Tag Archives: Bridesmaid china

Bridesmaid Drama Continued…Five’s a Party and the Return of the Superstitions

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my bridesmaids had to cancel attending the wedding, which put us in a rather awkward position as in my mind it meant we had to de-throne one of the best men; in Chinese culture the number of bridesmaids and best men has to match up as they walk in before the ceremony all paired up. But wait, I had, as usual, made the rookie mistake of not taking into account the Endless Rule Book of Chinese Weddings and Superstitions, of which there should really be a print version (though it is probably better this way, as it would be so thick as to cause the deforestation of an entire Chinese province if published)

“It is impossible for you to have four bridesmaids” an ever vigilant Mr.Li informed me. Four is an unlucky number, as many of you who know China might remember. Once again, fiery bridezilla reared her head. It was not like I was having enough problems with Austrian customs, unfitting dresses and unreliable bridesmaids, now I had to procure an extra bridesmaid out of thin air. I was almost tempted to look on Taobao for a Bake Your Own Bridesmaid Set. “We will just ask one of my female relatives”, my ever sentimental groom announced. Once again, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, Chinese have a pragmatism that defies all logic, considering when it comes to organisation they will literally book a hotel room for the night  as they walk up to said hotel EVERY SINGLE TIME. I am still waiting for the day we will have to sleep on the street because there are no rooms. 

I mean, these are my bridesmaids, these are my closest friends; how can I ask a total stranger to be my bridesmaid, it makes no sense at all! While Mr.Li suggested I take a time out before I climbed through the computer screen and throttled him at the suggestion, I was frantically thinking about what to do. I certainly did not want some random female bridesmaid in my consort. So I started going through all my female friends in my head but after crossing off the ones who could not make it to the wedding at all and the ones who were already married and the ones who knew about the flight of the bridesmaid fiasco as it henceforth shall be known and might feel offended at being back-up bridesmaid, pickings became fairly slim, and by that I mean none what-so-bloody ever. 

This was when I decided a change of tactic was needed. What female friends did Mr.Li have that I got along with? You could almost hear the sound of the switch being flipped, as only one person came to mind. A common friend of ours who had also studied in Newcastle, came from Hohhot, was currently back in her hometown and has even offered during my struggles with wedding planners to help me do the decoration on my own. Perfect pick! 

Now the next fun question is what to do about her bridesmaid dress. Luckily she is stick thin, but on the other hand for a Chinese girl rather tall. Why do I feel like I am going round in circles? 


Bridesmaid Drama Continued…Honesty and Grey Lies

Now, just when I thought I had salvaged the situation I found myself facing the next problem. I had already heard through the grapevine that one of the Chinese bridesmaids was not sure she could come to the wedding. As she told some common friends, she had for one used up her annual leave already and secondly wanted to ask for a raise at work, which wouldn’t go down to well if she asked for holiday she had no more right to at the same time. This was the situation and I knew it; however the story she ended up telling me was a rather different one. She sent me a message saying she could not make it to the wedding because she was broke and could not afford to come.

This put us in quite an awkward position. We could offer to cover some of her costs; especially as it is quite common for Chinese people to pay for the hotel for their guests, who in return bring red envelopes. However, none of the other bridesmaids and best men were currently receiving free hotel stays, they were all paying out of their own pocket. Which in my eyes made it unfair to them if she received extra financial support. Now, if it was a case of her having a really low salary and being generally not wasteful with her finances, then I would have agreed no questions asked; but knowing as I did that this was a party girl who worked in Shanghai on an ok salary, I did feel that since she had known about this wedding for almost a year it should have been possible to scrape together the less than 3000 RMB the flight and hotel would cost and be sure to put aside two days of leave.

More importantly, knowing as I did that this was likely just an excuse, I did not feel particularly generous. I wasn’t angry really, a little disappointed I guess, but not really surprised, since reliability was never this friend’s strong suit. Still, I had thought that she would manage to attend a wedding to which she had been asked as a bridesmaid 11 months ago.

Grey Lies – The Truth is Subjective

Well, the damage was done and once again this story showed me one of the sides of China I feel rather uncomfortable with; the grey lie. Calling the excuses that are commonly given in Chinese society white lies would be, in my opinion, understating their prevalence and severity.

