Thinking 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.