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Greetings from Vienna, #13

March 15th, 2004



Old Business

In newsletter #10, I incorrectly stated that my ZIP+4 was unique to my house. This is not true. According to the FAQ page at the US Postal Service site:

The 4-digit add-on number identifies a geographic segment within the 5-digit delivery area, such as a city block, office building, individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that would aid efficient mail sorting and delivery

As much mail as I receive, I don't think that I qualify as "individual high-volume receiver of mail", though it often feels that way during catalog season. I know that when I was living in my last apartment, my building and the building next door (not part of the same complex) had different ZIP+4s. I would occasionally get mail for a Lee next door, with a Chinese female sounding name. In any case, my apologies for the error.

A Day Late (but not A Dollar Short)
I'm moving the newsletter publication day to Tuesdays, starting with #14. Between my German classes, which have started again, and the Monday dance classes which I've been missing, I have way too many time constraints on Mondays.


Greetings from Vienna
Part the Thirteenth, Baker's Dozen[1]

Do You Take This Woman...
It sounds funny, but our wedding day was rather ordinary. Ok, we just got back from a day trip to Venice, and we both could've used more sleep, but it was otherwise a fairly normal day. Doing it in the middle of the week helped. Having a small number of people (18, including Karin & I) also helped, as well as only having to plan a luncheon. There were only two sets of out of town people to manage, and they didn't need special accommodations, people playing tour guide, drivers, etc. So for us, the most important things were: getting a shower, getting the flowers, and getting to the Standesamt on time.

Showers and flowers were easily dealt with shortly after coming back to the apartment. I had to starch and iron a shirt and collar. I would've worn my blue dress shirt, but it would've clashed with Karin's dress, so I had to do the old fashioned thing and pull out one of my non-formal collars with a formal shirt. Could find spray starch, so I improvised with potato flour. I could use more practice, but Karin declared it good enough. After that, I did a little repair work on my overcoat (loose stitching, replacement buttons), then headed off to pick up Eugene. The plan was that Eugene and I would meet Karin, her brother Andreas, and his girlfriend Claudia at the Standesamt at 1:30 pm. We can then get the lay of the land, and I'd send out Eugene to look for Syd and Jade. They were arriving at 11:40 am, and planned on taking a cab to their hotel in the 1st District to change, then cabbing it to the Standesamt.

I met up with Eugene just fine, and we were a few minutes behind schedule, but Karin, Andreas, and Claudia got there even later. To top it off, the Standesamt was not ready for us, as the wedding scheduled before ours was running late. So we had to cool our heels in the waiting room, which actually gave me time to prep my cameras (still and video). My plan was to have Eugene take still pictures, and have Syd do video if he didn't bring his own video camera. Syd called me from the hotel while Eugene and I were just getting to the Standesamt, so I decided to go out there to look for them. Within a couple of minutes, they'd arrived. Followed by Karin's parents and some of the other guests. Meanwhile, we were still waiting for Andrea, who was my witness, to arrive. I called her and found out that she was at the closest underground station, so I went back outside to guide her in. Andrea duly arrived after a couple of minutes.

At this point, the Standesamt had decided that the other wedding will take place after ours (they were very late), so we were able to go into the office to get the paperwork started. In this case, it meant that Karin and I gave them our passports and our rings, and Andreas and Andrea had to show their passports and identify themselves. This took all of five minutes, and we went back into the waiting room, where both wedding parties are hanging out.

At almost exactly 2:00 pm (the actual scheduled time for our ceremony), they opened the doors into the hall and called us over. This was it.

Not quite.

As soon as we entered the hall, we had to go talk to the organist, who would be providing music for the ceremony. We had to pick three pieces: entrance music, music for the exchange of the rings and signing of the marriage certificate, and exit music. We picked Wagner's Wedding March, What a Wonderful World, and (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear (yes, we had Elvis in the building), respectively. And then I had to pay. That done, we were able to really start the ceremony. On the video, you can see our whole wedding party stacked up behind us. So to the strains of Wagner, we officially walked in.

I have spoken to many a bride and groom who could not recall what had happened during their wedding. Some of these were rather complex affairs, with many people in the wedding party. This was not the case with me and my wedding. There were something like eight discrete steps of the ceremony:

  1. Walking in and sitting down
  2. Standing up for the officiant (and sitting back down again)
  3. Being addressed by the officiant
  4. Standing up to answer the all important question(s) and exchanging the rings
  5. Sitting down again to listen to the officiant some more
  6. Getting up to sign the marriage certificate
  7. Standing up again to receiving the congratulation of the officiant
  8. Walking out

Total time: Just over seven minutes according to the video tape.