Back in Europe, or especially in Germany, we have a very straightforward and sometimes naive way of approaching things. If my friend invites me to go out and I cannot be bothered, I will simply say so. If I feel I do not have enough money to do something, i will tell my friends what is up. In China however telling the truth in both scenarios would cause a loss of face; the former one to the friend, as you do not deem them important enough to overcome your lack of motivation and in the latter case your own, as admitting that you do not have enough money is about as embarrassing as it gets for most Chinese people; suggesting again that this was a mere excuse on the friend’s part.

As a result, Chinese people will, shall we say, edit many small truths in life as a way of being considerate of the other person’s face or feelings (or their own). If they do not want to go out, they are “sick”, if they do not want to drink alcohol, they are “allergic”, if they do not want to work with you on a business venture they are “just too busy right now but will talk later”. In Europe, we tend to place a lot of value on the truth and so initially I really struggled to accept this side of local culture; that your so-called friends might frequently lie to your face, even if comes from a good place, made me feel like they were not a real friend and I could trust no one.

Almost two years later, and my attitude has relaxed considerably. I no more feel “betrayed” or “disappointed” if I find out my Chinese friend said they were going to their parents this weekend and couldn’t join in the fun, when really they just wanted to sit at home shopping on Taobao or playing computer games. I even catch myself slipping into the “grey lie” pattern more and more frequently.

Aside from the face issue, I also think many grey lies are told because there is little understanding in China for people who deviate from the norm. For example, I have heard many local people express shock and concern at the idea that after the wedding my husband and I would still be in different places. So instead of looking at their disapproving or worried faces and listening to the same lecture over and over like broken record that husband and wife need to be in the same city, since anything else is unthinkable, it is easier just to lie and say “yes, of course I am moving to the same city as him.” Ironically, in the end that is what probably will happen; but that is another story for a later time.

When it comes to grey lies, while I might be taking on this characteristic, I am nowhere near the pro skills of Mr.Li. I remember when he returned to the UK from his visit home to China just after we started going out. He told me how he had met all of the students from his elementary school class at a reunion. When people started discussing their lives and career, someone mentioned that Mr.Li had been awarded a first class BA from a UK university. His reaction was to tell them that he had bought the certificate and it was fake, which was of course utter nonsense. He loves academia and worked incredibly hard to get all his distinctions, which he truly deserved. When I heard this story I thought I must have been one drugs. Who on earth would tell such a lie about their own achievements?

I see now that there are many possible reasons why he would have said such a thing, the main one being that he was the only one from elementary school who got an overseas certificate. This made him stand out of the crowd, and probably subject to no little jealousy. As in China the focus is always to fit in, he immediately downplayed his achievements so people would see him as their equal and feel more comfortable around him.

It is only now, as I remember this story and how entirely baffled I was at the time that I start to notice how much I have changed and how much I have learned about Chinese culture; though writing this means I am not acting accordingly, as I am not being modest as one should be. I often joke about how during the first two years of dating Mr.Li, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Well, in every joke there is a grain of truth and in this one possibly two.

Bridesmaid Dress Horrors – Chinese Sizes and Service

Isn’t that grand. The worry I had all along of course had to become a reality. When I ordered the bridesmaid dresses from Taobao, I knew it was a risky business as a) online purchase of clothing items is generally problematic in terms of fitting, b) Chinese dresses and dress sizes are absolutely unrealistic, e.g. a woman wearing an S in Europe will have to buy an L in the Middle Kingdom, and finally c) Chinese dresses are cut in a very different way than Western ones.

chinese bridesmaid dresses

It looked so promising in theory.

We had already agreed to chose a dress that had a wide skirt to increase the chances of them actually fitting but what I did not consider is instead of ordering a dress with a zipper, I should have purchased one that is tied at the back, offering a lot more flexibility in terms of the wearer’s figure. My ambition was my downfall.

Here is the thing though, I am not that naive to just play it by ear. I got my friends’ exact measurements and provided them to the vendor and asked them for their “expert” opinion on which dresses to buy. They advised an L for my two slighter friends and I decided to purchase an XL for the third bridesmaid because she is rather tall. I also slipped into an L dress when it arrived to make sure I could fit; while it felt rather tight, and on my own I was unable to zip it up, I did feel it would be ok, since I am much boxier than my bridesmaids. An oversight on my part, I must admit, I should have chosen less attractive friends, such as blobfish. 

