Sunday, October 27, 2013

Japan Wedding in a nutshell

Hello! It is the Trinity bride here. Time flies, I remembered saying that I would like to write about my Japan wedding earlier this year and woah, come to think of it a year had passed since we got hitched! I decided that I should really sit down and write this down before I forget all the little details and today is just a nice time to reminiscence about what happened a year ago. [Caution: EXTREMELY long post, detailing the Japanese wedding journey. Read it if you are interested in the Japanese way of getting hitched.] Everything written is just my own personal experience and opinions which may not be the exact way of things that may happen for other Japanese couples.

Finding the Wedding Venue (January) JP Wedding Venues
Like any other wedding around the world, you have to decide on a location where you would like to celebrate your nuptials! Since we decided that most of the traditional events would be held in Singapore aka a Singapore Chinese wedding, we only just need to book a venue for our wedding reception in Japan. In Japan, wedding ceremonies can be traditional Japanese or Western Chapel style wedding followed by a formal reception than another informal wedding party. Just like most people, we also started our hunt with hotels, restaurants and wedding planners who have a long list of wedding venues for you to choose from.

Site viewing and signing of contract (March) JP Wedding Hotel selection
We finally decided to hold our reception at Hyatt Regency Hotel in Shinjuku since a hotel is a much more convenient choice for us since we have family and friends flying in for the event. In addition, this hotel gave us a pretty good deal over the other locations. YES, it cost you almost an arm and a leg to have a formal wedding in Japan, the couple is likely have to covers at least 25% of the whole bill or much more. For us, we also love the reception room that we were going to book. Sushi san held out the final contract signing till end March so that I can view the hotel before we signed on the dotted line for a reception of about 70 guests which in Japanese opinion is a big wedding. (When we say small wedding in Japan, it could be only 10-20 guests) Of course, it was from that day I came in touch with the professional way of handing stuff in Japan (which was also pretty red-taped and stifling in my opinion, anyway more on that later.) There was 3 times slots for us to choose from: 12-230pm, 430pm - 7pm or 8 - 1030pm. We took the 430pm - 7pm slot since sun sets about 5pm during November so our guests would be able to enjoy the transition from sunset to night view.

 JP Wedding Chapel
Of course, you can reserve the wedding chapel in the hotel for your wedding ceremony too. Japanese ladies LOVE LOVE a chapel wedding but of course the chapel wedding has no legal binding since the "pastor" usually is some westerner who is moonlighting for a weekend job.

JP Wedding To read
Of course, what less can you expect from Japan? PAPER and lots of reading! Once you signed on the dotted line, you are presented with this thick stack of files and papers detailing every aspect on what would be to come. Of course, all the brochures on wedding dress rental, wedding gifts, cakes, spa, photography and videography and anything that is related to trying to make more money from you. In Japan, the bridal dress rentals are tied up with your wedding venue, if you rent your dresses from the partner companies you would get a discount for renting their dress. However, if you want your own special dress or like me, bringing your own dress for the wedding. The hotel would charge you a dress charge (which is like making you pay for the commission that they would have lose if you had rented from their partners.) The dress charges are charged by per piece so in my case, I was charged for bringing in a wedding dress, evening gown and the groom's suit since I was bringing my gowns from Singapore since I had worked out a deal with my bridal company.

Kimono Wedding photography (April) JP Wedding Kimono
We also did our Japanese traditional wear photoshoot in that weekend I was in Japan (on April's Fools day no less). Very typical Japanese way of doing things, precise, professional and efficient. The whole photoshoot was done by 7pm and as you can see from the photos that they made sure that our hair, our kimono was in the right way, right posture whenever we change locations. Depending on your package, (we booked a pretty reasonable pricing photoshoot so no photo editing) we got the soft copies like right after our photoshoot with all exposures returned..... Usually in Japan, the photography and bridal wear rental is done separately unlike in Singapore where you can get a full package for both bridal dresses and photography.


 Ring Hunting (April)
JP Wedding Rings
Since I have penchant of platinum rings and Singapore is lacking pretty much in that area and much more expensive too for platinum (most of the rings in Singapore are white gold), we decided to get our rings in Japan. Japan has one of the biggest platinum ring market in the world, the reason is that the Japanese believe that their platinum rings is a symbol of a rare love that will last for eternity, much like the metal itself. The lead time for wedding bands was only 2 weeks versus a typical 2 months' wait in Singapore. In terms of service atmosphere, it is quite similar to the jewelry shops in Singapore, so not much difference except the designs in Japan are more fancy compared to the more simple bands in Singapore.

