My LIFE AS…a wedding planner

Even though I’ve already planned so many weddings, it’s only now that I’m starting to think about my own wedding. Being a wedding planner is quite stressful; it’s a happy day for the people having the wedding, but such a busy day for us. I can’t wait for it to be my day to experience the happiness and not be stressed about the details!

My name is Hai. I’m turning 25 this year. I’m in charge of event planning and organizing, mainly weddings at VCCI Expo (an exhibition center belonging to the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry). The way I chose this job is pretty random. When people ask, I usually tell them, “I didn’t find it, it found me.” But thanks to this job, I get to have parties every day without paying a single cent.

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Anyway, if you want to have an idea of the kind of pressure I face as a wedding planner, you’re going to have to understand all the tasks I’m in charge of every day. These days I manage a staff of 120 from various departments. I arrive at the office at 8 in the morning, and the first thing I do is check the work schedule on the notice board. Then at 8:30, I have a meeting with all the personnel to divide up everything that needs to be done that day. At the end of the meeting, I go back to my office and make a list of my own tasks. At 10am, I visit the wedding location to see how preparations are proceeding. This includes checking the list of all the equipment we need for the ceremony and contacting the caterers. By around 10:30, the staff begins arranging the tables and chairs and decorating the entrance gates and the main stage. Then I have to run around a lot to check up on their progress and remind people of any special details.

As you can see, even just the morning is already stressful in my field of work. But then again, there are some days that are more stressful than others. It really depends on how many weddings we’re setting up that day. On average, I’m usually in charge of managing two weddings per day. But during the high season, we may have to organize as many as six weddings in one day. And if it’s a ‘lucky’ year, the demand can be even higher because people believe holding weddings in those years will bring them good fortune and happiness.

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There’s Money in Marriages
The wedding industry is very profitable. Let me break it down for you; right now we have three large banquet halls where we can hold weddings simultaneously. The cost of renting a banquet hall is anywhere between VND15 and VND25 million, depending on the time of the year and how hard the couple bargains. Then, on average, each couple will order 100 food trays, but we can serve up to a maximum of 600 food trays per hall. A tray for ten people ranges from VND1.2 to 1.5 million. Of course, the price will be higher if the customers have any special requests. Because each wedding takes place in a relatively short time, only about one to two hours, there aren’t many expensive activities for each wedding besides the food and music. The customers can request us to hire singers or if they want to sing themselves, we’ll prepare a band or emcee for them. The truth is we make a pretty serious profit from each wedding.

To be able to do this job well it’s really important to be good at improvising. You have to deal with a whole range of situations as quickly and effectively as possible. If you don’t, you can have real problems. I remember one time when one of our employees beat up the stage supervisor for something he’d done. You see, with all the work they have to do and the short amount of time they’ve got to do it in, people can get frustrated easily. If you don’t know how to deal with people and their craziness, you won’t be able to get anything done. Aside from the ability to deal with people’s craziness, my other key skills are organizing, planning, and delegating. It’s still hard to get training in these sorts of skills in Vietnam, so mainly I had to gain them myself through experience.

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Have there been any big changes since I’ve been working as a wedding planner? The only one I can think of is the banning of firecrackers. It’s kind of funny because people immediately adapted by switching to popping balloons on stage instead. I guess they figured it would create the same air of excitement. When we first started doing it, it was pretty basic, we had two kids holding sticks with nails attached to them and they’d poke each balloon individually to make them pop. Now though, we’re very high tech, we just pull a string and all the balloons pass over nails attached to the stage. Boom! Boom! Boom!

I remember this one time when three weddings were being held at the same time. The problem was that the walls between the banquet halls weren’t soundproofed very well. Normally, the start time of each wedding is slightly different. But that day, all three started at the same time and all three had similar scripts. So you had Western music playing on one side, old Vietnamese music on the other, and karaoke on another, all at the same time. And when the brides were about to be introduced we could hear from all three halls, “Please give a big round of applause to welcome the most beautiful woman of the day.” All of us staff standing outside couldn’t stop laughing.

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I’ve planned weddings for a lot of my close friends. Those weddings are my favorite because even though there’s still stress, it feels more rewarding. But you know, after having planned so many weddings here in the big city, I still prefer weddings in the countryside to be honest. Even though the planning isn’t as professional and maybe the food isn’t as sanitary, the atmosphere there is always more genuine and full of excitement. Here in Hanoi people come in quickly and leave quickly. But honestly, that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, if the couple is happy, we’re happy too.

Interviewed by Nguyen Thuy Trang, Lena Tran, Maya Weir, Vu Thu Hien 

Images by Ngoc Tran

Additional editing by Gerard Sasges. Excerpted from It’s a Living: Work and Life in Vietnam Today, available in paperback on Amazon or as an e-book on iTunes.

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