Now after my DHL shipping disaster, the dresses finally arrived in Austria only for us to discover that the XL just about fit the slightest of the three girls while the other two had trouble breathing in it. Now, fainting bridesmaids is not something I want to be the cause of, so we had to find another solution. As XL was the largest size available in the shop, there was no chance of getting a larger dress size in this case.

If you think this was the end of the bad news, you are far from correct. I contacted the vendor, who already knew the whole situation, and told them I wanted to return the dresses in August when the girls brought them back to China. Of course, and I guess to no one’s surprise, the greedy sod refused to take those dresses back pointing to their one week return policy and throwing the incredibly “valid” argument in my face that “our other customers never had problems”. Yeah sure, and I believe that. But then I was probably incredibly naive to expect actual good customer service from a Taobao store. That is like wondering why McDonalds doesn’t set the table with silk napkins and silver crockery.

Luckily, we were able to return the dresses for the Chinese bridesmaids, which, again to no one’s surprise, did not fit either. Oh, if I were a fortune teller, the money I’d make.

So, with 1000RMB down the drain, what were the other options? Mr Li suggested that the girls buy matching dresses in Europe and bring two dresses for the Chinese bridesmaids; however while 100 RMB can get you a very decent dress over in China, you will be hard-pressed finding anything except a paper bag for that price in Europe. Fairly certain that my bridesmaids would not enjoy the idea of wearing paper bags as dresses, I decided that I did not want to risk this either. After all, it would be an even bigger waste of money to pay 50 plus Euro per dress just to find that they do not fit the Chinese bridesmaids (in this case probably being too saggy). I never quite fully realised the extent to which European and Asian bodies differ, not until this day anyway. I just always thought that I am a fat little piggy.

In the end, I managed to come up with a solution to salvage at least part of the traveling Taobao dresses and not running the risk of another round of spectacular money wasting. Two of the bridesmaids who can fit in the current dresses will wear those, while two of my Austrian beauties will purchase their own dresses and finally, my second Chinese bridesmaid, who had trouble fitting into the terrible traitor of a Taobao dress will get a similar dress from me, which I know will fit her.

Well, if anything this has been a huge lesson to not underestimate the differences between Chinese and Western body shapes, the depravity of Taobao stores and the headache of online shopping. That said, my recent experience of a ghost store means I am still going back to Taobao to look at wedding shoes. I am such a glutton for punishment.

Act 3: Shipping around China – In Which Case is Taiwan a Province?

This post is a continuation of “A Logistical Nightmare in Three Acts Part 2”.

Of course the other minor question that arose from this whole process is Taiwan. Now, as you probably are aware if you have read anything about China, the status of Taiwan is a bit of a delicate matter. Ask a mainlander and chances are they will say Taiwan belongs to the mainland; ask a Taiwanese the answer will probably differ quite substantially. Now I will not go into too much detail about this question here; suffice it to say that this makes things such as Taobao shopping and shipping a little iffy. While the store we were buying from did ship to Taiwan, the delivery fee is three times higher than to any location in China. Furthermore, my Taiwanese friend had a disturbing experience where an item took a grand total of three months to be delivered to her from the mainland. One cannot help but wonder if it went on a trip through the entire country before finally flying over the sea and into the correct inbox.

Granted, the same thing happened with a number of packages sent by my mother via regular post from Germany to China; they generally tend to take at least a month until they arrive. The dubious quality of the Chinese post, though, was never illustrated better than when I had to send a letter to Wales. I mean, you have probably heard of Wales, right? Well, my local post office looked at me with quizzical eyes and then proceeded to open a shockingly large and heavy book, in which apparently all the countries in the world the Chinese post can ship to are listed. Behold, no Wales. “I think I will just write Ireland”, says the geographically challenged postal worker. I mean, I am sorry, when it comes to geography, I always thought I was as ignorant as they come. Show me a world map and I hardly know which way is up. Ironically, I know much more about China’s geographical landscape than about my own countries of origin. But as an employee of an institution that makes its living off of sending things from one place and possibly country to another you would hope that Geography 101 is part of the general training. Apparently not. But then really all this anecdote illustrates is how isolated China still is in the grand scheme of things; after all Nanjing calls itself a 1.5 tier city, quickly catching up to Beijing and Shanghai, and yet it took a lot of convincing that sending a letter intended for Wales to Ireland is really not a good idea.

