Today’s article is dedicated to all the people who have asked me what a Chinese wedding is like, if it really lasts a week, what the bride wears, is there a dragon dance, and thousands of other questions I can’t remember.
No, I’m not going to tell you about my wedding. Why would I want to talk about how ridiculous I was during my wedding when I can talk about other people?
My story starts on a random November day, when I get home from a “hard day’s work” and Luna (my girlfriend), comes up to me and tells me:
“The first Friday in December you’re not going to work!”
“No? Why?,” I respond.
“We’ve been invited to a wedding and we’re the godparents!”
“OK, who’s getting married?”
“My best friend from my hometown is getting married!”
“Who’s she marrying? The last time we visited she didn’t have a boyfriend, right?”
“I don’t know. I think it’s a guy she met five months ago.“
“Holy shit, that’s what I call an express relationship. Is that the secret to marriage? Not worrying too much about who you let in your bed? And most of all, what’s the point of looking for a suitable partner when your parents can do the work for you?” I think, but don’t say, as to not offend her.
Being the godparents of the bride, in the end we are obliged to arrive one day early to participate in the wedding rehearsal. So, Thursday morning we head to Luna’s “town.”
The so-called town is no more than one of those tiny places in China that only has a little more than five million inhabitants. Specifically, I am referring to Jiaozuo in the Henan province, famous for being the birthplace of Taiji.
In the middle of the afternoon, we arrive at the wedding hotel, after more than six hours of traveling:
First, we spent four comfortable hours on the bullet train to the closest city, Xinxiang, two hours on a bus, which in this area tend to leave when they feel like it, and finally, twenty minutes in a taxi. Mission accomplished!
Arriving at the hotel, we head to the reception hall, where the wedding agency is preparing the decorations for the big day. Good God! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so tacky…
It would be hard to describe Chinese people’s strange idea of what a romantic atmosphere is (see photo to get an idea). What catches my attention the most is that right in the middle of the aisle that the bride has to go down, they decided to place an altar with classical Greek-style cardboard columns.
When we enter the room, my white devil face causes the expected effect in these latitudes of the interior of China. Not more than two seconds go by before everyone in the room is staring at me. Luckily, the father of the bride comes to my rescue, saying:
“来来咱们一起喝酒” (Come, come, let’s have a drink together.)
Without thinking twice, I sit down with the father of the bride to try to get out of the uncomfortable situation. Luckily, the family members aren’t long in getting back to their frantic activity of devouring tons of sunflower seeds (瓜子) while chatting.
Upon sitting down, I realized that the father is already way ahead of me, as his red face and baijiu breath leave no room for doubt. While serving me a glass of baijiu and offering me a smoke, he starts to talk to me in an almost shout:
“Good thing you came, as I’m fed up with these Han. Did you know? I’m ethnic Mongol and am a direct descendant of Genghis Khan”
“Shit, this Genghis Khan must be the Adam of the Mongol people. When I was in Mongolia, everyone also claimed to be direct descendants of Genghis Khan. Where did he find the time to conquer half of Asia? I imagine that making kids was a full-time job! ” I think, while the father kept on bragging about his noble origins.
Next, he goes on to his shouted argument, in case the table at the back of the room can’t hear what he is saying to me.
“We, the Mongol people and you, the laowai, aren’t like the Han, are we? Damned Han, always the same, marrying, having kids, making money, buying a house and most of all, not going out with friends. We don’t want that; we love our freedom, right?”
I sit down and glance to the side to his wife’s face (of Han ethnicity), and she doesn’t look very happy. I think that my new friend is going to sleep on the couch today. Nonetheless, I admire his boldness to criticize Han Chinese in a room full of them. It must be the blood of Genghis Khan running through his veins…
His speech continues for more than half an hour and spares nobody. Luckily, the guy in charge of organizing the wedding calls us over for the rehearsal.
An important part of Chinese weddings is the pre-ceremony, where friends and family members gather in the house of the family of the bride or groom, and in our case, the bride.
So, at eight in the morning we arrive at the bride’s house, where around twenty people are already drinking tea (or baijiu), smoking and eating seeds. The father is kind enough to invite me to sit with the guests and introduces me to each of them. Luna then abandons me to my luck and goes to help her friend. The looks of surprise on the faces of the guests due to the strange arrival of the ape-man, or rather, me, quickly move on to an intense questioning period upon discovering that I can understand them.
If that’s not enough, it seems like everyone wants to offer me tobacco, which to be polite, I am unable to decline. One hour and more than twenty cigarettes later, I want to die. However, I am forced to keep it up for almost three hours.
Finally, at eleven, the groom arrives at the house accompanied by around ten friends. Upon entering, the family members of the bride block their way, while the friends of the bride hide in her bedroom, closing the door. The groom and his friends make their way through the family members by pushing and bribing them with red envelopes (filled with money).
When they finally get to the door of the bride’s room, they try to force their way in while shouting that they open the door. Inside, the bride’s friends yell that they aren’t going to let them in and block the door. At this point, the negotiating starts. This is China; you need to bargain even at a wedding.