 9 hours of meeting in the hotel for Food Tasting and wedding details finalization (July)
JP Wedding Food Tasting
Food tasting on my second trip to Japan last year to work on the final details for the wedding reception. First, we started with food tasting which is chargeable in Japan though we got a 20% discount for the food tasting. We also got to taste the sparkling wine, white wine and red wine which was to be served during dinner. Alcohol (of all forms) is free flow during the wedding reception, that is also one of the reason why dinner receptions are much more expensive.

JP Wedding Selections
When we were done with lunch, we were ushered back to the bridal gallery to start our bridal meeting which lasted for 7 hours where we met our coordinator, reception coordinator, coordinator with the beauty and make up, coordinator for the AV, coordinator for the floral pieces and coordinator for the wedding gifts.....Yup, there seems to be a in charge for every thing and we have to meet, make self introduction, discuss, anything that is not on their "menu", they have to excuse themselves to check with their superiors and get back to you which they would apologize for taking the time to check etc......At that point of time, I was really going to tear my hair out since I only worked with ONE person for our Singapore reception and almost EVERYTHING was settled via email/calls which make our face to face meet ups efficient.

JP Wedding Selections
Everything from the Japan wedding looked so fine and pretty in my personal opinion, this was another class above our Singapore wedding but of course, everything came with a price. I would say, almost everything was chargeable. Like a diamondate napkin clasp was another extra charge of 200JPY, a ribbon round the guests chair was another extra 100JPY. Thur, I stuck to the basics so my table settings choices was settled like really fast with our reception coordinator.

 JP Wedding Flowers
Next would be the floral pieces, where we chose lilies with yellow mini orchids (to represent Singapore) since we felt bright colors would make things purk up in the cold Autumn weather. Originally I wanted to make my own bridal bouquet for the wedding but our dear groom put a foot down saying that I had rejected "too many add-ons" and it won't look too nice over all. Thus I reluctantly agreed to pay for THE bouquet, why did I say reluctantly? This was because the charge was........about 30,000JPY for that stalk of flowers which I would only hold for 4 hours? Darn, I fully understand why everything looks so pretty in Japan wedding, cos you have to pay for every single thing. Of course, they have to make it a high standard right? As a typical Singaporean, of course I would choose the prettiest bouquet that that caught my eye but hey, those pretty things are not part of my basic charge for the bouquet (what? 30,000JPY is just a basic charge?!!!!) The hydrangeas and white roses mix would come at a cost of an additional 15,000JPY......Hrmph! No way for me.....I have so much more to say about these additional costs in the whole Japan wedding planning but I think I should not get too personal since we do know that Japanese do place a high importance for important events in their life. **After thought, we were asked if we wanted to add the same flowers as per our table settings on our wedding cake knife at a additional cost....Noooo..... **

 JP Wedding Bouquet
Thus, I asked which are the flowers within my basic charge and chose the so typical red rose bouquet in the end. Though I have to admit, the roses used was the better quality roses and the make up of the bouquet was very good and dense. The flowers still looked super fresh even after the whole night out. (As compared to my Singapore bouquet which wilted by evening)

JP Wedding Cards
Next, was the selection of the wedding cards which was a range of Japanese traditional style (they use black and red!) and westernised ones. For printing, we have to pay for the wedding cards, printing of the name cards (yes, in Japan every seat comes with a name card), menu cards (every guest, have a menu card) and everything was chargeable too. We spent much time in discussion with our AV coordinator as we had to decide on the music which you can have different songs for every step of the wedding like march in, cake cutting, toasting, speeches etc. (of course, AV used that day was chargeable)

JP Wedding Cake choices
Wedding cake can be real or fake, even for the fake wedding cake (charged), it would be creamed to look like a real cake for you to cut through. Japanese couples have the habit to feed each other with the wedding after the first cut like the western weddings but since we got a fake cake, we would skip that then :P Of course, we would be presented with the brochures if we wanted to book a wedding cake and the sweets to distribute to our guests when we bade good bye.

JP Wedding Gift choices
Next would be the discussion with the wedding gifts where in Japan the wedding guests would return home with a bag of wedding gifts as an appreciation from the newly weds for their kind wishes and times to attend the wedding. Usually, about 3 gifts would be inside the wedding gift bag (ps: the paper bag used was also charged, hahahaha, by time you should get the idea, EVERYTHING was charged). Recently, a wedding catalog of a certain prepaid amount has replaced one of the gifts in the wedding gift bag as that the guests can choose what they liked.