I am happy to say that since I insisted that we write Wales, UK on the letter, it did arrive in the end. Returning to the Taiwanese debacle, the vendor suggested we opt for pay on arrival for the package, since in China, if the service has not yet been paid for the motivation to actually deliver the service is infinitely higher. In the end the package did arrive in Taiwan after only three working days, what a success story for the Chinese post. Hurray!

A Logistical Nightmare in Three Acts

With the wedding drawing nearer and bridesmaids as well as wedding locations being dotted across the globe I have found myself last week dealing with an endless stream of logistics as I attempt, and mostly fail, to send all the necessary items to the necessary people by the necessary deadline.

Act 1: International Shipping Terror – DHL and Austrian Customs

It would have been too easy I guess. Sending a simple package with DHL to Austria, which includes three bridesmaid dresses is easy right? WRONG!

A day after I had sent the package, the recipient bridesmaid receives a message from DHL saying she needs to provide an order confirmation and payment confirmation, or the package would be sent straight back to where it came from. We have used DHL before to send things to Germany and the UK and we have NEVER had any problems, but of course now, when it is essential, the Austrian customs have to be ridiculously difficult.

Well, it was my fault really. I rarely send international packages and did not think to write “present” on the cover rather than “clothes”. Also my lack of detail didn’t help or the fact that I squished the dresses into the package without taking them out of their original plastic bags in which they had been delivered from Taobao.

I blame China. I have become so used to the “Suibian” approach to life and work and anything here really. 随便 literally means casual, although you could probably translate it as “careless”. That is probably the word that sums up the general attitude towards many things here. People are very vague and general, and so filling out a DHL form, the guy who picks up the form does not really care what you put on it, even if the result is the Austrian customs thinking your package is an international online purchase that needs to be declared.

So I had to provide an invoice, the order confirmation and payment confirmation of the dresses in the package as proof that they had indeed been purchased in this country.

Naturally, the Chinese side had no clue whatsoever what the Austrians were on about. And so it took multiple exchanges for me to figure out what documents they wanted and how to present them. In the end the package passed customs but not without the greedy bloodsuckers adding 24 Euros tax; the dresses only cost about 45 Euros in the first place. The nerve! Well, it has definitely taught me a lesson, that’s for sure.

While at least this logistical nightmare has been sorted, I now pray for the dresses to fit my lovely bridesmaids, otherwise utter disaster shall ensue.

Wedding Logistics – Pictures, Dresses and Logos

Phew, so it has been a while, since I last managed to write something even slightly coherent. I have been traveling back and forth between Nanjing and whichever city Mr Li resides in that week, so far Shenzhen and Beijing have made it onto the list.

In terms of the wedding, things are moving incredibly slow and I am mainly starting to notice the major logistic challenge that this whole arrangement is going to cause in the nearest future. I now have a total of five dresses, four for the ceremony and one for decoration purposes, plus at least two pairs of shoes, all of which I will somehow have to squeeze in a suitcase, aside from your regular clothes for the one week trip to Inner Mongolia during the wedding.

As if that was not enough, Mr Li is going to get his suit tailor-made when he comes to visit next month.

Last, but certainly not least, I am about to pick up about seven super-sized pictures, including a roll-up banner from the wedding company, which will be difficult to even move on my own, no less so since I am not in possession of a car. I will then have to stash them in my studio flat and figure out a way to get most of them to Inner Mongolia, where I am certain the family will have much more use for them than I. After all, who wants to come home to a lonely flat with a life-sized picture of you and your husband – sounds like an occasion for vodka and Chaka Khan as Bridget might say.

