of Vietnam (the document’s in Vietnamese, and they could be enlistment papers for all I know).
My wife’s back, and we’re supposed to do some dinner thing tonight. So, I gotta go again…
This is the start of E-mail posts for my trip to Vietnam starting October 19, 2006.
I've been getting lots of E-mails and calls since I arrived
in Hanoi a week ago, and I figured that I better write back
before I get too busy again.
In case you're wondering why you are receiving this, you're
family, friend or an associate of mine that I've included
into a mailing list to receive updates of my travels through
Vietnam. This is my second trip to Vietnam in recent times.
My previous trip late last year was shared with my Rotary
Club when I regularly sent E-mails back home to them. This
made the trip much more interesting, because I suddenly had
about 100 of my friends along with me through my journeys.
This trip is going to be much more exciting, at least for me,
because I'm here to get married. I'm also here to do some
Rotary related work and I may even make a buck or two if I'm
lucky. The dynamics of this trip is quite different, and not
just because I'm getting married. I was basically on a
vacation during my last trip, while I'm actually living here
this time. I will be here until after Christmas, and will be
staying in Hanoi and Saigon for significant amount of time.
I hate to cut this first e-mail short, but my wife and I
have a date to eat pizza tonight. I will catch up on
everything as soon as I can.
This is the last of a series of E-mails that i sent during my trip to Vietnam in late 2005.
Original post date: 21 Dece 2005
I arrived Sunday afternoon and trying toget past the jet lag. I’m still having problems with speaking English in short choppy sentances.The trip was incredible to say the least. It was without a doubt the trip of a lifetime. I have memories and stories to last several lifetimes.
One of the best things about the trip was being able to communicate with everyone back home every once in a while. I thought that I would be cut off from everyone here until I returned. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. I want to thank everyone who sent E-mails to me while I was gone. It was great to hear from you and especially receiving all the questions while I was traveling. I’ve compiled answers to some of the questions here:
How do the Vietnamese feel about Americans?
This was by far the most asked question and my own most concerning question before I arrived in Hanoi. I was especially concerned about how the Vietnamese treat half-breeds, such as myself, because I’ve heard terrible stories about those similar to me who were left in Vietnam after the war ended.
Dan Harley, Jr.
This is another of a series of E-mails that I sent back to my friends in America during my trip through Vietnam in late 2005.
Original post date: 13 Dec 2005
I'm finally in Saigon and will be here for the rest of
my trip. It's been a little tough trying to get to an
Internet cafe' here. This might be the last time you
hear from me while I'm in Vietnam so I'll make the
best of this message.
I was shocked as to what I had seen in Hanoi when I
first arrived there. My shock is doubled here in
Saigon. There is a huge difference between here and
the North in just about every aspect. It's like being
in another country. I'm glad that I visited Hanoi
first, because I wouldn't appreciate the difference as
much if I didn't.
I arrived at Tan Son Nhut airport a couple nights ago,
and was driven throught the brunt of Saigon on the way
to where I am staying. There a so many lights, and so
many things going on here. Comparing Saigon to Hanoi
would be like comparing Las Vegas to Sacramento
(Saigon being Las Vegas).
The natives in Saigon are more like me in size. Most
are in pretty good shape, but there are many that are
fat like I was (I think I lost 10-15 pounds so far on
this trip). The differences between North and South
people go much further than that.
The people in the South for the most part don't care
for communism or Ho Chi Minh while the people in the
North seem to be brainwashed to think the opposite.
One of my aunts indicates that the South don't believe
that Ho Chi Minh actually won the war, but rather the
American stopped fighting. Many still call this city
Saigon instead of Ho Chi Minh City. If you could see
what I've seen, you would question if the South
actually lost the war.
The lifestyle is much more open and less stuffy than
the North. It is difficult to describe this without
seeing it firsthand. You can sense freedom here where
you didn't sense it as much in Hanoi.
If there is such a thing as a Northern or Southern
Vietnamese, I would certainly be a Southern boy. I can
easily blend in here where I stood out like I was
wearing a bright green T-shirt in Hanoi.
The economy in the South is much better and more
active than the North. There are a lot more cars,
newer scooters and better drivers here. Saigon has an
incredible skyline with new high rise buildings being
built in droves. There is a lot more European style
accomodations which is better suited for American
travel. I feel much safer being an American in Saigon
than in Hanoi.
Some of you know that I started school in Saigon. I
attended a private school that I will try to find
before I leave. The reason for being in Saigon is
mostly for business, and I won't be spending as much
time being a tourist as I had in the North. I will do
my best to capture as many pictures as I can though.
It looks like I have to go right now. I'll do my best
to write again before I head back to the states. My
other E-mail account is flooded right now, so send you
questions and comments to me at ###.####.
This is another of several E-mails that I sent home during my last trip through Vietnam.
Original post date: 7 Dec 2005
I'm not really in Laos, but we got close enough to
throw a rock into it today.
The family, Ha (my girlfriend) and I had spent all
yesterday viewing all the sites in Hue. I took
hundreds of pictures, and will try to send some when I
get back to Hanoi.
We've been heading back to Hanoi, and stopped at an
open market where everything under the sun was being
sold. I picked up a pair of Nike running shoes for $7.
Ha thinks the shoes are fake. Nonetheless, I now have
a new pair of sneakers to wear while in Vietnam. This
market is very close to Laos.
We stopped at the DMZ, and seen the memorials there. I
took some historic pictures of my three uncles near a
bridge that oficially seperated the North and South.
All them served in the war, and I'll tell everyone
some interesting information about them when I get
We stopped in a village for the night. I'm not sure
where I am right now, but there's an Internet cafe
I should be in Hanoi tomorrow, and able to use my own
computer for a change. This wll make it easier for me
to send pics from here. Check your inbox for this!
This is another E-mail sent home during my trip to Vietnam in late 2005.
Original post date: 5 dec 2005
I'm still alive, and have traveled a lot more since my
Several of you have written back with some great
questions. A big hello to Chuck and Anthea in Austin!
A concern that most of you have is how do the
Vietnamese in the area that I'm visiting think about
Some of my stay was in a province called Thai Binh.
This area is about 60 kilometers South of Hanoi and
similar to the Victor Valley in size and population.
During the war, this area was bombed heavily. If there
would be any issue with Americans, it would be in this
area. I was greeted with nothing but kindness and had
absolutely no problems whatsoever being an American
I took a tour through Ha Long Bay & Cat Ba Island.
This area is an incredible sight. Words can't
accurately describe how beautiful it is. Yesterday, I
took a hike through the jungles of Cat Ba Island, and
almost died two or three times. My new girlfriend
saved my life.
I'm currently in Hue, which is the historic capital of
Vietnam during previous dynasties. There is an
emperor's palace similar to the Chinese which I will
be visiting tomorrow. I also have lots of family
around here that haven't been in contact for several
The Internet cafe here is about to close for the
night, so I need to go. Send your questions or
comments to ###.####.
Bye for now...