 JP Wedding Gifts
Finally, we decided to give our foreign guests : heart shaped udon, Godiva green tea chocolated and a pair of made in Japan wooden ramen bowls with chopsticks.
Our Japanese guests would get a catalog which they can mail what they liked, Japanese sweets and TWG Singapore breakfast tea (which we hauled 55 wrapped boxes of it from Singapore back to Japan)

JP Wedding Light Service choices
The only additional charged event for our wedding reception, candle service where the newly weds would go around the guests tables to light up the candles and finally lighting the Memorial candle in the front of the hall.
  JP Wedding After Bouquet
Of course, there was a sales talk to convince the bride (me) to consider booking to conserve my bouquet in eternity by making it into a flat flower arrangement or into a 3D monument where they will preserve the flowers with some special chemicals. Cost? 20,000 JPY :)

 Actual Wedding Reception (Nov) JP Wedding Beauty Room
The preparation for the couple started at 1pm especially it would take some time for the beauticians to work their magic on the bride which I firmly agree that their make up techniques were really good and the make up came out really natural and flawless. The beauty salon would get the gowns from us the night before and had it laid out in the the changing room, all the newly weds would make their change and make up in the beauty salon.

JP Wedding Family Intro
After we were ready, we would ushered to the first waiting room where we would make the formal introduction of both sides of our personal families. In Japan, some relatives may live far away and you won't get the chance to meet them and this would be the chance for you to make the introduction. The whole atmosphere was very formal and Sushi san spoke in very formal Japanese and he did all the translation for me as I made my introduction in English (of course). In the room, Sakura tea was also served as this was a good symbolism. After the formal relative introduction, all the family members would be invited to the photo studio for our formal photoshoot which was deemed as quite an important event in a wedding as this symbolized the start of our future together with our families. Thus, the whole photo shoot experience was extremely professional, where they would walked across the room with a mirror for everyone to check their appearance before we snap the all important photo. Most of the time, no one would smile in such photo with a serious look. However, this was so unlike the both of us that we requested everyone to smile and shocked most of our Japanese senior relatives.

 JP Wedding Waiting Room
Sometimes, the couple would mingle with their guests in the main waiting room before the reception starts at 430pm. We decided to keep away to spend some times to take a break and make our great entrance laters, in the meanwhile we also had to go through some of the motions needed after we enter the reception hall.

 JP Wedding Reception Room
Contrary to Singapore, weddings in Japan start right on the dot as per the invitation. Our reception started exactly at 430pm where we made our entrance.

 JP Wedding Cake
The fake wedding cake with real cream.

 JP Wedding Cake Cutting
Cake cutting event in a highlight in a Japanese reception where they would dim the light and spotlight the newly weds and most of the guests would come forward and take photos. Definitely a different experience.

 JP Wedding Toast
After the cake cutting, we would have our first speech by one of the guests. In Japan, the wedding receptions is filled with speeches mainly from their superiors or seniors from work or school life and close friends. We had a toast after the second speech. Of course, after each speech we have to stand up and make our thanks to our speech givers.

 JP Wedding Wedding Dinner
Our menu that evening, we chose a Japanese-French menu and most of our foreign guests were all praises for the food served.

 JP Wedding Photos
Unlike the usual Singapore wedding dinner where we make our rounds to each table for a table shoot, the guests would come on the main stage to take photos with the newly weds. The newly weds would be sitted on the main stage like the center of attraction. :P

 JP Wedding Light Service
After making the second change of dress, we did the candle service. After the wedding reception, the memorial candle was packed nicely and brought to our room with a message inside to remind us to light this candle every year on our anniversary to remind us of our vows.

 JP Wedding Bowing
Yup, the thing we did the most that night - BOW.

 JP Wedding Speech
Finally, we finished up with speeches from both families at the end of the room and as you can see, we did not get the chance to eat a bit of the yummy food that was served.

