The Laotian Wedding

When people ask me what I enjoy most about playing poker for a living, my mind races.  Well, for starters, the money is obviously great.  The analytical puzzle-aspect involved in each hand excites me, the freedom to set my own hours is fantastic, and avoiding the enslavement of an alarm clock is delightful.  But really, it all boils down to one thing — Poker gives me the opportunity to do some really cool shit.

I’ve spent the last three Winters in Thailand and about a week ago, one of the friends I met here (Anders) invited me to his wedding.  Many friends of mine have tied the knot recently, but this wasn’t any ordinary wedding — It was going to take place at the bride’s parents’ home in Laos.  Well, I’d never been to a Laotian wedding before so out of pure fascination (and a slight affection for my friend) I decided to go.

Getting there wasn’t the most fun experience I’ve ever had.  I met up with another friend of the groom (Nick) and while he had no problems getting through, I was hassled by a border official who gave me the run-around, insinuated I was a liar, and threatened me with jail-time.  Ultimately it was only an hour delay, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

We had to be at the house at 8 AM the next morning, which directly goes against my ‘don’t be a slave to an alarm clock’ motto.  But for such a special occasion, I made an exception.  First thing I noticed when I arrived was an assortment of large, silver bowls and the group of men filling them with finely chopped beef.  ”They killed the cow this morning,” Anders said.  Awesome.  Anders then left to get dressed, as his bohemian pants and ‘Bear with Me’ sweatshirt weren’t wedding approved attire.  I took the time to wander around the house, taking note of the floral shrine-esque display in the living room, adorned with various offerings.

A short while later, a selection of friends and family were ushered over to the shrine and told to sit down.  Cross-legged.  Which while appearing to be super-easy for everyone else, was quite the problem for Nick and I.  After finally managing to twist myself into a pretzel, the ceremony began.  The candles were lit and then various elders spoke in Lao so I had no idea what they were saying, but in my head they were talking about the happy couple, their courtship, what a glorious day it was, the handsome foreigner in the blue shirt, etc.  It seemed very informal and light-hearted, at one point the bride even made a lewd joke — and everyone laughed.  Then the elders surrounded the bridal party and began tying these cotton threads on our hands, each one a different color and representing a different blessing.


By this time, it was almost noon and one of the elders thought it was late enough to crack open the first Beer Lao of the day.  Sounds good to me!  Beer Lao is hands-down the best beer in SE Asia and we seemed to have an endless supply of cases.  From that point on, it was a party.  For the next several hours, the once calm air was filled rather loud (arguably too loud) music and speeches so long that they bordered on being called filibuster.  While I’m not a great dancer, that didn’t stop me from dancing.  It rarely does.  Everyone on the floor was doing some version of a ‘swim move’ so I just followed their lead.  When I wasn’t dancing, I was back at my table, stuffing my face with sticky rice, and washing it all down with more Beer Lao.  Out of the 100+ people at the wedding I’d say less than five spoke English, but that didn’t really matter.  Besides, not like we could talk over the music anyway so I communicated through wide smiles, awkward dance moves, and frequent toasts.

There was definitely some culture shock and at times I felt out of place, but everyone was so warm and welcoming.  Overall it was just an incredible experience and I was truly honored to be a part of it.  Congrats again to Anders and May and thanks for letting me see my first Danish-Laotian wedding.