December 16, Baotou
And so it’s official. I’m a married man :)
I’m guessing that those of the family who were able to attend have already relayed the details of a Chinese wedding to those who could not be here; but in case some of you got left out of the loop, a blow-by blow account follows <takes a deep breath>.
In China, many of the traditional customs of the wedding ceremony have been maintained. Most of these traditions used to be upheld in Europe as well but I guess we lost track of them somewhere along the line. The overarching theme is in transferring the woman from the house and family of her father to her new home and husband and involves everything from mock fighting to bribery and (of course) a lot of bowing.
On the morning of our wedding day I took a short walk from my apartment to hotel Tian Wai Tian where we had booked a suite for the day. Normally the groom would start the day in his father’s house but as it is a bit of a long drive to Copenhagen, the hotel room had to make due. I was joined by my family (my mother, my cousin and my sister) as well as by my ‘posse’ – a group of friends to help me through the day; we had some snacks and basically just relaxed a little while I suited up and stuffed my pockets with candy and money for later use.
At about nine o’clock we set out in a caravan of eight black Audis dressed up with flowers and red bands. The number ‘eight’ symbolizes happiness and success in China, while the Audi-brand symbolizes ‘shit load of money’ just about anywhere. The cars were borrowed from various friends which is quite normal in China; I suppose that if you are the owner of an expensive black car you will be asked to a fair number of weddings… What else? Oh yeah, fireworks! Fireworks are a central part of any celebration in China. We had a firecracker salute when the caravan left the hotel, another when we arrived at Lisa’s family’s house, and yet another when we came back, started dinner, toasted with the guests, went to the bathroom, and so on and on and on and on until we couldn’t see each other for the smoke :)
Anyways, we arrived at Lisa’s place where I was supposed to fight my way through the ‘guard’, a group of Lisa’s friends and family who should try to prevent me from taking her away from them. As it happened though, the fighting was surprisingly brief and I was allowed in relatively easy. I got the feeling that they held back since I’m a foreigner and they were worried that I might not know the custom. I’ve seen wedding videos where the groom was being chased down the street by a jeering crowd, throwing firecrackers the size of Molotov-cocktails at his feet, while the poor man screamed for covering fire from his friends.
No such drama here though so we proceeded to the next part of the ritual which is dumpling-eating. Lisa’s mom had prepared a dumpling breakfast for me (a dumpling is a small piece of dough wrapped around some meat or vegetable and boiled for a few minutes). Traditionally there would be four dumplings; one too spicy, one too salt, one too sweet and one too bitter, symbolizing that life (like breakfast?) is not always to your liking. At a normal Chinese wedding the dumplings will be pure poison but again I found that I was being treated gently as all four dumplings were actually quite delicious despite their excessive seasoning. After the breakfast it was time for me to meet my future wife; however, before I would be allowed inside her room I was required to bribe the younger generation of her family with candy and money wrapped en red paper.
Lisa meanwhile had been sitting in her bedroom wearing her wedding dress and waiting for me to finish breakfast. When I finally got there we had another ritual involving me kneeling on a washing board and answering her questions about ‘who would be washing the dippers’ and ‘who should administrate our household’s money’ and so on. For each correct answer I would receive a slap in the face with a slipper (?) and finally she would officially accept me. All that remained was to find her shoes which had been hiding in the room and then carry her to the car. Along the way we were assaulted by Lisa’s old classmate who stole one of her shoes. This is another Chinese custom requiring the groom to win the shoe back by bribery, trickery, or brawling (I’m neither rich nor clever enough to qualify for option one or two but I fight dirty so I finally got the damn thing back).
We drove the caravan back to the hotel where we spend an hour or so exchanging gifts and having some snacks before the beginning of the actual wedding ceremony. Normally the married couple would be going to they new house which should be bought by the family of the groom and furnished by the family of the bride; again my house is in Copenhagen (I’ll have to talk to my father about picking up the mortgage) and it’s a bit of a long drive so we settled for our suite at the hotel. So far the events had been involving family and close friends only but at twelve o’clock the guests arrived for the wedding lunch. In China the main event of the wedding is the lunch where the bride and groom will be performing various rituals while the guests are eating and (especially) drinking. Lisa and I greeted the guests at the door as they arrived, or rather Lisa greeted the guests in Chinese while my job was handing out cigarettes and looking pretty :). We had about eighty or ninety guests, most of them Lisa’s family and friends but also some of my family, colleagues, and a strong contingency from my badminton club.
The lunch began with me and Lisa welcoming the guests again, this time in English and Chinese both. We had hired a “host” which is a kind of all-purpose toastmaster to deal with most of the microphone handling, but since she didn’t speak English my good friend Mark translated most of the event live. It made for a curious and slightly confusing cocktail of languages (especially when I threw in the occasional Danish remark) but I think most of the guests were too drunk to notice anyway.
The two main ceremonies of the lunch were in bowing to our new parents-in-law and calling them “father” and “mother”. In China this is followed by the parent accepting you and, of course, giving you some money. After all the back-bending bowing it was actually quite liberating to find that the next part of the ritual involved me carrying Lisa around in circles among the tables. I’m not entirely sure what that ceremony symbolized but it was immensely popular with all the guests (some of whom tried to stop me as I came through) and I think I it might have something to do with overcoming the obstacles in life or something to that effect. Either way I consider myself fortunate to have married a woman of a rather slender physique as I was required to take several rounds before the host was satisfied (who made her boss anyway?)
About halfway through the lunch me and Lisa changed outfits. Lisa discarded her white wedding dress for a red one (red symbolizing success), while I changed from a traditional western suit, to a traditional Chinese one. The second half of the wedding revolved mostly around taking pictures with various family members and friends in various poses and we both felt like a perpetual frown would settle on our faces from all the smiling. Still it was definitely worth it as I’m told that most guests left with assurances that the wedding had been ‘extremely successful’ :)
And that’s about it. The wedding concluded and we had a more or less relaxing evening doing some last minute shopping with my cousin and some last minute eating with my mother and sister as they would all head home on the following morning. I’ve now been married for more than two weeks and so far it’s agreeing with me. I guess most of you know that I was never really cut out for the single-life anyway and since I lost my hair long before I ever contemplated marriage I expect no serious negative effects from my new social status.
And with that obvious invitation to Murphy,
I’ll say goodbye for now…