The groom and his friends start to push red envelopes under the door and the bride’s friends demand more and more of them, as well as other proof of his love such as singing songs or reciting poems. At a certain point, the bride’s friends become distracted by so many red envelopes that they neglect their duties and the groom’s friends manage to open the door.
When it seems that the groom has finally managed to overcome all the obstacles, he realizes that the bride doesn’t have shoes. Her friends hid them and without shoes, there is no wedding…
After searching the whole room, the groom and his friends find the two shoes and can finally proceed. At this point, everyone goes out in front of the house, where several high-end black cars are waiting to take everyone to the hotel.
Before continuing my story of my first wedding as a godfather, I need to write an introduction on what a Chinese wedding is.
While many people claim to be religious in China, in practice, more than 90% of the population doesn’t practice any type of religion, because of which the majority of weddings aren’t religious.
In China, civil weddings don’t exist like they do in the West; that’s to say, the day of the wedding doesn’t coincide with the day on which the marriage is registered, and normally the wedding is celebrated weeks or even months after having signed the papers.
Weddings in China are a ceremony in which the marriage is presented to family and friends. In addition, not being neither religious or civil, the ceremony is a sort of stage play conducted by the wedding agency. Whatever!
Finally, as they are a sort of show, each wedding is different. In fact, currently, the majority of weddings in China are a strange mix of Chinese and Western traditions which doesn’t make sense. Nonetheless, the Chinese divide them into two types, traditional or modern.
The inappropriately named traditional weddings continue to combine Chinese and Western elements and are distinguished by the fact that the bride and groom dress in red-colored traditional Chinese outfits (Qing dynasty). On the other hand, “modern” weddings imitate Christian weddings, obviously adding touches of Chinese traditions, and in these weddings, the bride dresses in white and the groom in a suit.
A clear example of a “traditional Chinese wedding,” in the foreground the person in charge of conducting the wedding (probably an employee of the wedding agency), and in the background, the bride and groom with traditional outfits and beside them, their parents. On the right, someone has infiltrated the wedding, and even though everything is possible in China, no, he isn’t topless!
Finally… the wedding
When we get to the reception hall, I have to pass by the cash register first; that’s to say, I need to deposit my red envelope at the entrance, where two volunteers open it and note my name and the money I brought (without commenting).
Upon entering the room, which is set up for around two to three hundred people, I take a look around and notice something: aside from the groom and the groom’s father, I am the best dressed. If I look, I would likely find someone who came in pajamas!
I sit down at my table, trying to attract the least attention possible. It isn’t my wedding and I don’t want to have to take thousands of pictures with the guests.
Right away, the show starts. A guy dressed in an electric pink jacket and a modern hairdo gets up onto the stage and starts to recite something that I don’t even try to understand while the background is filled with intolerable Chinese pop, without forgetting (obviously) the light show with hearts moving around everywhere.
In an attempt to pry my gaze away from this grotesque spectacle, I realize that the room is still half-empty and that many of the guests haven’t even arrived yet. I know that the show is pathetic, but arriving late at a wedding seems disrespectful to me. In fact, the guests arrive bit by bit, even when the wedding is already over, just to try the “free” food.
Getting back to the wedding, when the presenter finishes his speech (the only thing lacking was for him to sing a song or tell jokes), he calls the groom onto the stage and the typical song for Western weddings begins to play. At that moment, the bride appears with the direct descendant of Genghis Khan, who doesn’t look very happy.
The bride and the father walk along the aisle between the tables and stop at the classical Greek-style cardboard altar, where the groom has gone to meet them. The father hands the bride’s hand to the groom and as they taught him during the day of the reception, he tries to put an expression of pain on his face for handing over his daughter. However, the only thing I can see is a face of hate, as if he were saying: “Put that hand any closer and I’ll cut it off. Let’s see if you’ll be worthy of touching my daughter later.”
Overcoming the tense moment, the bride and groom exchange vows and the presenter calls me to bring the rings and finally, he marries them to the sound of the applause of the guests, who forget for one moment the mountain of peanuts in front of them.
Afterwards, the bride and groom head to pay their respects to each other’s family, bowing on their knees and afterwards offering them tea they have prepared. After that, the moment everyone is waiting for arrives… THE BANQUET.
While the new couple dedicate themselves to going from table to table and toasting with each of the guests to thank them for coming, enormous amounts of food start to arrive. As expected, the guests start to devour it as if their lives depended on it.
One hour later, the majority of the guests are stuffed to the brim and because of that, it’s time to go.
However, many people think:
“Hey! I put 100 Yuan in the red envelope, I should ask the waitress to pack up the leftovers to go; that way I can eat all week for free!”
This is how one Friday at one in the afternoon, I found myself more than 700 kilometers from my house, completely drunk, with lungs that felt like bursting because of so much smoking and without anything to do in a practically empty room.
So… how was your Big Chinese Wedding?
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons License): www.flickr.com/photos/kajiyoji69/ (traditional wedding) www.flickr.com/photos/115529034@N02/ (all the rest)]