  JP Wedding Nijikai
For some couples, only relatives and close friends are invited to the wedding reception since it is more formal and pricey. Then they would book another venue to have a wedding party (or 二次会, second wedding party) where they would hold a more casual style wedding reception, see link for one wedding party I attended. For us, we felt that it was a hassle to book another location and actually we had invited most of our family and friends to the wedding reception so we booked a smaller function room with drinks and tapas for our wedding guests who would like to stay on after the wedding reception. Most of our guests actually did continue to stay with us and we ended up wrapping up the wedding around 11pm. The wedding after party was more fun and relaxed where most continue to drink and took the chance to catch up with friends. We even introduced "yum sheng" to our guests and that got things even more high where different parts of the function room was echoing with "yum sheng"
In Japan, you place your gift money in a shūgi-bukuro (祝儀袋) and the cash gift usually new bank notes should always be a odd number as this would mean that the couple cannot be divided. On average, the cash gift is about 30,000JPY for 1 person and 50,000JPY for couples invited. Family members may give a little more. Overall, throwing a wedding and attending a wedding is an expensive event. Of course, it was so much faster to count the money that night compared to our Singapore ang pow where we receive notes from all denominations. :P

 JP Wedding Telegram
For some of our invitees who were not able to attend our wedding reception, besides sending in the post card stating their attendance. They would have these congratulatory telegrams sent to the hotel which they would pass to us after the wedding reception. This was totally a Japanese culture.

 Marriage Notification (March 2013) Japan Wedding Notification
Unlike in Singapore, you have to be married by the day you throw your traditional wedding reception. In Japan, you can do it before or after your wedding reception. The marriage notification is really just a piece of paper work as compared to our marriage registration in Singapore where we would have a big celebration. Since we registered for our marriage in Singapore, we only finally submitted the marriage notification in Japan after I moved in Japan in March this year. Basically, we just filled up the form, presented our translated copy of marriage certificate along with our personal information. The city office would check and if nothing goes wrong, the way you know you are married in Japan is when you first go to the counter to do your identification checks they would address us by our last names and once everything is in check, they would say "Congrats, Mr and Mrs S". Hehe, just paper work lah.....

 More years ahead
And so, Happy Paper Wedding Anniversary, may we walk more interesting paths down the future road :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh (HCM) Itinerary

My itinerary:
Day 1: City walkabout - Notre Dame Cathedral, old post office and Ben Thanh Market
Day 2: Day trip to Mekong - 7.15 am ~5.30 pm           
Day 3: Half day trip to Cu Chi - 7.45 am ~ 2 pm
            Vietnamese Water Puppet show - 7.45 pm
Day 4: Chill and relax

To See:

Notre Dame Cathedral
This cathedral occupies scenic Paris Square in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Established by French colonists, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters (190 feet).

Its structure does bears some resemblance to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Do note that the church may not be open to public and it all depends on one's luck. We got in the church and soon after the gates were locked behind us.

Old post office - It is a functional office not just a place to tour.  Lots of sight to see and items to buy.

Ben Thanh market
The market is one of the earliest surviving structures and one of symbols of the City, popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs, as well as local cuisine.

The first bustling town of the Mekong Delta is My Tho, 70 km from HCMC.  This is a 1.5 hr bus ride. From My Tho, on the local motor boat, you will see four islands: Dragon island, Unicorn Island, Phoenix Island and Tortoise Island and then stop on the Unicorn island.

From there, we will continue our boat trip to Ben Tre province to visit a handmade coconut candy workshop. Then transfer to a small motor boat and travel along canals and stop at a local food shop for vietnamese lunch. 

You will also enjoy tropical fruits, honey and wonderful " southern vietnamese folk music: performed by Islanders.

Some of the sights and sounds on the Mekong tour is coconut candy factory, wooden carraige ride drawn by the horse, monkey bar walk across a pool. Do not expect too much from lunch and if  you need more that be prepared to pay a little extra. The last part of the mekong tour is by a sampan canal tour and rowed by the villages. I was a little concerned as some of the boats that we are in showed signs of leaking. Fortunately, we arrived at our motor boat safely. This is a little different from the floating market experience in Thailand where the boat we are on is a motor boat.

Cu Chi
Cu Chi used to be a bitter battleground for many years during Vietnam war (located 60 km from HCMC). It is legendary for its tunnel system of over 220 km, a popular spot for both vietnamese and foreign tourists. 

The present Cu Chi is preserved in 2 areas of Ben Duoc and Ben Dinh. Its a 1.5 hr by bus from HCMC to the tunnels at Ben Dinh village where you will watch the documentary film, study a wartime map and a model of the tunnel network; see some bloody traps, special smoke - tie kitchen, first-aid clinic, fighting stretches, bunkers and american knock-out tank. You will find it hard to imagine the destruction, the damage and the defoliation all over the area, caused by bombing and mines when Cu Chi was "A Free Target Zone".

