In 2005, Phuong was studying chemical engineering at the University of Delaware and working at a Newark nail salon to pay the bills. She and coworker Trish were talking about men one day when Phuong said, "Why don't you hook me up?"
Trish called her cousin, Linh. Phuong didn't expect Trish to take her seriously. But then the phone was in her hand. Phuong talked to Linh for as long as she could while at work. And then when she got home, they talked more. Trish was having a birthday party that weekend, so she invited her cousin - and set up a date for Linh and Phuong the night before.
Linh, an IT guy, was working in Florida at the time, but he regularly took weekend trips to far-away places such as Los Angeles and Amsterdam. The day after the long phone calls, he flew to Delaware. Phuong and Linh had dinner and drinks. The next day, they attended Trish's birthday dinner together. That night, Mr. Jet Set was supposed to have a date in New York, but he canceled to spend more time with Phuong.
How does forever sound?
By the end of 2005, Phuong, who is now 25, and Linh, 31, were planning a life together. The plan was this: Buy a house. Get engaged and married. After that, Phuong agreed that Linh could indulge his "extravagant taste in cars."
The couple bought their Newark home in January 2006. And then Linh surprised Phuong with tickets for a three-week trip to Japan. She had always wanted to go there. And surely, he would propose there! Every morning, Phuong asked herself, "Is today the day?" But it never was.
A month after the trip, Linh called Phuong at work. "Babe," he told her. "I bought a car!" Not just any car, but a BMW 335i coupe. Linh was not sticking to the plan. The more Phuong thought about it, the angrier she got.
That evening, Linh insisted Phuong and her parents join his family at his nephew's birthday party. Phuong was not in the mood. "During the whole dinner, he kept showing off his car to his brothers, his cousin, everyone," Phuong said. She stewed in the corner. As dinner was ending, Linh said, "I have to show you something," and led Phuong outside.
He told her to stand next to the car and close her eyes. When she opened them, "He was on his knee, with the goofiest look on his face. 'Will you marry me?' he asked me. I couldn't help but ask him, 'Are you asking me, or are you asking the car?' "
Her snarky comment rid Phuong of her annoyance, and the couple went back inside to celebrate.
It was so them
Legally, Phuong and Linh have been married since last summer, when the two eloped to Key West on a most auspicious date: 8/8/08. They wanted to take advantage of the good fortune that was supposed to surround brides and grooms that day, and they wanted more time to save up for a big reception with friends and family. But most important, they wanted to get the legal stuff done to clear an entire day for the cultural traditions that would marry them in the eyes of their families and in their own hearts. Both Phuong, a research scientist/engineer at the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., and Linh, an IT consultant at Bertex Inc. in Berwyn, were born in Vietnam. Linh is ethnically Chinese, as was Phuong's grandmother. The couple decided to honor their heritages by holding tea ceremonies that mixed elements of both cultures. To pull it off as authentically as possible, Phuong and her wedding planner, Christina D. Mitchell, spent a lot of time in the ethnic shops on South Philadelphia's Washington Avenue.
The first ceremony began at 8 a.m. at Phuong's parents' home. Phuong dressed in a traditional Vietnamese wedding gown, covered with animals and flowers embroidered in silk thread. Phuong was waiting with her bridesmaids when Linh and his entourage - his groomsmen and family members - had arrived downstairs. They had brought a symbolic dowry of traditional items: tea, wine, fruit, cake, jewelry, and a whole roast pig.
Phuong's mom, Thin Nguyen, welcomed the group inside, and placed their offerings on a table. Linh bounded up the stairs, where he met the bride's man - Phuong's friend, Aaron - who was guarding her door. Aaron demanded money, and, as custom dictates, he and Linh haggled. Aaron settled for $99.99. But Aaron was not satisfied with just money. He demanded that the groom perform tasks to show his worthiness - he made Linh do jumping jacks and sing.
Linh finally got to see his bride and escort her downstairs, where he presented her with a wedding ring. They prayed, asking the bride's ancestors for blessings, and then began the tea ceremony.
The couple served tea to Phuong's parents, Thin and Hong. After they drank, the Nguyens gave the couple their blessings, and a red envelope of money (red symbolizes good luck). The ceremony was repeated with Phuong's aunt and uncle, and then everyone celebrated with food Thin prepared.
About an hour after the groom's arrival, everyone traveled to Linh's parents' home, where they prayed to his ancestors and served tea to his grandmother, Quyen Huynh, then his mother and father, My-y and Hong, and then his aunts, uncles and brother. After the second round of prayers, tea, blessings, and gifts, the couple prepared for their reception.
The reception for 120 was held at Camden's Adventure Aquarium. "One side of our ballroom was the wall of the shark tank!"
Phuong describes her husband as a tough guy who never cries. But when the newlyweds began dancing to the version of "Endless Love" by Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross, "he started bawling," she said. "We were both crying tears of joy."
A bargain: Rather than purchase pomanders, corsages, and boutonnieres for the wedding party and family, Phuong bought wire and beads and made flowers that would last forever. She spent less than $300.
The splurge: Phuong's wedding attire. The traditional Vietnamese dress cost about $1,000. Her two American-style dresses - the ball gown she wore at the beginning of the reception and the simpler dress she wore when she eloped and during the second part of the reception - each cost about $5,000. "When it comes to fashion, I can't really say 'No,' " she said.
The couple honeymooned for a few days in Miami after their Key West wedding.
Behind the Scenes
The bride's parents' home, the groom's parents' home, both in Newark; and Adventure Aquarium in Camden.
Aramark Catering, Philadelphia
Tom Smith Photography, Newark, Del.
Tangerine Media Group of Conshohocken
The traditional dress was designed by Lan Huong of Hanoi, Vietnam. The two American-style dresses were designed by Reem Acra and purchased at Betsy Robinson Bridal Boutique in Baltimore.
Made by the bride
Christina D. Mitchell of Heaven Sent Wedding Consultants, Philadelphia
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