|With the wedding couple|
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|
|Eating dinner at Candace's new apartment|
|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|
|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|
-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|