Yang Wedding Banquet in Taipei

We were fortunate to be part of Andy (yang1815) and Sugi’s wedding banquet in Taipei last weekend. Here are some pictures from the banquet (especially the food!), which was hosted at the very nice Regent Taipei Hotel.

Andy and Sugi pose with their nephews in the greeting room just outside the banquet hall. We had met the middle of the three nephews at the wedding in Maui last year and enjoyed meeting the other two on this trip. 

There was a large ice sculpture of two cupids about to kiss, melting quickly underneath the lightbulbs. It wasn’t until the way out that someone pointed out to me that the “male” cupid was anatomically correct and, I suppose, less well endowed after two hours than he was at the start of the banquet.

Andy’s father speaks to the guests while Sugi’s father, Sugi, and Andy sit at the table and await the first course. Chinese banquets are elaborate affairs. Usually about a dozen courses and great care is taken to choose the best (read: “expensive”) ingredients as a matter of showing a good “face” to the guests. The Yangs certainly were outstanding hosts as this was one of the finest banquets I’ve attended and every course was impressive. Here they are in the order they arrived.  

The first plate (everything at this banquets was plated for us, not served off common platters) was an appetizer salad of smoked goose breast. The orange ingredient is a kind of solid “cake” of fish eggs, if I understand correctly, the saltiness of which paired nicely with the tender, smoky goose.

The next course was a small bowl of slightly sweet mochi (sticky rice) dumplings with longan fruit. This was an interesting dish that is similar to desserts I have eaten in Thailand. It seemed strange that something dessert-like would be served as a second course, but the dish was tasty. 

Third course was abalone. This is one of those big-ticket ingredients that impresses guests and this particular succeeded in doing so. The abalone was tender and flavorful, a really good example of why the price tag is so high. 

The fourth course was braised scallops. In general, scallops are one of my favorite ingredients and these particular scallops were cooked really nicely. 

The next course was shark’s fin soup. Yes, this is an unpopular ingredient these days as most shark fins are harvested in a horrific manner. While I don’t know the source of these particular fins, I can say that this was the best shark fin soup I’ve had. Normally, the fins are cut into very thin strips and the broth is murky with cornstarch. This was a clear-broth soup and the fins were in large pieces. A good example of why this dish is considered a must-have on Chinese banquet menus. 

The sixth course was steamed sea bream with scallions. Chinese know how to cook fish and this captured the reason why: steaming keeps the fish moist, captures all the sweetness of fresh seafood, and avoids overcooking.

The seventh course was braised pork tendons with okra and chestnuts. The gelatinous texture of pork tendons doesn’t appeal to everyone, I’m sure, but it is hard to beat the flavor! 

The eighth course was something I’ve never seen before, a pork chop that has been cooked confit style and crusted with what I swear were Doritos and corn flakes. The meat was tender and very tasty. Definitely unusual. 

The ninth course was a chicken soup made with “black bone” chicken. This type of chicken has black skin but tastes like any other chicken. One truth, though, is that chickens in Asia (in general, and Taiwan in particular) are so much tastier than the chickens in the United States. The broth had the type of flavor that you always imagine chicken soup should have, but rarely does. 

The tenth course was a small bundle of glutinous rice with Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and lotus seeds, steamed in taro leaf. This is a dim sum staple and provided a little starch to help fill you up, just incase the previous nine courses had left you hungry! 

 

The eleventh course (the first dessert course) was actually two types of pastries, the left one filled with sweetened daikon radish and the right one filled with barbecued pork. These are familiar to anyone who goes to dim sum.

We concluded with a platter of fresh fruit, something sweet but refreshing to conclude the banquet. By this point, nobody had the appetite to do more than just nibble!

Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and thanks to the Yangs for their very generous hospitality! 

 

A Grand Wedding in Chiang Mai

This week we have been in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, to attend the wedding of two friends of ours. Both Thai, one of them is from Chiang Mai, so it seemed the perfect setting for them to start married life.

