Transcript of Thi and Ben’s pre-wedding talk
[Pre-wedding talk given on Saturday, 28 April 2018 at 6.00 p.m. by Ben Piper (and 5 readers) at his wedding with Thi at The Strand, 1 The Strand, Williamstown, Victoria, Australia]
During the evening you will note that we have not one, but 2, photographers wandering around taking photos for us. The bearded one is “Bill”, and the other one is “Peter”.
2. Outline of evening
I should give you a rough outline of what we are hoping will happen tonight. I am about to launch into an informal presentation that is intended to set the scene for our wedding. All up that will take about 40 minutes. We will then go straight into the wedding ceremony itself. That will take about 10 minutes. We hope to be serving entrees starting at about 7.00 p.m.. We will then have the main course. That will be followed by some speeches, the cutting of the cake, dessert, and then there will be dancing.
I note that nothing special is happening for the newly weds after this function is over, so therefore please don’t feel that you need to stay until we leave. Please just leave when it suits you.
Before we get properly going, I need to raise a few things with you.
3. Name problem
First, many Asian people, when they come to Australia, find that Australians have a problem properly pronouncing their first names. They therefore adopt a ‘Western’ first name.
Today’s bride was known by the first name of “xxxx” in Vietnam, and she duly discovered when she came to Melbourne that Australians couldn’t properly pronounce it. However, she did not adopt a Western name.
Instead, she decided to use her 2nd and 3rd names. Unfortunately, for reasons now lost in the mists of time, she used her 2nd name, yyy, with some people, and her 3rd name, Thi, with other people.
We were able to avoid this problem with the wedding invitation by producing 3 versions of the invitation, and then by sending invitations referring to her as “xxxx” to those who knew her as “xxxx” and so on.
Unfortunately, today, no such simple solution is available. In fact the problem today is even worse, because there are 2 ways of pronouncing each of her 2nd and 3rd names.
Her 2nd name, “yyy” is also pronounced by some as “yyyy”.
Her 3rd name, “Thi” is also pronounced “Thai”.
Thus, the woman I am about to marry is known to those of you present today by one of 5 names: xxxx, yyy, yyyy, Thi and Thai.
I know how disconcerting it is to go to an event featuring a person, and to have that person referred to by a name that you are not familiar with. However, short of using all of the names each time I refer to her, the options are limited.
I might mention that I had considered simply using “the bride”. I am not sure how many of you have seen the “Kill Bill” films of Quentin Tarantino, but those of you have will realise why I am not keen on doing that.
So what we have finished with is a mixture. Most of the story I am about to relate happened at a time that I knew the bride as “Thi”, so I have used that name. During the actual wedding the celebrant will use “xxxx”. I will also use “yyy” at times, which is the name I now usually use for her myself, and despite what I have said I will also use “the bride” occasionally.
I also quickly need to tell you a bit about yourselves. A bit over a quarter of you are family, and in most cases you know no one else here. The rest of you are friends that we know individually. Again in most cases none of you know any one else here.
Therefore, everyone is pretty much in the same boat. I had hoped to seat you all in completely random order, but a wiser head prevailed. However, with my guests I have been a bit bolshie in mixing things up a bit.
I can tell you from our personal experience that you are all individually wonderful people, so it logically follows that everyone else that you might speak to in this room is also wonderful.
Therefore I strongly encourage you to mingle as much as possible.
And of course at an event like this you all have the same handy conversation starters available, namely:
1) how you are connected to the bride or groom ?; or
2) isn’t the bride beautiful ?
Of course that last one needs to be immediately followed by the compulsory universal follow up:
3) what could she possibly see in him ?
However, please do not ask me that last question. No, it’s not because I’ll be offended. Rather, it’s because I still do not know what she does see in me.
I also should mention that we have a fair number of young people in the room. In fact, judged on academic results, we literally have some of the finest young minds in Australia present in this room. But we all know academic results are only 1 measure of a person, so I can tell you from deeply personal knowledge that all of the young people in this room are quite remarkable in at least several ways, so I very strongly encourage you all to have a chat with at least some of them before you leave.