The one part of this that I don't remember clearly are the speeches of the officiant, which were in German. However, I hope to work out what he said by listening carefully to the video, and expect to put out a transcript (with a translation in English). This won't happen by next week, but might happen by the time I finish my current German course. Cross your fingers. But for those of you who just can't wait for my German to improve, and also for anyone who is interested, you can see a QuickTime video of the ceremony at:
(14.3 MB)

After the ceremony, we were back in the waiting area and formed a very short receiving line. We were now able to greet each of our guests a second time, now as husband and wife. (I don't think that this could've happened with a larger and more "traditional" ceremonies.) Now that we were finished with the official part of the ceremony, our hunger asserted itself and we began organizing people to go to the wedding lunch. We split up into people who were driving and people who were taking the tram. Karin went with her parents, who drove with the cakes, and I escorted the American contingent and an assortment of other wedding guests. We walked out of the Standesamt and picked up the tram around the corner.

Where's the Beef?
About 25 minutes later, we arrived at Vegetasia, a Chinese restaurant specializing in Buddhist, vegetarian cooking from Taiwan. It was now about 20 minutes before three (or "fünf Minuten vor Dreiviertel drei"), which was a bit earlier than the restaurant had expected us. So we waited around as the last of the lunchtime customers finished their meals, and started to take over unused tables for the presents and the cakes. Soon, we were able to sit down and get drinks, and then the food began to arrive.

Now, we had had a number of discussions with the owner/chef of Vegetasia, a certain Mrs. Lee (the coincidence is uncanny, to say the least), about the food. Actually, I did most of the talking as Mrs. Lee was much more comfortable in Chinese than in German, and then translated to English for Karin. Occasionally, Mrs. Lee would also speak to Karin, but of course in German, over certain finer points of Chinese vegetarian dishes. This was especially important when Karin wanted to make sure that we were not having anything that was overflowing with onions and garlic.[2] Mrs. Lee assured us that she will use just enough to flavor the dishes. She also suggested, after ascertaining that the vast majority of the guests would be Austrian, that the dishes should not be made "Chinese spicy", as being more fitting "to the Austrian palate". In any case, we could always put chili sauce on our own plates.

We also had an extensive discussion with her daughter Jacqueline (I have no idea if this is how this is spelled in German), who was in charge of the wait-staff and arranged drinks. Because drinks were priced separately from the food (and charged individually), we decide to offer a limited number of alcohol-free things on the table (and order them by large bottles), and then let people order things like tea, coffee, or alcohol individually. Our choices were mineral water, apple juice, and Calpis—a Japanese drink made from fermented milk, and tastes slightly tangy and sweet. This last proved to be huge hit, after some initial reluctance on the part of just about everyone, whom had never even heard of it before that day. The exception besides Karin and I—who were given freebies when trying decide on the menu—was my brother Eugene, who has spent time in Japan and is otherwise pretty hip to many things Japanese.

Then the food started coming. And it kept coming. And coming. And coming. We originally planned for 21 people, when everyone had finally RSVP'ed, we ended up with 18. We'd let Mrs. Lee know that we were not as many people, but it seems like it didn't change much except possibly the portions, which turned out to still have been too much food. Of course, this is very Chinese, so I actually approved, though I felt as full as everyone else at the table by the time the fifth course rolled around, and we were barely halfway done!!! We were served:[3]

  1. Salat a la Vegetasia
    (Gurken, Asiapilz, Sojaschinken, Seetang-Erdnussrollen)
  2. Sortimentplatte
    (Gemüse- und Spinatrollen, Sojawürstchen)
  3. Heillbutt[sic] a la Vegetasia
    (Heillbutt[sic] geduenstetmit Sojasaucen und Baby-Pak-Choi)
  4. Schnitzel mit Mandeln paniert
  5. Rindfleisch mit Asiagemüse gebraten, scharf
  6. Sojaschinken-Rollen mit Koriander
    (Chrispy[sic] Salty Chicken mit Barbecue-Saucen gebraten, scharf
  7. Handgemachte Nudeln und Gemüseteigtäschchen im Wok gebraten
  8. Garnelen mit Cashew-Nüssen gebraten
  9. Dessert und Obstteller

And of course, you have to add the wedding cakes to this list. Plus we got a bonus dish of sticky rice balls in sweet red bean soup (very traditional, very Chinese, excellent). We ended up missing out on the fruit plate (the second half of the last item), as Jade, Syd, Eugene, Karin and myself had to leave in time to catch The Marriage of Figaro at the Volksoper at 7 pm, but we pretty much ate continuously from 3 pm to 6:30 pm, with a break for cutting and serving the wedding cakes. (My in-laws took home a substantial bag of left-overs, which Karin's mother enjoyed over the next week.)

Souvenirs from Venice
At the end of lunch/dinner, we presented everyone with a gift. In Venice, I talked to Karin about gifts for the guests. This is something that I've always enjoyed getting when I've attended weddings, and it was something I felt strongly about. Karin was less than sanguine. She has relatively little tolerance for knickknacks which might be pretty to look at, but is otherwise without function, except to gather dust somewhere, and be hard to clean. So as we walked through Venice and passed stall after stall of souvenirs, I would keep making different suggestions, all of which got shot down except the final one. We'd just been looking at lapel pins with Carnival mask designs, when we discovered that they had the same things as refrigerator magnets. While I would not normally choose a fridge magnet (those of you who know about my refrigerators in California can stop laughing now), Karin finds them useful—certainly more so than pins which had to pinned to something. So we ended up buying a handful of refrigerator magnets, and then presented them to our guests. Each guest had to pick one of my hat, which was covered by Karin's scarf to prevent peeking. The exceptions were the two witnesses, Andreas and Andrea, for whom we picked special ones. And this concluded our wedding lunch, at 6:30.

