Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chinese Wedding Weekend

With the wedding couple
Several weeks ago when we bought tickets for our trip to my friend's wedding, Kevin made the mistake of telling Juliana, "We are going on an airplane!"  Juliana immediately went to the door to put on her shoes and started crying when she learned we weren't actually going at that moment.  So when the time for our actual trip came, she was pretty excited.  Fortunately the previous --- flights haven't yet dimmed her enthusiasm, and this trip we managed to include planes, trains, buses, subways, vans, and taxis (plus our friends' car which she called a taxi too, because she doesn't realize some cars aren't taxis.  30 hours of total transit.

On Thursday we got up at 5am to leave for the airport.  We spent a 5-hour layover in Xian mostly hanging out in the comfortable chairs in Dunkin Donuts.  We even formed a little bed for Juliana where she rested for approximately 3 minutes.
Juliana "resting" in the airport

When we finally arrived in Nanjing that evening, we went to eat at a Mexican restaurant (because you know, there is one) then headed to our $18 hotel where we spent a rather restless night.  The next morning we caught an early train to Taizhou, fortunately just 2.5 hours away.  Our train went through Yangzhou, my first city in China.  I marveled at the way trees and grass sprung up from the ground as easily as dirt does in Ningxia.  I've gotten used to living on the edge of the desert, and it really was surprising to see lakes and rivers around every turn.

My friend's fiance met us in Taizhou, his hometown where the wedding would take place.  He took us in his month-old personal car to meet up with the rest of the family.  Unfortunately the car's brand-new GPS was missing several of the new roads so it took quite a while to find the way.  Juliana was almost falling asleep when we arrived at the restaurant where my friend Candace, her family, and her fiance's family were waiting.
Candace and her family
Every area in China has some different dishes and variations of flavors, and I was looking forward to some Jiangsu province style food again.  We did have good food; unfortunately most of the ordinary foods we liked to eat weren't on the fancy menus.  First we had the meal with the families where the table was filled with so many dishes they had to be double stacked.  Then was the pre-wedding banquet - not a formal affair but still feeding close to a hundred people.  And of course the fancy wedding banquet.  One night Wu Wei's mother did cook us food at their home (6-7 dishes plus bowls of noodles and zongzi) and that we especially enjoyed.
Eating dinner at Candace's new apartment
Except Juliana, who didn't want to eat much of anything.  I figured she was probably tired from travel and not used to the food, but the next day she threw up most of the morning.  The night before we had been out in a moderate breeze so of course everyone said, "Oh no, she got too cold last night!"  As we all know, cold (in this case about 70*F) is the source of all disease as well as most other misfortunes.  Fortunately the wedding wasn't until the evening and by then she had recovered to her full level of normal excitement.   Which was good, because she was the flower girl!
Juliana at the pre-wedding banquet, still not feeling so great.  But she was still ready to get out of the hotel!

When Candace asked if Juliana would be the flower girl I wasn't really sure what that would entail.  A traditional Chinese wedding celebration revolves around the large banquet with some ceremony and performances included, but more and more western traditions have been picked up.
The wedding car

Some of the traditions had been fulfilled earlier in the day, when the families lit off lots of firecrackers (probably the ones we heard starting at 6am).  Before the pre-wedding banquet Candace's fiance had gone to pick her up in the wedding car.  He then carried her up to their third floor apartment.  I told him to be glad he didn't live on the sixth floor like us!
The banquet hall
The wedding was a dinner banquet.  For the first part of the ceremony, Candace dressed in a western style white wedding dress.  Her father walked her partway up a raised glass aisle, situated in the middle of the banquet tables, where she was met by her fiance.  Juliana and a 4 year old flower boy processed in front of them tossing flowers from their baskets.  The lights were darkened, spotlights flashed around, and multicolored bulbs lit up under the aisle - a bit of China flair added to the western tradition.  I wasn't sure how Juliana would do throwing flowers since she wouldn't practice walking down the aisle without holding my hand, but I guess walking together with the little boy gave her confidence.  She did great and tossed her flowers with utmost diligience.
Juliana and the flower boy lead the way down the aisle