Also, I note that all of Thi’s family, except her parents, speak English well, so please waylay a few of them before you leave.
Next, I need to warn you that although you are at a wedding, the bride and I both suffer from several unfortunate disabilities.
To quote the bride speaking about herself: “I do not have a romantic bone in my body”.
To further quote the bride, speaking about me: “You are even less romantic than me.”
In my own defence, I would simply like to say that it is difficult to be romantic with someone who doesn’t really like chocolate.
Compounding our non-romanticness, there is also the matter of our professions. As most of you are aware, I am an ex-public service lawyer, and the bride is a very active tax and superannuation accountant. When you hear mention of either of those professions, I daresay that the first thought that comes to your mind is NOT “Oh, how romantic !”
So you are about to see a non-romantic accountant marry a non-romantic ex-lawyer.
Frankly, we were surprised that so many of you accepted our invitation to attend today.
6. Summary of what will happen
Finally I need to give you a bit more information about what is about to happen. I am about to launch into the Ballad of Thi and Ben. I have used the word “Ballad” simply to indicate length, not style. Because of its length, I have divided it into 4 parts. To give you some relief from listening to me, in between the parts you will hear readings delivered by 5 readers.
We start with the first of our readings. The reader is my nephew, Luke.
Why we are here
Life is a journey
from an unknown place to an unknown place.
Like with every journey, there are obstacles to be overcome,
and there is fun to be had.
Obstacles are not best tackled, and fun is not best had, alone.
A good travelling companion is what you need to make the most out of a journey.
A good travelling companion needs to be tolerant, loyal and dependable.
A good travelling companion does not have to be beautiful, smart, spunky, or sexy.
But if a person should come along who has all of these basic and additional qualities, even if she is disguised as a tax and superannuation accountant, then there is only one sensible thing to do.
And that is why we are all here today.
The Ballad of Thi and Ben
So that’s the one minute version of why we’re here. I now start the half hour version. Incidentally, I do this because Thi and I are about to experience a very significant milestone in our lives, and I think it’s important for us to stop and reflect on what has brought us to this point. The 1st 3 parts of the Ballad describe the period from when we first met to now, and the last part describes where this milestone sits in the journey of our lives to date.
Part 1 – The first meeting
I would like to take you back about 3 years to May 2015. Donald Trump was not yet on anyone’s radar, Tony Abbott was prime minister of Australia and had just lost his 23rd consecutive Newspoll, but then, who was counting ? I had just returned from an 8 week trip to Europe.
I was asked to go to an event in my local area. It wasn’t an event I particularly wanted to go to, but I had nothing else on, and, to clinch things, someone then mentioned those magic words: “free lunch”.
The lunch was a buffet affair. I filled a plate and then looked for somewhere to sit. This is where destiny took a hand. As I walked around with my plate I saw there was an empty spot opposite an attractive young Asian female. I asked whether the spot was free, she said it was, and I sat down. She introduced herself as Thi and said she was an accountant.
We had a pleasant chat while eating during which it somehow came out that Thi had come to Australia from Vietnam when she was about 22, and that she had a 20 year old and an 18 year old son who had both been born in Australia. That was of interest because until that point I had her pegged as being way too young to be of any possible romantic interest. I might mention that up to that point in my life I had been a serial toy-boy rather than a cradle-snatcher.
Thi finished her meal and said she was going to get some dessert. She asked me if she could get me some cake.
Now, if I was required to nominate the moment when destiny made it clear to me that I had found a new life partner, this moment would have to be it.
“Can I get you some cake ?”
Has any more beautiful phrase ever been spoken in the English language ?
Thi returned to the table with cake. She gave me a piece, and then picked the icing off the piece she had got for herself, and ate it. She then asked me if I was interested in having the rest of her piece.
Now if there was a second moment when destiny made it clear to me that I had found a new life partner, this moment would have to be it.
It was as if to all intents and purposes my late wife Patsy was sitting reincarnated in front of me. It was exactly what she used to do – eat the best bits and offer me the remainder.