Now it was a mad rush to organize the doggie bag,[4usa] get the final bill and pay, thank Mrs. Lee and her daughter, book a mini-van cab to take the five people to the opera (it being much too late to go by public transit), and say good-bye to everyone. Alas, I was not able to say good-bye to every person, as I was sort of managing the whole paying/getting a cab thing. And when the cab finally came, it was a normal sedan, which couldn't possibly hold five people. Luckily, we had a plan B. Karin went with her parents in their car, which followed the cab to the Volksoper. We arrived and made it to the second balcony as the overture started, which gave us enough time to check our coats before the ushers let us in just before the curtains went up.

It was a very good production, though all of us except Karin nodded off at least once. Poor Jade and Syd have been traveling for more than 24 hours by the time they arrived in Vienna, so they were pooped. Eugene was nursing a semi-serious cough. By comparison, Karin & I were nearly fresh as daisies, but obviously Karin was fresher than I. The show ended at 10 pm, and Jade & Syd decided to take a cab back to their hotel. Eugene joined Karin & I for a couple of stops on the underground, and then he changed train to go back to his hotel. Karin & I got home around 11 pm. Happy. Tired. Married.

And now, Karin's first full article for the newsletter:

Last Names in Austria: Then and Now
Some of you were asking how I came to my new name, so here is a short story about possibilities and impossibilities in choosing names.

More than approximately 20 years ago it was not possible to choose your last name. The law said that women have to take the last name of her husband. The idea was that everybody can easily see that these (let's say) 4 persons belong together and are one family.

Example: Mrs. Miller is going to school to talk to the teacher about her son Markus. The teacher will immediately know that Mrs. Miller belongs to Markus Miller and is not in danger to tell her details about Markus Smith.

Nowadays it is not so easy any more because there are more choices.

The choices we had:

1st choice:Paul and Karin Lee
2nd choice:Paul and Karin Novák
3rd choice:Paul Lee and Karin Novák
4th choice:Paul and Karin Lee-Novák
5th choice:Paul and Karin Novák-Lee
6th choice:Paul Lee-Novák and Karin Novák
7th choice:Paul Novák-Lee and Karin Novák
8th choice:Paul Lee and Karin Lee-Novák
9th choice:Paul Lee and Karin Novák-Lee

Not possible choice:  Paul Novák and Karin Lee (no exchange of names!!!!!!)
Also not possible: Lee Novák or Novák Lee (without the hyphen)

Effects on kids: The kids are not allowed to have hyphenated names. If we were not married, kids would automatically be Nováks. But we are married, so we had to choose either Lee or Novák as last name for our kids.

Paul didn’t feel well with the name Novák. Solution for him: his name has to stay Lee. [I was not really excited about having the last name of Karin's ex-husband, no matter how much Karin felt like the name (though not the ex) had become a part of her own identity. -PL]

I didn’t want to get rid of Novák and I also didn’t feel well with just Lee (it was a very strange feeling to imagine your name is Lee and you are not even Chinese). [Telling her that she could be related to Robert E. didn't really help. -PL][5usa] But I did not want to go to my kids teachers and explain that I’m the mother and that I just kept my old name. Solution for me: a combination of both names.

Possible choices: Lee-Novák or Novák-Lee.

Lee-Novák sounded great! [I would've been ok with changing to Lee-Novák if that's how we can give our kids hyphenated names in Austria. -PL]

Novák-Lee always reminded me of: easily, approximately, sadly, luckily, gently, unfortunately, novákly, …..

Situation clear?? Good.
More questions?? Also good.

Happy to hear from you soon,

Karin Lee-Novák


And we must end Newsletter #13 here. See you again next Tuesday.


Bis dann,
Tschüssi, Baba.
Paul & Karin



[1] English expression for the number 13. This comes from Medieval laws on weights and measures, where a "loaf" of bread had to weigh no less than some standard (usually an official weigh kept at the town hall or the bakers' guild hall). The same was applied to items sold in dozens, such as rolls or buns. So to insure that a customer got their money's worth (by weight), a baker would throw in an extra one, hence this expression. There is apparently no equivalent phrase in German, as my dictionary translates it to "13 Stücke" or "13 pieces".

[2] This was not a food preference issue; Karin normally loves onions and garlic. Rather, it was an attempt to rein in on how often she had to use the bathroom, which frequency has increased significantly since becoming pregnant.

[3] I'll put up the pictures of the food next week, once I have complete set. I'm having to scan photos from my father-in-law, who got some of the dishes that Eugene didn't have a chance to photograph.

[4] American slang for the bag of left over food from a restaurant, ostensibly for "the dog".

[5] General Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. The personal joke is that when I worked in customer service and had to give my name, it was just easier for some people to spell Lee if I said: "Paul Lee, like General Robert E." Robert E. Lee was not Chinese.



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