Now that summer is over, Hanoi’s unofficial wedding season is noticeably underway and most wedding photographers are busily snapping pictures at their favourite locations around town.
The wedding season in Hanoi encompasses autumn through to spring. While weddings are occasionally observed in the summer, the heat makes them pretty uncomfortable for all concerned. Lucky wedding days recommended by fortune-tellers are determined by complicated equations involving the lunar calendar birth dates of the couple and other family factors. In addition, certain days are simply considered bad luck. The result is that, throughout the season, there will be days when no-one gets married and days when it seems every one is. Cars covered in fresh flowers, unusually shaped pink and white balloons, busy hotel function rooms, woman dressed in ao dai (long dress) and rented blue tents adjoining houses are the symbols of these days.
In Vietnam, unlike in the west, the wedding photographs are taken in advance of the wedding, not on the actual day of the ceremony. Young couples approach a ‘one-stop-shop’ wedding parlour where gowns and suits can be rented and photographs taken. There are studios with romantic back-drops or the couple may choose to go on a shoot to one of several popular locations. On the steps of Hanoi’s Opera House is perhaps the prime location. Sometimes there are several couples posing in the vicinity at the same time. Hanoi’s crumbling French colonial buildings provide also provide an aura of rustic charm. Other popular spots for wedding photographs include gardens, parks and lakesides.
In my area just near the Intercontinental Hotel at West Lake, the wedding traffic is congested from as early as 7am. There are frequently three or four couples around and once I counted eight. This does become annoying for the local residents, especially considering that each couple is accompanied by four or five staff from the photography studio. Props and costume changes also clutter up the narrow laneways. The photographers’ assistants often have the bride-to-be’s dress spread across the alley. I often wander if the dresses have ever been ridden over! I was embarrassed recently while, when taking my dog for a walk, he lifted his leg on the train of one of the gowns!
These shoots often involve costume changes where the woman goes from western style white to red, pink or purple to traditional Vietnamese ao dai (long dress). The fashion for the men is often very flamboyant, with white suits seemingly very popular this year. I saw one groom posing with a white violin the other day. Sitting astride a classic motorbike is another appealing prop. Interestingly, the costume changes occur just inside the gate of the pagoda nearby! There doesn’t seem to be any opposition from the monks or nuns but to me it seems a bit inappropriate.
By the end of the day on these shoots, it’s interesting observing the general appearance and demeanour of the couples. No-one’s smiling, the hems of the dresses are grubby and the flowers in the brides’ hair are wilting.
I’m sure the photographs are stunning but I often wander how their marriages will turn out!