The wedding was held at the Rachamankha Hotel, a 24-room boutique hotel located in the old city walls. The entire hotel was taken over by the wedding party and we arrived a few days early to enjoy the setting.

The entrance to the hotel is flanked by a pair of buildings that are designed in an interesting blend of tropical, Chinese, and colonial styles.

The interior courtyards echo Lanna architecture, the kingdom that covered Northern Thailand from the 13th to 18th centuries. Most of the rooms line the two courtyards. Ours was to the left. The pavilion in the center offers comfortable seating and nice breezes.

One of the front buildings is covered with vines, giving an interesting European feel to the entrance area.

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The preparations for the wedding started two days before. The grooms’ friends provided many of the services: flower decorations, cupcakes, and in the case of Tawn, designs of the wedding party’s female members’ dresses. Above, Tawn and I pose with the beautiful floral decorations.

Tawn poses with the nieces (and nephew) of the groom. He designed the dresses for the girls.

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The day of the wedding began with a traditional Buddhist wedding ceremony. The wedding party and guests walked to the local temple at 6:45 am to feed the monks.

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Monks and novices after receiving their alms. They then chanted and blessed the wedding party.

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We returned to the hotel and later in the morning, performed a traditional ceremony in which the parents and elders pour water over the couple’s hands. The beautiful puang malai garlands were placed around the couple’s necks. And in a nod to northern Thai tradition, guests tied strings around the couple’s wrists to wish them good luck and happiness.

In the late afternoon, a traditional Christian ceremony was held by a friend of the grooms who is a minister. A few minutes before the guests were seated, I snapped this picture of the courtyard that was decorated for the ceremony. The flower arrangements were amazing. The small white flowers in the grasses at the front of the picture were added by the florist.

After the service, guests were invited to participate in a loi krathong ceremony, in which small rafts holding flowers, incense, and a candle are launched – usually in a river or lake but we made do with the swimming pool – as a way of sending away bad fortune.

The swimming pool filled with krathong.

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After dinner, guests participated in another version of loi krathong that is unique to the north: yii ping. These paper lanterns are launched in the same gesture as floating the rafts of flowers, incense, and candles. It is something I’ve always wanted to see in person as it strikes me as very beautiful.

Here are two short videos that show the guests launching the lanterns. They will give you a sense of how beautiful the tradition is.

This second video is in HD.

We had a wonderful time at the wedding, truly honored to be a part of this special moment in two friends’ lives. We wish them all the happiness and a long life together.

 

Andy and Sugi – The Wedding

Last Sunday fellow Xangan Andy was married to Sugi at the King Kamehameha Country Club on Maui. I shared one picture a few days ago, but let me share a few more for my family and friends who know the couple.

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Beautiful view of the wedding site, which offered a sweeping vista from one end of the Maui neck to the other.

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The flower girl (Sugi’s niece Taylor) and ring bearer (Andy’s nephew Cayden) needed a little encouragement.

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The bride is escorted by her father, Mike. As soon as she started down the aisle, tears started flowing. And lest you think that Andy is some tough guy, he started crying, too.

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Sugi and Andy exchange rings. A Shinto priest from the temple close to Sugi’s family’s house in Pa’ia performed the ceremony.

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Sealing the deal with a kiss. The flower girl, Taylor, is barefoot because she said her shoes hurt her feet.

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The newlywed couple walk down the aisle.

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The bride’s sister and matron of honor, Jessica, escorted by the groom’s best man Travis. The flower girl is Taylor, Jessica’s three-year old daughter.

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The bride’s mother and father. Beautiful Japanese-themed dress and cloak!

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The bride and her nearly 95-year old grandfather, who was the hit of the party.

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The couple immediately after the ceremony!

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Tawn poses with the flower girl while she still had her sandals on!