A bit later, at the end of the event I went to Thi to say goodbye. She gave me a copy of her business card. Although I would like to think that that moment had some significance, I think the better view is that it was the reflex action of a serial networker.
I advised her that I had no card to give her in return, but that I would email her my details.
Now I should perhaps do a recap of the state of play at this point. To my mind I had met an attractive person who deserved follow up if possible. In Thi’s mind, as she has been more than happy to tell me since on a number of occasions, she had met another forgettable male. If there had been no further contact she would have completely forgotten me within a few days. So, to be crystal clear on this, from Thi’s point of view, this was NOT love at first sight.
So ends this part of our story.
In the meantime, in one of the few romantic things you will hear today, Thi’s oldest son Edward, is going to read some Shakespeare for us.
Sonnet 116 - William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Just in case you are wondering why I included that reading, yes, it is a beautiful piece, and yes, it has raised the tone of this part of the ceremony, but really the main reason has to do with the future. In days to come, should you ever have cause to mention this ceremony to anyone, please remember that there was one reading by Shakespeare and 4 readings by Piper. It is likely to be the last time those 2 names appear on the same list.
Part 2 – The first date
I finished Part 1 of this Ballad on a Friday after lunch. Thi had given me her business card, and I had said I would email her my details.
The next morning I did that. I finished the email with the following:
It was a pleasure to meet you yesterday, and should you want to meet again … please let me know.
That resulted in our first date, almost exactly a week later.
But what a week that was.
There are 2 versions of what happened that week – the long and the short.
I am planning to publish the long version as a book in a few months. Well no, I’m not really. While the story is indeed book-length, I suspect it wouldn’t be worth the effort financially.
So, that leaves the short version.
As I have mentioned, on the Saturday morning after our Friday meeting, I sent Thi an email.
Between then and the following Thursday we exchanged 23 emails between us. And none of them were short !
I might just mention that it is clear from the emails that Thi was very busy at work that week, so all of those emails were sent at the weekend or in the evening. Goodness knows how many there might have been if she hadn’t been so busy at work.
Returning to my tale, late on the Thursday evening of that week, just after “The Footy Show” had started, Thi called me, completely unexpectedly. After I had got over my surprise, we had a fairly shaky, but long, like 2 hour long, conversation.
The next morning I then wrote a long email to try to repair some of the damage I had inflicted on myself during our phone call.
We then had a couple of shorter phone conversations later that day.
We then finally met on the Saturday morning for our first date.
Talk about having to earn a date !
And for the sake of the younger people present tonight, I might mention that none of the emails we exchanged contained any photos of any of our body parts ! So it is still possible for us oldies, at any rate, to get a relationship going without an exchange of photos.
I might also mention that there was a kicker. Despite all my efforts up to that time I found out subsequently that Thi came very close to not showing up for the date at all ! Between agreeing to the date and actually showing up she had consulted at length with her sons, her brother in Vietnam and with various friends. I think most of those people are present today, so I take this opportunity to thank you one and all for advising her to meet me.
The first date
So, what was our first date ?
We had finally agreed that we would meet to go for a walk along the Williamstown foreshore, starting near the Williamstown beach.
Thi arrived, about 10 minutes late. I discovered much later that she had seriously contemplated not turning up even as she was driving in Williamstown.
We greeted each other and set out towards Altona.
When we got to the Jawbone Reserve, I suggested we walk to the end of the boardwalk there. When we got there, we found that the seat that is there was empty. Although it wasn’t particularly warm, the sun was shining (how could it not be – we’re talking destiny here), so we agreed to sit for a bit and talk.
That we did. After about an hour and a half of very pleasant conversation, I thought we had got to a point that suggested to me that this was a relationship that was not going to go anywhere. I made some sort of comment to that effect, only to be told that I had completely misread the situation, and that Thi was interested in pursuing things with me. Clearly, in common with most of the males in this room, I am from Mars !
So we then spent the next half hour following up on how we might keep things going.
I might mention, although I risk a lonely night tonight in doing this, as it is information that has never been disclosed to anyone else before, that during this last half hour a first kiss was exchanged.
