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Snake meets dragon

Engaged computer programmers turn to her ancient Vietnamese tradition for wedding luck.

scherzer
AMY SCHERZER'S DIARY
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By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002


Alice Francois and Patrick Hayden knelt and bowed three times, their heads to the ground, their hands folded in prayer.

The first bow was to family; the second, to ancestors; the third, to country.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Alice, born in the Year of the Snake, married Patrick, a dragon. Alice's grandmother chose that hour on that day to bring luck to the marriage. The grandmother described Alice and Patrick -- both computer programmers who live in South Tampa -- as "clay" and "fire in the lantern."

Patrick, 38, doesn't mind being called fire. He chose a tuxedo over the preferred Vietnamese silk robe, but he does not quibble with 5,000 years of Asian philosophy.

He is in love with Alice, 25. And his bride shares Grandma Hoa Thi Truong's abiding belief in the ancient ways.

[Times photos: Stefanie Boyar]
Family and friends come bearing gifts draped in red as the groom's entourage arrives at the bride's parents' home in Pinellas Park.
"It's what I know and trust," Alice said.

Alice sparkled in an emerald green ao dai, the traditional silk Vietnamese gown. A trail of yellow flower appliques embellished front and back. A matching crown circled her dark hair, done up in a French knot.

A software developer for WorldCom, she grew up hearing her parents describe their frantic escapes from Saigon in April 1975.

Like Patrick and Alice, Maurice and Duc Francois met in college. They came separately to America, sponsored by the Lutheran church of Minneapolis. Maurice had worked on air conditioning units at the U.S. Embassy. He left Saigon the same day that Duc fled in a C-123 cargo plane piloted by her brother-in-law.

Patrick feels lucky to be accepted by Alice's relatives. He admires the apparent closeness of Vietnamese families.

His own parents divorced when he was 8. He lived with his mother, Gloria, who died in 1995. That was the last time he spoke to his father.

Patrick, a software engineer for Ariba, met Alice in a business class at the University of South Florida. They teamed up on a class project. After three years of friendship, they began to plan a future together.

First, they earned their bachelor of science degrees in management information systems. Now, they are pursuing MBAs while working full-time jobs.

Alice's relationship with Patrick gives her the independence she needs, she said.

"He has faith in me," she said. "Growing up, I wasn't very independent. My parents have a strict household. In their culture, you're not an adult till you're 40 or until they're gone." Patrick knows the Francois family might prefer a Vietnamese in-law.

But he's eager to learn all he can of their traditions.

He's happy to have Grandmother Hoa consult the Chinese zodiac for auspicious signs.

Family and friends -- some in traditional Vietnamese dress, some in traditional American garb -- witness the first kiss.
If red is the Asian color of happiness, he's glad to have red linen cover the wedding altar. If carrying a roasted pig in the wedding procession augurs future prosperity, Patrick is all for it.

* * *

The procession assembled at Alice's Bayshore Beautiful home in South Tampa at 10 a.m. Groom and groomsmen piled into a white limousine, joined by a few guests and many gifts.

Alice's two younger brothers, Robert and Eric, arranged the special parcels, which were wrapped in red. Four red tins went into the trunk. They were round to represent the fullness of life. Inside were sweets and tea, hidden beneath fringed red velvet cloths.

Four trays wrapped in red cellophane held ripe fruit, sweet sticky rice and, of course, the cooked pig.

Destination: Alice's parent's home in Pinellas Park. A cell phone call heralded the arrival of the groom's entourage.

Alice's family, friends and neighbors rushed to line up in the driveway. In proper, good-luck formation, the gift-bearing men entered the house.

They held tightly to their bundles, unwilling to invite bad luck by dropping a gift.

They placed the pig and gifts on an altar set up in the family room.

Many years ago, the pig would have been part of a dowry demanded of the groom by the bride's family.

"Maybe they would ask for 10 pigs -- cooked or alive," said Anh Bui, one of Alice's uncles from Minneapolis. Bui narrated the wedding ceremony in Vietnamese. Cousin Tuyen Le, of Minneapolis, translated.

The token pig on the altar represented the groom's pledge to provide for his wife for the rest of her life. It was a gesture of respect to the elders in Alice's family.

Alice descended the stairs from her room, attended by four flower girls in yellow Vietnamese gowns and four bridesmaids in mint green.

American tradition suggested the music: Here Comes the Bride. Heeding a Vietnamese tradition, Patrick enlisted two emissaries, older than he, to ask for Alice's hand. They were Linda and Matt Maloy, parents of Alice's maid of honor, Michelle Maloy.

"Pat can't ask for my hand in marriage because he is not in my parent's hierarchy," Alice had explained. "His representatives must be as old as my parents."

Patrick watched solemnly as Matt Maloy approached Alice's parents.

The newly married couple, Patrick Hayden and Alice Francois Hayden, gets a rose petal shower from the wedding party.
Minutes later, rings and kisses exchanged, Linda Maloy, a notary, pronounced them married.

"I was overwhelmed at that moment," Patrick said later. "I was trying not to cry. Everything hit me at once."

Alice giggled, "I tried to make him laugh a little."

Alice's parents bowed to the altar, waving Chinese incense.

"They give her to the altar," explained cousin Tuyen Le, translating.

Alice and Patrick bowed next.

A great aunt and uncle lit two tall red wedding candles on the altar. Alice honored them for the longevity of their marriage, 45 years this month.

Pair by pair, the aunts and uncles stepped forward, bestowing blessings and gifts amid the flashes of cameras.

A Vietnamese feast appeared on the Francoises' dining room table -- egg rolls, rice cake, pork roll, mounds of sweet sticky rice in two flavors, shrimp chips and fruit.

An aunt and a cousin ladled the white coconut milk punch, thick with red and green beads of tapioca, yellow mung beans and clear noodles.

"Special punch for special celebrations," they said.

Alice changed from her traditional silk gown into a classic white wedding gown.

The wedding party left in the limo for more pictures, this time at the University of Tampa. They rejoined the family at the Tampa Garden Center a few hours later for an eight-course Chinese dinner and dancing to Vietnamese and American music.

They cut into a French yellow rum wedding cake baked by Alice, her mother and two aunts.

The Haydens planned a honeymoon in Greece.

-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or scherzer@sptimes.com

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