22 November 2006

Teacher's Day 2006

Teacher’s Day is a big deal in Vietnam. Last year I got bunches of flowers, presents, and cards. This year I got a CD and a card. But this year I also participated in a Teacher’s Day program arranged by my Vietnamese language school.

The event was held last Sunday evening at a hotel in town. Two and a half weeks ago was the first I heard about it. My teacher arrived for our lesson with a sign-up sheet. It seemed that the students would be putting on a show for our teachers and we were to choose an event in which to participate.

I glanced through the choices; sing a Vietnamese song, do a traditional dance, participate in a play. I told my teacher I would go for the dance, wondering how they were going to get it all together in less than three weeks. She said no, I shouldn’t do the dance, but enter the Ao Dai Fashion Show. I looked down the page to see this event that I had apparently missed.

Ao Dais (ow yai) are those beautiful, long tunics and pants that they actually still wear here, when not in jeans or mini-skirts. They are lovely, but look a bit like bondage, what with a no-breathing-room, fitted bodice, and made of polyester, unless you can afford silk. Not really practical for this climate. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to get an ao gai at some point, so why not now? The deal was further sweetened by the fact that a silk company was donating the silk and I would only have to pay for the tailor, a mere $18. My only concern was there would not be enough time to get them sewn, but this is the land of 24 hour tailoring, and my teacher assured me it would not be a problem.

There were a total of ten of us, and the following Saturday we converged at the language school to get measured and to choose fabric. Two woman tailors set about measuring; rather one took measurements while the other transcribed. I did like the fact that it was in centimeters so I had no idea just how big or small I really was. These women did not speak English, but I did get it across to them that I did not want the traditional, mandarin, high-neck style. I do have limitations.

When I finished up there, I went back to the outer room where some of the other women were looking over sketches of very non-traditional ao dais. What was up? Turned out we had our own private designer. I choose one with a V-neck that buttoned down the front. I added sleeves to the sleeveless sketch. But where was the fabric? I really am a fiend about choosing the fabric I will wear.

We were not going to be able to choose. The designer said she would write down our color choices and then she would go to the factory to pick it up. Then began the insanity of ten women trying to describe the hues they wanted. One lady wanted the color of my tank-top, which she had seen while I was getting measured. Another wanted the green in a postcard on the wall. I wanted a magenta – just try saying that in Vietnamese. We all did the best we could, the designer took photos of us, and we were finished. The products were to be completed in a week, we would come in for final fittings, and it would all be done before the big event.

What with working and living on one side of town, and going to the other for fittings, I was getting a bit worried that this just wasn’t going to work. Not that it mattered since they weren’t finished last Thursday, with the party being just three days away. This was getting nerve wracking. I finally got the OK to go in Friday at 5pm. Even if it didn’t fit, I could do any adjustments myself.

I arrived at the language school to find that only the tunic was there – no pants, no tailor, and two buttons were still missing on my pink outfit. Not a color I would have chosen, which was actually more of a dusty rose, so not a bad choice by someone else. It was explained that the pants would be done by the next day, Saturday at 4pm, when I could pick it up. Obviously, I couldn’t even take the tunic home.

I called the following day, ready to pick up my outfit and was told it wouldn’t be done until the next day, Sunday, and that the tailor would bring it to the hotel where the function was being held. Sorry, that just wouldn’t do. These are form fitting numbers, made of sheer fabric, and one must get the right bra. After a bit of negotiation and several back and forth phone calls, we arranged for a delivery guy to bring my ao dai to my house on Sunday morning at eleven.

At twelve noon the next day, Sunday, I get a call from the tailor, in Vietnamese, saying it would be delivered at 4pm. Or at least I thought that is what she said. That would give me about an hour before I had to leave for the hotel. Fortunately, I then got a text message in English confirming the time.

When my ao dai arrived, the first thing I noticed was how damn delicate the fabric was. I was sure to trash it within minutes of putting it on. I also needed to iron it, which I managed without burning the super-fine silk. Then I tried it on. An amazing fit for never doing anything other than taking my measurements. However, ao dais are designed to be worn with a bullet bra, which I don’t think have been on the market since the 50’s. I came up with something, and was pleased with the classy look. I need more of these, albeit in something other than fragile silk. By the end of the evening, I didn’t have any food stains, but it was quite wrinkled, even though I did my best not to move too much. I was sure it would rip apart.

As noted in my last blog, the ride into town took forever because of Bush Security. But arrive I did, and rode the elevator to the fifth floor, and walked outside to the pool, where it was being held. I had expected some rather informal affair. I walked out into a scene of lights and cameras and balloons and buffet tables. It was a clear, warm, perfect evening. Waiters walked around with trays of drinks. I mingled and talked to several people I knew, and met many others.

The song and dance numbers went well, and then it was time for our fashion show. We had been given instructions about walking slowly around the pool and pausing at certain points, where we were to “turn around charmingly”. That over, I went back to eating. We had a massive array of fantastic food.

It was a lovely evening, and a wonderful way to honor our teachers. And now I have real ao dai. (which needs to go to the dry cleaners.)

The pictures included here having nothing to do with the event. They are of the street where I buy fabric.
Happy Thanksgiving!