And so ends this part of the Ballad.
We will now hear from my nephew Sean.
Thank you, Lionel
If this wedding was taking place 50 years ago, we would not be where we are now. Instead, because Ben is a heathen, there would have only been 1 option open to Thi and Ben. So, they would be at a very dingy registry office with broken furniture and paint peeling off the walls. They would be there in public service opening hours. It would just be 4 of them: Thi, Ben and 2 witnesses. They would first have to wait in a queue with others also wanting to get married. They would eventually be called into an office. They would then go through a short purely bureaucratic process conducted by a disinterested public servant. There would be nothing that could be described as any sort of ceremony, and there would be no dignity whatsoever for anyone involved.
The fact that we are all here, able to enjoy this magnificent venue for both the wedding and the reception, is entirely due to the vision and actions of one man, Lionel Murphy.
In his capacity as the Attorney-General of Australia in the early 1970s, Lionel Murphy was responsible for one of the most momentous reforms in Australian legal history: he brought family law out of the 19th century and into a form that is still going strong well into the 21st century.
He is less well known for doing the same thing with respect to marriage. Until he began appointing civil marriage celebrants in 1973, the only way to get married was in a church, or in a registry office during public service hours.
And that was also the situation everywhere else in the world.
In 1973 Australia became the 1st country in the world to allow weddings to be held wherever, whenever and however the people getting married wanted.
This started off small, but these days over 76%, and rising, of all weddings in Australia are now conducted by civil celebrants.
Thank you, Lionel.
That reading was included because we couldn’t have any Ben event without at least a bit of trivia, but also because I think it is important to be reminded of how things have changed over time.
Part 3 – From then to now
The 1st overnight
So, by the end of our first date Thi and I considered ourselves to be an item.
Of course, to fully attain that status we needed to at least spend a night together. So in due course, we decided that that had to happen. We also agreed that it would perhaps be good to spend that night away somewhere.
It was left to me to make the arrangements. Owing to the circumstances in which our decision was made, there was not much time to do this. I decided that out of Melbourne would be best, but not too far out. I knew from experience that Geelong had a lot of good accommodation options, so that was the problem of destination solved. Unfortunately, owing to the short notice, none of the nice places I knew of were available. I therefore chose a mid-price range motel that was in the Geelong CBD.
So we set off for Geelong. The motel itself was okayish, its location was good, and we had a very pleasant evening.
Sorry, that’s all I can mention about that evening and still hope to be married tomorrow.
Now, I should mention at this point that in making the booking I had only hurriedly read over the booking information. In doing that I thought I had seen that the motel had an 11.00 a.m. checkout. While that’s not unusual in Europe, where I had just come from, it is in Australia, where the usual time is 10.00 a.m.. Thi had queried me on that, but I re-assured her that I was confident that this motel was different.
Thus, at 10.00 a.m. the following morning we were still lying comfortably in bed, confident in the knowledge that we still had time before we needed to get up.
Three minutes later there was a loud knocking on our door, followed by a fairly shrill female voice telling us loudly that we should have already checked out.
Now, the amazing part of this story is that about a month later Thi was prepared to embark on a 5 week trip to Europe entirely organised by me, the same man who had organised our first night in Geelong.
Well, the rest is history. We survived that trip to Europe, relationship intact, much to the surprise of many, I suspect, and now here we are almost 3 years later, relationship intact, much to the surprise of Thi and many others. We’re not only still speaking to each other, but we’re ready to tie the knot.
But, of course, there is still the story of how we came to be in a position to meet 3 years ago. That story forms the last part of this Ballad, but before then I would like to introduce Thi’s son Andrew and her niece Cathie.
Love is: Sacrifices and compromises
Hers: Love is marrying him before he has even bought her an engagement ring.
His: Love is wearing a suit at what was supposed to have been a casual wedding.
Hers: Love is having to eat ice cream, cake, lollies and other sweets to keep him company, even though they are things she claims she would not otherwise have eaten.
His: Love is having the heater on in the car even when it is not really cold, and having the air conditioner on in the car even when it is not really hot.