While the crawl through the tunnels are pretty freaky at first with no end in sight, but it really a very short crawl if you endure the heat and small enclosed space. But if you are able suggest to try it at least once. Remember to also grab a bit of the tapicoa served at the end with the peanut dip. Nice and interesting combination.

Important: Do buy some food from the K-mart or provisions stalls at the early stops before you board the bus, you will definitely need it on way the way back as there are no stops made for lunch.

Vietnamese Water Puppet Show

Vietnamese water puppet show by Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre (55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1).
Show times: 5:00 pm/ 6.30 pm / 7.45 pm

Show program:
1. Raising the festival flag
2. The narrator: Teu
3. Dragon Dance
4. On a buffalo with a flute
5. Agriculture
6. Catching frogs
7. Rearing ducks and catching foxes
8. Fishing
9. Returning to the native land after winning the first place of nation-wide exam
10. Lion dance
11. Phoenix dance
12. King Le loi on boat tour or the legend about "restored sword"
13. Children playing in water
14. Boat racing
15. Unicorns play with ball
16. Fairy dance
17. Dance of four Holy animals

Something different from the usual theatre shows. I marvelled at how lifelike the puppets are especially the scene with the fishes swimming on water. I'm also in awe of the puppeteers who stayed immersed in water throughout the 1 hour show. The show would have been much better if there has been a cohesive storyline.

To Eat with review and recommendations:
Rated: 1 - 5 stars
Price: Budget, mid-range, luxury
Ambience (only rated for restaurants) : romantic, soothing, scenic

Tous les Jours - 4 stars, mid-range

Paris Baguette - 3 stars, mid-range

Local cuisine
Pho hoa - 3 stars, budget
This is like out kway tiao soup just a little sweeter.

Trung Nguyen - 4 stars, mid-range

The flavours of one particular noodle dish "Pho Kho Gia Lia" took me by surprise. Its very yummy and flavourful. Don't be intimated by the huge bowl of greens on top. The meat is very well marinated and the soup is so delicious that we went back for this dish a second time. Coffee is generally good and you can ask the staff for recommendations based on personal preference.

Jollibean - 3 stars, budget

Western restaurants
La villa french restaurant - 3 stars, luxury, romantic

Service and support of the staff is really very good. The food is ok, but the price- quality value is poor if you compare it to the rest of the city. I find it too expensive for just fine dinner. But I would recommended it for people who are seeking for good atmosphere. Also, i find it amazing that upper floors of the bungalow is the residence of the chef while the ground floor is served as a dining restaurant. This mix use restaurant is a first for me.

If there is 2 of you, suggest to choose a degustation menu and the probably another mains and the serving is too much for a lady.

Skybar at AB Tower - 3.5 stars, luxury, romantic, scenic

The reception provide a very exceptional service. Our heart sank when we were informed that there was a dress code for gents but we are pretty surprised that they provided free change of pants for the guests. I was pleasantly surprised with the exquisite taste of the waygu beef. I must say its one of the best meals i had and its comparable to some of the restaurants standard in Singapore.

The bar manager attitude is very snobbish and rude when attempt to step out and take a view of the night sky. I understand that the reluctance to let us out while its still raining. But i was snapped at when the skies cleared and the guy cannot even communicate well in english. So i tried to approach an ang moh and he was able to explain to me that on fridays and weekends they are fully packed for the tables that at the edge are reserve for guests that have pre booked and open at least a bottle of champage. I left once i knew i am unable to secure a seat with a good view without burning a hole in my pocket.

To Stay:
Novotel Saigon Centre Hotel - 3.5 star

Location is good and getting a taxi from the hotel is easy. Most cab drivers are able to locate the hotel. But to play safe always remember to bring the hotel map just in case!

Service and cleaniness of hotel is good. I am pretty intrigued with the glass wall of the toilet which fogged up and become opaque with a click of a switch.

Room service is prompt but my husband is pretty peeved with the poor wifi service in the rooms which requires resetting every other hour.

The alcove library hotel - not rated

This is the other hotel that i was considering. Generally a boutique hotel with quite good reviews and quite accessible location

Travel tips: 
For day tours, its more value for money to make a trip to Pham Ngu Lao (also know as the backpackers  street) to make the booking.

Different agencies will combine customers to form a bigger group to make up the numbers.

If you wish to see the water puppet show at Thao Dien Village (195 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien Ward, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City 7000, Vietnam), its advisable to call in advance. We made a trip down to a very inaccessible area and was informed that there is no water puppet shows at the location. Its a real wet blanket.