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Andy W (obscured by request), Kenny, me, Tawn, Sugi, Andy, Fei, and Travis. Fei and Travis went to high school in Omaha with Andy.

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The groom and bride address the guests. I was the emcee for the event and, with only a short while to practice, had to introduce all the out of town guests and family members!

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The beautiful wedding cake. They went for a small cake because the main desserts were pie including my favorite macadamia nut cream pie!

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Tawn and I pose with one of the cutest children at the wedding, Chinasa. The friend of Sugi’s college roommate, Chinasa was this perfectly calm one-year old who didn’t mind everybody holding her. No fussing, no crying. But she kept a poker face the whole time and was slow to smile!

It was a beautiful wedding – one of the nicest I’ve been to – and we were really glad we made the effort to fly over to be a part of it. Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and may you have many happy years together!

 

Rehearsal Dinner on Maui

It is our last evening on Maui. I’m a bit bloody, bruised, and battered from kayaking in the ocean in the cove outside Sugi’s aunt’s house. More about that soon. Nonetheless, it has been a lovely trip and I’d like to share some pictures with you.

We arrived in Maui last Thursday. Andy and Sugi’s wedding was Sunday afternoon and in lieu of a rehearsal dinner on Saturday, Sugi’s family invited the out of town guests to their oceanfront home in Pa’ia, on the north shore of the island.

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The family compound, which is where Sugi’s grandfather Ohata originally had his medical clinic and home, faces onto Pa’ia Bay with a view of Kahalui and the ‘Ioa Valley in the distance. Pardon my clumsy stitching in the above photo. At least, you have an idea of how spectacular the view from their backyard is.

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There were at least thirty guests from out of town. With Sugi’s more immediate local family members, the crowd was close to fifty. One of the first orders of business was to rehearse the wedding ceremony, which the celebrants did on the lawn.

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While everyone practiced, I shot some pictures, including this cute three-year old who is the daughter of Andy and Sugi’s friend Linda, who was also the wedding’s photographer. June, being the daughter of a photographer, was ready to strike a pose on request.

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The sun was still strong at this point in the afternoon – going on 6:00 – so Tawn was seeking whatever shade he could find.

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After the rehearsal, the tiki torches were lit and the luau began. Above, Tawn poses with the bride and groom to be, Sugi and Andy. To their left are another pair of Xanga friends, Andy (ungrandvoyage) on the far left and Kenny (kenpcho) second from the left. Andy has always kept his identity hidden on Xanga (sound familiar, Matt?) so he asks that we obscure his face when posting pictures that include him. Tawn and I have met Kenny a few times before but this was our first time meeting Andy.

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Several adorable children running around. In addition to the photogenic June (center) we have Sugi’s niece Taylor on the left and Andy’s nephew Cayden on the right. I enjoy watching children interact, especially young children as they can so easily play together and so easily ignore each other.

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Another shot of the children, who were helping Sugi’s youngest niece, Malia (in the yellow outfit), as she wobbled around the yard.

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We also met Sugi’s college roommate Amaka and her adorable baby Chinasa. Chinasa was so cute because she was totally willing to be held by one stranger after another without fuss, but she looked at each one of us with this poker face, as if she was trying to size us up without revealing her feelings.

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As the sun set over west Maui, the photographer has Sugi and Andy pose for some photos. While the sunset was subdued that evening, the pictures turned out well and – most importantly – we had a very Hawaiian welcome that made all of the guests feel very much a part of the family.

 

The Main Event – Kari and Nathan’s Wedding

The main reason we were in Kaua’i was to attend the wedding of my cousin Kari to her fiancee Nathan.  They exchanged vows on Sunday in the late afternoon along a beautiful stretch of Shipwreck Beach near Poipu, which is on the south shore of the island.  There were about two dozen family members who had made it for the ceremony, probably a few more than Kari and Nathan had originally anticipated.  Needless to say, it was a beautiful ceremony.

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Tawn comes prepared for the occasion with a nice hat.