The wedding planner is waiting for my pictures in order to make an e-vite and she has in the meantime been working on our wedding “logo”, a must-have at any Chinese wedding that takes itself seriously. It is in effect the given names of the couple surrounded by kitshy floral or Victorian patterns. My task to my Wedding planner was “create a logo that combines both East and West”, since she has chosen the motto “Across the World” for our wedding. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the motto. This is sometimes part of the logo and inspires the overall decoration. I like our motto, it is very succinct and not so cheesy as to make you want to poke your eyes out at the mention of it, as many others can be. Just a sample selection to give you an impression of the mottos I have come across in my wedding research: “You are the brightest star in my heart”, “Love of Swan Lake”.

I am now entering the stage of worrying about bridesmaid logistics. Since three of my bridesmaids live in Austria, one in Shanghai and one in Taiwan, and with two different sets of native languages and commonly used apps, it is not that simple to get everyone on the same page. Yet, I have to express my major thanks and gratitude to all of them at this point, since they are incredibly quick to answer all my strange queries (“send me your measurements, now!”) and even chose an identical bridesmaid dress of the selection I gave without my even intending them to do so. I had actually thought that they should all just wear a qipao (for the Shanghai theme) in a champagne-ish colour but with a motif of their choice. They immediately banded together and chose a uniform dress. Thanks, girls, you rock!

What I am concerned about is of course the fact that Chinese and Western sizes are entirely different and the dresses will now have to go on a little trip around the world to Austria/Taiwan, so my bridesmaids can make sure the dresses fit, before there is a grand disaster during the “wedding week” when they arrive in Hohhot.

Just thinking of the endless possibilities for utter cock-up in this scenario – low quality dresses, wrong sizes and unreliable postal services – I am quite certain that there will be at least one minor wardrobe malfunction. But then, I guess, that is to be expected even at a “normal” wedding with less hair-pullingly complex logistics.

After all, I never like to take the easy road, do I?

The Southern Chinese Wedding Part 3 – The Ceremony

Wedding jinling hotel Nanjing bridesmaidThinking back to the wedding I had attended in Jiaxing, the bride and groom as well as their parents, the bridesmaids and best men had all lined up neatly in row to greet their guests, so I expected that it was going to be the same for us. However, the groom and bride had chosen to take pictures with the arriving guests while their parents were standing at the entrance to the celebration hall. The rest of the bridesmaidal crew disappeared to the toilets to take a rest, while I, worried I would miss the cue to go on stage, was left to wander around aimlessly while the guests trickled into the hotel, feeling like the most useless bridesmaid in the history of weddings.

There was a registry book laid out at the reception table where all guests signed their name after handing the obligatory red envelope to the relative behind the table. Then they moved on to have their picture taken with the newly weds; the image was immediately printed out on site as a lovely memorandum for the guests.

We were told that the wedding would begin at 6.18 pm (or 18.18 o’clock) as the wedding has to not only be on an auspicious date it further has to start at an auspicious time. In case the guests were late, which in Chinese culture is often the case, we would have to wait until 18:58 hrs to start the proceedings. This is exactly what happened to the dismay of our growling stomachs. In the meantime, after the photo session with the arriving guests, the bride had to drag her fluffy train to the changing room in order to put on her veil for the show.

Then the doors to the hall opened, we walked along the slippery stage luckily without incident and the host of the evening welcomed all the guests. The lovely bride managed to maneuver her way up into the centre of the stage gracefully; no easy feat considering the dress she was wearing. Her father handed her over to her husband and they performed the ring exchanging ceremony; this Western tradition has found its way into Chinese weddings, however the irony is that the rings are rented and need to be returned afterwards. After all, the show must go on.

If memory serves, at this point in time the bride and groom rushed off for yet another outfit change, she slipping into a more practical but very glamorous caramel colored dress covered in shimmering Rhine stones.

Then the parents came to the stage; speeches were made and hugs exchanged, very similar to Western fashion. The food had already been served and so the guests were munching away at Chinese gourmet delicacies and drinking over 1000 RMB a bottle baijiu (Chinese schnapps).

Later two of the couple’s good friends performed one of my favorite Chinese rock songs on stage; live singing seems to be a very typical part of Chinese weddings, during the first wedding I attended it was the groom who blasted out a love song for his new wife.

Then it was time for the Chinese equivalent of throwing the bouquet. Only the bridesmaids were asked to come to the stage and the bride held four strings in her hand, one of which was attached to the flower bouquet, also in her hand. The four girls had to step away until all but one string had dropped; the girl holding it is due to marry next.

