In the meantime, while we were simultaneously posing for professional photos, recording messages for the couple on video, selfieing ourselves to death, and uploading our efforts to WeChat, we had to prepare the games for the groom and his best men. In Chinese culture, when the groom arrives to pick up his bride, it is the responsibility of the bridesmaids and the bride’s uncle to not let them enter. They will shut the door (usually two doors) and only open it after they have been given red envelopes (红包) with money in them. After we had each been given an envelope with some money (the whole act is more for the sake of ceremony than an attempt to bankrupt the groom), the young men were admitted to the hotel room. However, Roger was not yet allowed to take his beautiful Cherry with him. Now, the bridesmaids in turn gave him and his friends a number of tasks to complete, in order to prove their worthiness of the big prize. Roger was asked what Cherry wore the first time they met and what her favourite two foods are. Then he had to identify his wife’s mouth from a sheet of paper with lipstick impressions; he did fail utterly on the first attempt, due to the fact that Cherry had managed to make the impression of her lips look nothing like her actual mouth. Finally, the best men then had to do 30 push-ups; reason being that Roger and most of his entourage are professional tennis players.
There are a number of different games and tricks that are usually played on this occasion and actually the list of activities we had prepared only came about because smart phones were whipped out and the internet frantically searched. It comforted me a little bit, knowing that I was not the only one who was clueless in this situation.
Then came the final quest; finding the bride’s shoes. This is a non-optional part of the morning activities and it is a task set for the groom to prove his worth to the bride. She cannot leave her mother’s home (in our case the hotel acting metaphorically, since the bride is originally from a different province) without wearing both her shoes. The internet suggest that it is customary to hide only one shoe, whereas in our case we hid both; it took extra patience and another round of red envelopes to find the items in question.
The next part of the ceremony was the serving of tea, seemingly a more Southern Chinese ritual. The maid-of-honour handed a tray of tea to the bride, who in turn served it to her parents. Then the couple addresses their elders with “Mother, father, please drink tea”. Addressing one’s parents-in-law as mother and father is one of the most important acts of the wedding ceremony; before getting married young people call their partners parents aunt and uncle. At this moment of the ceremony, the bride and mother started to cry, showing clearly what an important act this is.
While drinking tea, the parents handed a big red envelope to the new couple, so they may start their married life without financial worries. Finally, the parents feed the young couple “sweet soup” 甜汤, a liquid with a congee like substance and ingredients such as dates and beans. Custom holds it that if the couple eat sweet soup during their wedding ceremony, they will spend their life in happiness and their love will always remain sweet (and here I thought that it had something to do with the word sounding similar to the Chinese word for heaven 天堂).
When they had eaten up, the photographers told mother and daughter, who were still in tears, to hug for the cameras, followed by more sweet soup; this time to be fed to the bridesmaids by the best men.
After that, the bride’s uncle had to carry her on his back all the way to the elevator downstairs to the waiting stretch limo. This is another interesting tradition that shows how big and diverse the country is. On the one hand, in some areas it is customary for the bride’s side to take the young woman piggy back, usually a brother or cousin; only if none of the aforementioned are available, does the honour fall to the uncle. However, it seems that in some Chinese regions it is actually the husband’s family, who needs to step up and escort the bride away on their backs. Either way, carrying the bride to the vehicle, which will take them to the new home, is a symbolic act. Since marriage in China used to equal the woman leaving her family and becoming part of the family-in-law, she would often be sad and not want to leave; so she would be carried away to make sure she would join her new family as was intended and not pull a runaway bride last minute.
Into the elevator of the Jinling hotel, through the lobby to the exit and into the car, the uncle did a very impressive job of delivering the bride safely into the groom’s custody. But then, she is tiny and delicate, as so many of the locals are; I am already wondering about which unlucky git gets to heave me across Hohhot…
In front of the open car door two red blocks had been placed on which the bride had to step with her bare fit before the groom came up to her with the shoes, he had managed to find, and slipped them on for her. This was the final act of the groom coming to pick up his bride and whisk her away into a new life.
Missed the previous post in the Southern Chinese Wedding Series? Read it here.
Want to continue reading? Find the next part of the series here.