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My cousin Brad and his wife Silvia.  Brad is Kari’s younger brother.  The cliff in the background served as a focal point for the ceremony.

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Tawn and I pose for a self-portrait.

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My uncle Dick and aunt Sandy and their first grandchild Tommy.  Dick is the older brother of Kari’s mother.

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Orchids are strewn along the beach, marking the path along which the bride walked.

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As is probably increasingly the case these days, it seemed everyone (myself included) was trying to get pictures of the ceremony rather than just witnessing it!

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We needn’t have worried, though, as the official photographer did a marvelous job and made these photos available on his website.  I will say that if you are ever looking for a great wedding photographer, for the Hawaiian islands or elsewhere, I would recommend Gelston Dwight.

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The lighting of these photos was really spectacular.  They have a “Hollywood-esque” quality to them and capture the couple’s glamor as it looks in everyday life!

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This is about half the group – just Kari’s side of the family.  From left to right, cousin Bill, his son Tommy, his wife Alex (also my cousin), Tawn, Me, my mother, my cousin Kelly (Kari’s sister), my father, Nathan, Kari, Kari’s mother Pat, father Carl, brother Brad, his wife Silvia, and my uncle Dick and aunt Sandy.  Probably more than you needed to know, right?

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My cousin Alex designed the invitations, menus, and all the other printed materials.  She’s quite a talented designer and you can see more of her work at her website.  Fresh local pineapples made the perfect centerpieces.  The reception was held at the nearby Plantation Gardens Restaurant.

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My contingent – father, mother, husband, and me.  That shirt my father is making?  My mother made that in 1980 for a trip to Hawai’i the family took.  In fact, she used matching fabric to make shirts for both my father and me and mumus for her and my sister.  Of the four of us, only my father still fits in his outfit!

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Some concoction my cousin Silvia was drinking.

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Appetizers – called “pupus”

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Kailani farms arugula salad with local mango, papaya, cherry tomatoes, onion, avocado, and a lilikoi cider vinaigrette

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Lobster bisque with garlic croutons

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Grilled beef tenderloin with gorgonzola mashed potatoes, local green beans, sauteed mushrooms, and merlot reduction sauce.

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Fresh local fish with mango and avocado salsa, pan fried green beans and black bean sauce.  Can’t remember what type of fish it was.

There was also a seafood lau lau – fish, shrimp, scallops, and vegetables steamed in taro and ti leaves.  The picture didn’t turn out, though.

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When it came to the cutting of the cake, there was such an explosion of flashes that I ended up with several of these “ultra-exposed” shots.

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A picture of the beautifully garnished cake.  This was a lilikoi wedding cake (lilikoi = passionfruit), a white vanilla cake brushed with passion fruit syrup and filled with passion fruit butter cream.  One of the tastiest wedding cakes I’ve had.

Marriage on the Rails

A few weeks back, while on the bicycle ride that led to me writing the “Land Use in Central Thailand” blog entry, I passed by a couple who were getting their wedding portraits taken on a railway bridge that parallels Kampheng Phet Soi 7, a back road that is wide, not very busy, and thus ideal for cycling.

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It is common in Thailand (and, from my experience, many other parts of Asia) for couples to have their wedding portraits taken many weeks in advance of their wedding.  This way the photos can be used for invitations as well as displayed at the wedding reception.  These photos often seem a little like Glamour Shots, the “makeover” portrait studios at a mall near you.  Of course, it is for their wedding, a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime event, so a little glamour is perfectly alright.

Interestingly, this train track is very active – a few dozen passenger trains a day running to the east and northeast – so I was of course concerned about the admonition I’ve been told since I was a young child: don’t play on the train tracks!

The viaduct overhead is the Airport Rail Link, which like the railroad on which the photos are being taken is owned and operated by the loss-making State Railways of Thailand.  The viaduct further in the background is the “Second Stage” or “Rama IX” Expressway, which runs to the airport.