Hers: Love is having to go to movies, concerts, theatre and other shows when she could better spend that time working.
His: Love is attending functions with her to hear speakers speak for an hour and a half in Vietnamese.
Hers: Love is getting up at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning to going bushwalking with him, and then having to trek through bush even though it is windy and raining.
His: Love is going to dancing lessons with her even though he has no sense of rhythm or co-ordination.
Hers: Love is going to Europe with him even though she has only known him for a few weeks.
His: Love is “happily” swapping meals at a restaurant once she realises what she ordered was a mistake.
Hers: Love is going to Europe with him again even though she has already been to Europe with him.
His: Love is getting up first every morning so that she can laze in bed for half an hour longer.
Part 4 – The back story
As foreshadowed, in the last part of this ballad I will describe how Thi and I got to be in a position to come together. I start with Thi’s fuller story.
She was born in North Vietnam about 4 years before the end of what the Vietnamese called “the American War”. She was the 2nd child of her parents, and as it turned out, she was the only daughter of the 4 children that her parents eventually had. Her father worked as a marine engineer on ships.
Thi’s parents were living in Hai Phong at the time she was born. It is a large port city and was subject to very severe bombing during the war by American bombers. In fact when Thi was about 1 the family house was destroyed during a bombing attack while Thi and her mother were still in it. Obviously they both somehow managed to survive that.
About 5 years after the war ended her family moved to Saigon.
Although she had a happy childhood, some might say, as the only daughter of the family, a “spoiled” (in the nicest sense of that term) childhood, at the age of 22 she decided to go to Australia to study.
I might mention that during her time in Vietnam young Thi was not short of suitors – in fact, she once compiled a written list of everyone who had expressed a romantic interest in her before she left for Australia. Apparently there were over 100 names on the list. You can imagine how busy she kept her poor father !
The move to Australia was supported financially by her parents, but otherwise she was entirely on her own – she knew no one here, and her English was not brilliant. Within 2 years she met and married xxxx xxxx.
She then had 2 sons, Edward, and Andrew. In the meantime she had studied accountancy, and then found work as an accountant. Several years ago her marriage ended.
At the time she 1st met me she was not particularly looking for a new relationship, although as with her Vietnam days, she was not short of potential suitors, something I only became aware of much later in the piece.
I was born in Cooma, New South Wales, the gateway to the Snowy Mountains. My father had arrived in Australia in 1952 as a migrant from the north of Germany. After he had been in Australia for about 2 years he returned to Germany for about 2 months to have a holiday, and to visit his mother. While there he met my mother.
My mother was born in East Prussia, but when she was 7 she and her family became refugees in what was then the greatest mass movement of people in recorded history as those in Prussia fled the invasion by Russia towards the end of the 2nd World War.
My mother and her family finished up in the north of Germany. At the time she met my father she was 18. There was a whirlwind romance, followed by engagement and an engagement party, all within 6 weeks. Dad then had to return to Australia. Mum followed him as soon as she could, which was about 6 months later.
It was only when I was preparing this Ballad that I fully realised the parallels between Thi and my mother. They both were significantly affected by war when they were young. They both left their home countries alone, at roughly the same age. For both of them Australia was a place with a strange culture, and neither of them spoke English fluently. While Mum had support when she arrived here, that support was someone she had only known for 6 weeks, and who she had not seen for 6 months. Thi had financial support, but nothing else when she arrived here. All in all, each was incredibly gutsy to leave their home for the uncertainty of what awaited them in Australia.
Returning to me, I was joined by my sister Bianca 18 months after I was born. We then spent another 7 years in the Snowy Mountains in 4 different places, and then lived for 18 months in New Zealand, and then for 18 months in South America. Dad spent most of his working life in construction, so that was why we moved about so much. When I was 11 we finally settled for good in Melbourne.
After Uni I spent most of my working life in the Victorian public service. In 1988 I married Patsy Baudinet. In the late 1990s Patsy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This disease eventually killed her in 2012, after we had been happily married for 24 years. Two weeks after Patsy died my father died unexpectedly.