After this there was a little wedding entertainment as the host asked a number of guests questions about the couple. Upon giving the right answer they received a small present. I won a blue, very cosy cushion which had been part of the wedding decor for remembering where the two lovebirds had met. I am resting on it while I am writing this article.

The couple was off again for dress change no. 4 of the day; now it was time for Cherry to slip into something red. It is a must for the bride to wear one red dress, often a Qipao amongst the more traditional-minded, since red is considered a lucky colour. With all the dress changes Chinese brides have to go through it is a common joke at the bride does not actually take part in her own wedding; in any respect she never gets to eat her wedding dinner  (well, I might just end up in the Guinness book of world records for being the first bride at a Chinese wedding to actually eat her food; you didn’t think I was going to miss out on that did you?!

Upon their return they had to start drinking the “happy alcohol”; this means they have to go to every table in the room (probably about 20 – 30) and toast the table usually with Baijiu. Anyone who has had Baijiu before knows that the stuff could probably kill you if you had to drink 30 shots of it; I am not joking (okay, maybe a little). Therefore a number of coping mechanisms have been developed in order to give the guests face but not end up in danger of alcohol poisoning. For one, the parents can go around the tables and drink for the couple. The best men are also frequently given this task. Some brides who don’t drink alcohol might pretend they are drinking baijiu while actually the clear liquid in her glass is just water. Another tactic is for the bride to bring a towl with her and once she sips the liquor she keeps it in her mouth, pretends to cough and wipe her face with the towl and spits the alcohol into the towl. The groom however is usually not so lucky and so most of the time, his “wedding night” is spent being passed out on the bed from too much alcohol.

Luckily for the drinking couple, an average Chinese wedding only lasts about three hours. The guests come, the guests eat, the guests get drunk and then leave as soon as the food does. So therefore, after they had done their rounds, this was the end of the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony.

One final part that is worth mentioning is that the video shooting done throughout the day, which I described in an earlier post, had been speed edited and was broadcast on the big screen giving the guests who had not been there in the morning the lovely opportunity to be part of it after all.

Since Cherry is a person with a very Western outlook who enjoys a good night out on the town, the couple booked at club for after the wedding with free flow alcohol. Suffice it to say I have no idea when I got home, unlucky for me I had to get to work the next day, in a right state. But it was a brilliant night.

Well, that’s it folks, my bridesmaid experience of a Southern Chinese wedding. Coming up soon, I will explain some of the differences in comparison to a Northern Chinese wedding.

Read you soon!

Missed the last part of the Southern Chinese Wedding Series? Read it here.

TSCW Part 2.1 – The Rehearsal

imageAfter lunch, the whole group returned to the hotel. It was time for the bride to switch outfits for the first of many times in the coming hours. While the dress she wore in the morning was more practical in terms of skirt length to enable her to move around easily, dress number two had a train any peacock would envy. We were allowed to rest for an hour in the meantime, during which the bridesmaids decided to take an afternoon shower and a nap. The thought of having to reapply my make-up was too terrifying for me to have any desire for a shower and after all, we had mainly frozen throughout the day, there was no sweaty work-out involved as far as I remembered, so I was happy to just lounge about on a chair and stare into space. This was also a time to sort out the question of the red envelope. According to most of my sources it was not customary for bridesmaids to give red envelopes to the couple; however, I had been receiving conflicting information as others said they did give money. Luckily, I had prepared some just in case, since suddenly a red envelope frenzy broke out as two of our party of four announced they had not brought a red envelope and began plying open those they had been previously given in order to recycle them for their own purposes. Then of course there was the question of the amount to give; in Beijing it is customary to give about 1000, whereas in Nanjing, where living costs and salaries are lower, the money present will also be lower. In addition, the amount will vary depending on how close one is to the bride and groom. My foreign ignorance of what was appropriate in this situation did not help either and I broke into a small panic for a short while, envisioning the end of my friendship with Cherry if I offended her with too little money. Luckily, Mr. Li was at hand (or rather on We Chat) to calm me down. After our short respite it was time to go down to the main hall, in which the reception would take place. We met downstairs at 4.30pm to practice our grand entry. Bridesmaids and best men were partnered up and had to march onto the stage, instructed by the host of the evening on exactly how to walk, where to stand and how to position the hands during the ceremony (crossed and just below the bust in case you were curious). The poor devil was highly disappointed in our ineptitude at synchronicity; the day before he had hosted a military wedding.