The couple exchanges vows

After walking up the aisle, the couple exchanged vows and wedding rings.  Together they lit some type of firecracker/candle and prayed for good fortune, then filled a tower of glasses with champagne.  Candace went to change into a traditional red qipao and meanwhile the lights came back on and the banqueting started.  When she returned, the second part of the ceremony involved calling the new in-laws "father" and "mother" and receiving lucky money from them.
Praying for fortune
Calling the in-laws "mother" and "father", receiving an embrace and lucky money

Each table was first filled with cold dishes - cold meats, cucumbers in garlic, hawthorn jellies, "thousand year eggs"... after a few minutes the servers started bringing in the hot dishes - all kinds of meats, several fish, shrimp, soups, and a few "fancified" vegetables.  Dozens of dishes later, the large baozi (steamed buns stuffed with meat or vegetables) signaled the last of the dishes.  Just like at any banquet, one of the most important parts is toasting all the appropriate people.  Approximately every two minutes someone would stand and toast someone else at the table.  Of course no celebration is complete without lots of alcohol and smoking.  I was grateful for the banquet room's high ceilings which kept the smoke from getting too thick around us.
The banquet table...before the dishes really piled up

While everyone was banqueting, the couple and the husband's parents moved around to toast every table and the performances started.  An opera singer dressed in a fancy traditional dress sang and danced...which was a little strange because it was actually a guy (in the past all opera performers were men).  Several other singers sang and strutted to very loud music.
The opera singer

Then suddenly, the banquet was over.  Everyone started leaving their tables and three minutes later the room was practically empty.  It's truly phenominal how fast a room can clear in China.   I've never seen anything quite like it in America.
The decorated bridal chamber

The couple would spend their wedding night in their new home, their bedroom beautifully decorated with a red bed-covering and red 喜喜 "double happiness" decorations, but there was no honeymoon for them.  The next morning they saw us and Candace's family off, then Candace had to return to Changzhou, 2 hours away, where she still lives and works as a teacher.  She hasn't been able to find a decent job in Taizhou, so she and her husband will live apart for the forseeable future.  Candace is a high school teacher, so she is incredibly busy getting her students ready for the all important college entrance exam.  She often works from 7am-10pm teaching and supervising students and only has a day off when the students are allowed to return home a couple of times a month.  It seems like a difficult way to start a marriage, but in China it's not a terribly uncommon situation.
Juliana having fun with a new friend while we wait for our delayed flight

It was a tiring weekend.  The next day we took a bus to another city and then caught a bus to the airport. Our flight back delayed 1.5 hours so we didn't get back until 10pm Sunday night.  But I'm really glad I got to see Candace again, meet her family, and attend her wedding.  I also got to see two other former students, Candace's classmates.  They had certainly grown up a lot since I met them as little freshmen almost 8 years ago.
With two other former Yangzhou students and their husbands
Getting a little tired of all the pictures
Juliana was quite a hit.  She was getting pretty tired of all the strangers getting in her face, touching her, and trying to pick her up but we tried to shield her from some of the more aggressive attention (why does sneaking up and trying to swoop up a kid from behind seem like such a good idea to everyone?)  Our friend was concerned about all the attention, but we assured her Juliana is pretty used to it by now.  Overall she handled it well, and she came off with a lot of loot, including but not limited to:
-One poofy flowergirl dress complete with hairband and pink elbow-length gloves.
-One moderate sized Snoopy stuffed animal.
-Three small stuffed teddy charms.
-Candy, crackers, nuts, chocolate, and various other snacks.
-A bouncy ball that flashes bright lights
-A plastic fan
-And to top it off, one GIANT stuffed bear which our friends presented to her as they saw us off to the bus station.  It's as tall as Juliana and twice as wide.  Kevin had go out and hunt down a rice bag to pack it in so we could check it on the way back.
Juliana's new giant bear
All in all, it was a good trip and we got to experience a much more traditional Chinese wedding than the last one.  My friend was endlessly grateful that we came, and 387 other people are endlessly grateful for the cute pictures of the 洋娃娃 "foreign doll" they will now post online.

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