So by 2015, I was a free man.
I might say here that I consider myself to be amazingly blessed to have had the opportunity to hook up with 2 such amazing women. Obviously I must have done something particularly good in my previous life. In fairness I should also mention that Thi is of the view that getting stuck with me clearly means that she must have done something pretty horrible in her previous life.
So that is our story using a longer timescale.
I would like to finish this part of our Ballad by taking an even longer term view.
Before lunch today Thi and I went through a Vietnamese wedding ceremony. Unfortunately owing to logistical difficulties we had to keep attendance at this ceremony to a minimum, so it was primarily attended by family members only.
At the heart of the ceremony was an acknowledgement of Thi’s ancestors.
Thi’s ancestors come from East Asia.
My ancestors come from Northern Europe.
We are at present on land that was first settled by Aborigines many years ago.
Yet, according to the evidence available, particularly DNA evidence, all of us, Thi’s ancestors, my ancestors and the ancestors of the first Australians all ultimately have the same ancestors. Those original ancestors became human in Africa many years ago and then left Africa to populate the world.
Thus we here in countries like Australia and the US are slowly in the process of becoming one again.
I realised a few days after I wrote this that I should perhaps clarify that Thi and I only intend to make a cultural contribution to this process, not a biological one !
The final reading will be read by me. Unfortunately because of its nature, I am the only one who can appropriately read it.
This last reading arises because I read recently that a poem entitled “Because she would ask me why I loved her” by Christopher Brennan is one of the more popular poems recited at weddings.
I twisted that title about a bit to bring it into line with a question that Thi had actually asked me a little while back.
And don’t worry, what’s coming isn’t a poem – it’s just a bit of prose. This is the answer that I should have given, rather than the one I actually gave.
And you asked me why I loved you
That made me think, because up until then it was not something that I had given any thought to, as it is something that had just happened. So, I pondered…
Is it because you are physically attractive ? Well, it doesn’t hurt, but there are lots of attractive women around, so there has to be something else as well.
Is it the cheeky grin ? Well, again, it’s one of your enormously attractive features, although it usually means that you’ve done or said something naughty, but there has to be more to our relationship than that.
Is it because you are a tax and superannuation accountant ? Well, even though I am quite comfortable with the idea of not having to pay tax ever again, that’s not it either, particularly if one factors in the likely cost of the engagement ring and the Mercedes that I still have to get you.
Is it your sense of humour ? Well no, because I think everyone knows that while you have a very active sense of humour, it is perhaps a little bit warped. Not everyone would think it is funny to tell their poor dog how nice he would look roasting on a spit above the BBQ.
Is it the larrikin streak ? How you always make sure that there are Australians about when you tell your poor dog how nice he would look roasting on a spit above the BBQ. In fairness, I should perhaps mention that while Germans call dogs of Dante’s type Dachshunds, it is Australians who call them “sausage dogs”. But no, it’s not the larrikin streak either.
So what is it ?
Well, it is all of these things, but really above all it is 2 things:
it is because you are you; and
it is because I can also see what most people see so quickly after they meet you – the beauty of your soul.
Well that’s the end of my bit of this ceremony. We now get to the serious stuff, so I’d better put on my jacket and hand this to [the wedding celebrant] for the serious part of the day.
[If you are planning to marry in the next little while, and the idea of having a pre-wedding ceremony of the sort set out in this transcript appeals to you, I have written an e-book that provides detailed guidance on how you can create such a ceremony for your own wedding: “Ideas for modern weddings”. Buying the book gives you the right to use anything from my pre-wedding talk in your own wedding, but it will also give you lots of ideas about how you can come up with original material based on your own experiences and circumstances. It also has very detailed advice about how to give the talk, if you might want to do that yourself. If not, the book also looks at other ways in which your story can be told at your wedding.
I note that this idea is also something that can be used for a publicly celebrated wedding anniversary (be it a 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th or whatever anniversary).
To find out more, click here: The book
[If you would like to read a bit more about how the idea for this talk came about, how it was received, and how our wedding and reception went, please see: Origin Story ]