“Those guys were perfectly in sync during their entrance. You guys are ok,”

he announced, barely able to hide the disappointment from his voice. The practice session came with its own little drama, as three out of four bridesmaids (including myself) slipped on the slick surface of the stage. Delightful images of my being unable to hold my balance and landing on my backside in front of the entire hall of hundreds of people to make an utter fool of myself popped into my mind, filling me with immense dread. I had been less nervous going into my final exam at university. I further managed to earn a portion of extra disapproval from Mr. Host, as I was wearing shoes with an ever so slight indication of a heel, as opposed to my three comrades in their killer plateaus. While they had spent the majority of the day suffering the hell that is a high-heeled shoe and were switching back and forth between a comfy second pair and the vanity footwear, I was still jumping about the place like Bambi. But of course this meant that I, with my naturally stumpy statue, looked like a dwarf compared to the already tall Chinese girls in their even taller shoes. Now, this is no news, at 1.56m I generally find myself at the short end whenever I am in the presence of almost anybody in this world; but it did unleash great disapproval from el maestro that I had not even attempted to conceal my shortcoming by wearing a pair of break-your-necks (or your ankle, at least).

“No I do not have a higher pair of shoes with me,”

I said decidedly exasperated and possibly ever so slightly grumpy. Ah well, there was nothing to be done anyway. After a couple of test runs, Mr. Host decided he had done all he could for us, handed us a flower coronal to be placed on top of our heads and sent us on our way. The aforementioned head ornaments were received with scepticism among our group of young women but after a few minutes of pulling and tugging, they had been more or less aesthetically arranged and the show could begin.

Missed the previous post in the Southern Chinese Wedding Series? Read it here.

Want to continue reading? Find the final part of the series here.

The Southern Chinese Wedding Part 2 – The Couple’s Home

Wedding nanjing The stretch limo and all the bridal party’s cars now had to make their way to the loVebird’s new residence, while the bride’s parents stayed behind at the hotel, waving their daughter good bye forever. Well, only metaphorically speaking; China has moved on a little bit since the rule of the Emperors. Then again, there have been reports of divorced women not being allowed to spend Chinese New Year’s at their parent’s place, because in some more traditional areas this is seen as a sign of bad luck. Imagine your parents telling you,

“You are not allowed to come home for Christmas and are rather going to have to book a room in a hotel if you want to see us.”

There’s that Chinese superstition again.

Anyway, we drove through the city to arrive at the couple’s new home, where the relatives and bridal party sat down for a drink and some small snacks. Then some more tea was was served, this time to the groom’s parents and it was time for them to be called Mum and Dad by Cherry. More red envelopes for the couple and more pictures of everyone.

Then bridesmaids and best men followed the newly weds downstairs into the yard, where more professional wedding photographs were taken in a very windy and cold environment. One of the bridesmaids remarked:

“Now I finally know what those big film stars feel like, running around in nothing but their pretty dresses in the freezing cold. I am glad I don’t have to do this all the time.”

After this photo interlude was over, everyone went for a delicious lunch together. The bridesmaids left and right of me were complaining that their dresses were to tight and the pressure on their stomachs was apparently keeping them from eating much. I, used to wearing corsets that are a lot stiffer than the dress in question, had no such problem and so I munched away happily on Beijing Duck, delicious aubergine and an array of other wonderful dishes. Hey, if there is a choice to be made between looking thinner and filling my stomach with yummy Chinese food, I forget all vanity in an instant; wouldn’t you? It was also a smart move, as this was around 12pm and we would not get any food until about 7.30pm that night, by which time there was a flock of starving bridesmaids surrounding me, while I was remembering the delightful taste of my lunch.

Missed the previous post in the Southern Chinese Wedding Series? Read it here.

Want to continue reading? Find the final part of the series here.

TSCW Part 1.3 The Arrival of the Groom

Wedding chinaIn 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.