I’m long overdue for love, according to the Chinese, who relate to someone my age and not married as a “left over woman.” The pressure is on for women in China to marry between 25-30 years of age. They then have a child, which is akin to social security for them. It’s a duty that they can’t avoid. For me, I was not ready for a soul mate relationship the two times I got engaged in my twenties, and both of those relationships disintegrated. I learned a lot about love during those times, especially how to love myself and get the space I need for myself, and avoid attachment and control. It’s difficult for me to fathom still being in a relationship with either of the two men I previously got engaged to, and we unfortunately didn’t have what it took to work out our problems with each other. I was joking with my old high school buddy yesterday that I thought it would be fun to get married, and have the ceremony, but without the commitment. The gravity of married life for me, is more like a moon mission of gaeity and play than something landed and serious, where I don’t want control or jealousy, I still want to be free.
The evening before the wedding of my two Chinese friends, Wang Jun and Xigua, there is a small wedding party and feast prepared for the helpers of the wedding. The wedding families are there sitting around 10 round tables casually eating a feast of Chinese dishes piled on top of one another. We made arrangements for the next day to rise at 6am to begin the ceremony.
As we walk up to the groom’s house around 7am, I notice that there’s red paper placed over gutters with a small rock on top, to cover up the underworld. The cacophony of big hand symbols and drums was blaring as we arrived by people wearing yellow and red costumes. The outside of the building was decorated with red LOVE wedding decorations.
The groom’s aunties were there preparing offerings of cakes, fruits and candies for the table and making us noodles and tea for breakfast. The bed in the house was made over with red blankets, pillows, a bouquet, and a large portrait of the bride and groom. The groom prepared his red belt. The man of honor had a pocket full of some thin metallic rings that they would give away if we passed by a funeral or another wedding. The fire crackers start going off and continue for five minutes as they crackle down the line. The groom couldn’t leave the house to go to Xiguas until exactly 8:18, because the word 8 in Chinese sounds a lot like the word for wealth, so everything has to be 8’s. Outside the music was blaring, and we are eventually rused outside to cars. I was in my own car, and the driver starts asking me questions about the difference between eastern and western weddings, and then mentions that going from house to house was sort of inconvenient. We drive over to Xigua’s “house” at the hotel. We arrive, pull up, and get in the elevator, and the groom and man of honor begin pounding on the door asking to get in. . Then they start pleading to get in, but the door won’t open. They are pleading and begging to get in. Especially Pan Guoliang, he was yelling open the door, open the door, and sliding red envelopes full of money under the door. The bride of honor and bride were standing on the other side of the door not letting them in. Nothing worked, but finally after about 10 minutes of pleading the door finally opened.
Then, the bride was still nowhere to be seen, and we had to wait in a separate room while she finished preparations. After a while, the door opened and he was able to go inside to find her in the dark, sitting on the bed wearing a majestic white dress, holding a bouquet of red flowers. Then, they had to find her shoes, which had been hidden by the bride of honor and the bridesmaids throughout the room. They looked for a long time and had a really difficult time finding them amidst everyone’s luggage and the furniture in the room. They tore the room apart looking for the shoes, and discovered one was under a small sofa. The other one was under the bed such that several men had to grab each corner and pick up the bed with the bride still sitting on it to get the shoe from underneath her. After that, the groom put on her shoes so that she could walk out.
They greeted the bride’s parents. They did a ceremony bowing to them three times and saying some things to them. Then the bride’s brother gave the groom a cup of tea and they pinned flowers on the bride. After we finished taking photos the groom carried the bride all the way through the elevator, downstairs and into the vehicle. I asked the groom later if he had worked out to prepare, and he said no more than usual. He even commented that she was ‘t heavy, although he frequently makes jokes about how fat she is to everyone, which is a term of endearment here in China.
The vehicle sped away to the grooms house, where we arrived with the full band of traditional Chinese music, and a range of fireworks for about 5 minutes. The clanging of the cymbals and drums was quite intense. Then, the bride jumped on the grooms back and he carried her up the stairs and put her on the bed in his room. The bride then changed into a red gown and her hair was completely redone. I noticed the grooms mother also getting made up. After, they did a similar ceremony with the grooms parents and we took a few photos. The ceremony was rather brief and we all hurried downstairs to go to the hotel for the lunch banquet.
We got to the hotel, and were greeted there by the bride and groom, the bride was still wearing the red dress from before. There was a large stage and aisle setup in the banquet hall. People went to make their money offerings in the general amount of 200+ yuan.
The ceremony was about to begin and everyone settled down. The bride and groom arrived at the end of the aisle together. The bride was wearing a completely gorgeous white dress and white tierra. She had changed clothes for a 3rd time while everyone was settling down and offering money. She looked phenomenal. They walked to the end of the aisle and exchanged rings. Bubbles blew over them magically, and the projector screen in the background had kind of a Catholic bible scene with a cross while they exchanged their rings and vows. The groom had actually rehearsed traditional western wedding vows “to have and to hold” and knew the entire thing by heart in English and Chinese. He recited it from memory without the help of a priest!
The bride and grooms father and mother all joined them on the stage where they bowed together and said a few kind words. Also, our professor, Dr. Shi got up and gave a speech, as well as Joelene, one of the postgraduate researchers from Oxford. After that, the ceremony quickly ended and we all had lunch together. It was a huge banquet, and they placed many dishes on the spinning tables for us to enjoy together. The bride and groom came around together to drink with everyone, as did their parents. The bride was wearing a traditional Chinese qipao wedding dress to toast everyone. That was it. The ceremony was over after that, the staff at the hotel started tearing down the stage, as we were leaving around 1:30 or 2pm in the af/ternoon.