Lyly Hoang and Michael Kuo have been married twice. Fortunately for the newlyweds, it was twice in the same day, and to each other.
Lyly, whose Vietnamese family owns and operates two restaurants in Baltimore, and Michael, a physician whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, donned colorful silk ao dais and officially merged their lives and their families with a Vietnamese wedding ceremony at her family’s home in the early afternoon last Labor Day. By early evening, in white bridal gown and tuxedo, they were exchanging vows in a traditional American service at the Cloisters, an estate in Baltimore County. “It was important to do both,” says 26-year-old Lyly, “to keep the Vietnamese traditions alive, not only for myself and my parents, but for future generations, as well.”
Michael, now 34, had sparked the action a year earlier, when he slipped a diamond ring onto Lyly’s finger during dinner at Joy America Café on Baltimore’s harbor. It was the same restaurant where, early on, he had jokingly proposed with a key ring, instead. Lyly had known a serious offer would be coming. “I just knew. We were at the right stage of our lives, we were compatible. We had known each other from a long time before, so it was comfortable from the onset. It just clicked.”
She had first met Michael through her cousins about seven years earlier, when he was a medical student at the University of Maryland and she was a senior at Western High School. They would run into each other again over the next several years, but it wasn’t until spring of 1999, at a Hoang cousin’s wedding, that the casual acquaintance turned romantic. The two chatted, and Michael couldn’t help but notice how his friend’s little cousin had grown up.
“She was dressed really well. I thought Wow! That’s Lyly?” recalls Michael. “I called a couple of days later to ask her out.”
Lyly, now an Aramark food services manager at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, had just completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland and was headed to graduate school in hospitality at Cornell.
After a few Baltimore dates, Michael began making the six-hour drive to Ithaca, N.Y., every other weekend to be with her. There seemed little question of the future. But even after Michael pulled out that real engagement ring and Lyly had said yes, there were other people who needed to give their blessing. In fact, there were about 15 of them.
In the Vietnamese and Chinese cultures of the couple’s backgrounds, the union of man and wife is recognized as the union of two families and is celebrated in an engagement ceremony and a wedding that put both relatives and ancestors front and center. As a first step, Michael took Lyly’s father and stepmother, Nghia and Phuong “Fern” Hoang (her birth mother, Tuyet “Snow” Cao, lives in Texas) to dinner at Atlantic, and asked for their permission to marry Lyly. Next, the Hoangs invited Michael’s parents, who live in Tennessee, to come to Baltimore to discuss plans for the engagement and wedding over a feast at their restaurant in Canton, Hoang Sushi and Seafood Grill. The date for an official Vietnamese engagement party was set for Oct. 15, 2000.
On that Sunday, the groom’s entourage of about 30 relatives and friends, the women all in ao dai and everyone bearing traditional gifts of food and wine wrapped in the lucky color red, were formally invited into the Hoangs’ townhouse in Greenspring. They were welcomed by some 40 of Lyly’s clan and close friends.
Nghia Hoang had built the customary family altar— a three-tiered structure fashioned from plywood— in the living room and covered it with silk. There the families placed the gifts and blessed their ancestors. Michael’s father, Chung-Ming, formally asked Nghia to approve the marriage. Then everyone retired to the Hoangs’ Canton restaurant for a luncheon feast.
The wedding day was set for Sept. 1, 2001, but only after Phuong Hoang and her sister had consulted a “reader” who could assure it was a lucky day on the Chinese lunar calendar. As restaurateurs, the Hoangs knew they would prepare many Asian specialties for the event (shrimp balls with quail-egg centers, the Vietnamese salad goi, sharkfin soup, and sushi items). They asked Cuisine Catering to coordinate the rest of the menu. On one of her weekends home, Lyly and Michael toured possible sites and settled on the Cloisters. They envisioned an outdoor wedding and reception— a bold move for a Labor Day weekend in Baltimore, considering the city-run Cloisters allows no tents on the back terrace and has no air conditioning inside, either.
Fortunately, the calendar reader had been right. The muggy weather leading up to the wedding weekend passed through the night before, and summer’s heat gave way to an incredibly wonderful fall day, all blue sky and crisp air.
After a morning of errands, Lyly slipped into her most formal ensemble— an apricot silk ao dai with a gold chiffon robe and a khan dong, or headpiece. “The khan dong is worn only for formal events,” explains the bride, who stayed hidden away upstairs until Michael’s entourage arrived at the Hoang residence at 1 p.m.
In a scene reminiscent of the earlier engagement ceremony, the groom and his party approached the house in a double row, each man and woman robed in an ao dai and carrying a special gift— fruit, cognac, cookies, specialty cakes and champagne. The most unusual offering, at least to non-Vietnamese eyes, was a whole roasted pig.
“It’s tradition to bring a pig, it symbolizes the celebration feast. You share it with the guests, sending half of the leftovers home with them,” Lyly explains of the pig, which had been special ordered from a Chinese restaurant in Silver Spring.
The bridesmaids accepted the gifts on the Hoangs’ behalf and led the party into the home, where they were officially welcomed by Nghia and Phuong Hoang and Tuyet Cao. The gifts were laid on the altar, then the mothers summoned Lyly, who descended the stairway and received traditional gifts of fine jewelry, some family pieces and some new. “It is like a dowry,” says Lyly of the jewelry, all gold, jade and diamonds.
During the ceremony, as elders read passages in Vietnamese— wishing the couple well, offering advice on a successful marriage and asking for blessings from the ancestors— Lyly’s brother Vu, a heart surgeon in Seattle, provided the English translations.
After a post-wedding lunch, the Hoangs had several hours to finish the prep at the Cloisters before the 6 p.m. start of the American-style service there. Guests gathered in the Cloisters’ amphitheater, and Lyly’s nine attendants preceded her down the stone path between rows of seats cut into the hillside. “There was no runner laid on the stone steps, so my train was snagging on the stone,” she recalls of the only noticeable glitch in the day. With help from her father and guests, she made it to center stage to join Michael and Universal Life minister Tony Guida, who wore the scarlet robes of his specialty—Renaissance-style weddings.
After the couple exchanged vows, guests gathered for cocktails on the front lawn, then sat down to dinner on the candlelit terrace and in the gallery inside. The bride added a Vietnamese touch to the reception, donning the formal wedding ao dai again to make the rounds with her parents, visiting briefly with every guest. Lyly’s cousin Linh Tran, who had flown in from California, took the microphone and sang some songs with the Spotlight Band, a Vietnamese band that played everything from ballroom and rock favorites to techno-beat club music.
The double newlyweds stayed to the end, even helping clean up. “I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful wedding day,” Lyly says three months later. “Especially with the risk we took on the weather. And it was so wonderful that most of my relatives were able to share it with us. It was very meaningful to integrate our past with our future in both an Asian and an American way.”
Cake, Renaissance Pastries
Wedding music, Chesapeake String Players, 410-532-3649
Minister, Tony Guida, 301-229-0307
Wedding dress, Birbaum & Bullock, from Betsy Robinson’s Bridal, Owings Mills, 410-484-4600
Caterer, Cuisine Catering, 410-281-1124, with Hoang’s Seafood Grill & Sushi Bar, 410-466-1000
Flowers, Flowers by Megan, 717-235-5624
Wedding coordinator, Heather Keating, 410-788-7788
Photography, Glamour Photos, 703-625-4897