Tag Archives: China superstition

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? 

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Bad China Week 3 – The Engagement Pictures, Ghosts and the Fires of Hell

Wedding pictures

Thus concludes my triple blast of Bad China Week moments. After being branded as a lawbreaker of minor import and living through the accidental destruction, perceived repair and ensuing redestruction (wait, is that even a word?) of my engagement ring, the final straw were the engagement pictures.

Aside from the eccentric decoration and theme of my wedding, what I was looking forward to most since this whole wedding fiasco started were the engagement pictures. I just love, love, love the idea of getting all done up and professional photographers having you pose while you look like a fabulous movie star with her handsome hunk of a husband (I’m sure I will suddenly and miraculously transform from klutz to princess through the mere presence of cameras…no, really, I am!).

That describes in a nutshell the engagement pictures. They are also used in the wedding display, and for me personally my opportunity to experience the Old Shanghai style I originally wanted for the wedding but in the end let go.

The very first issue was the decision where to take the pictures. Inner Mongolia had exciting grasslands but would require both of us to fly there just for one weekend, a huge waste of time and money. Next option was Beijing, with a very professional standard of photography yet as is custom for a first tier city horrendous prices. The best deal I could find was still 5 000 RMB for a set of pictures. In addition, the North-South divide once again reared its ugly head; while the company in Beijing said they could do Old Shanghai style, it just wasn’t very convincing, which is when it hit me; Northerners have difficulty doing a convincing Southern style. It seems that if you hear a stereotype often enough, you will actually start to believe it yourself. So the decision was made, Nanjing it was, with added bonus that they are cheaper than the capital.

After lots and lots of research on Dianping, my favourite app in the whole wide world, I found a company in the South of Nanjing that will hopefully be able to meet my requirements of glam but inexpensive. If you can call RMB 3 700 for a photo session inexpensive, that is. Yet, still a lot better than what the competition had to offer and the reviews seemed convincing.

Now we faced the issue of finding a date to take the photos. This is one of those moments when long-distance relationships simply suck, as it has proven an incredible task to get the shoot organised. Were we in one city it would simply be a case of taking a day off on a weekend to get it done; yet now the local climate, traveling and conflicting schedules are making it next to impossible. Oh, and the superstitions of course.

Nanjing is very particular when it comes to seasons. Up until beginning of April it is about 5C°, then you have a two to three-week window with a comfy 20C° and a humane level of humidity, and by the end of the month it has skyrocketed to summer temperatures of 40C° and humidity levels of over 90% (and no, that is not an exaggeration). Therefore it is crucial to find the perfect opportunity between freezing off the tip of your nose or keeling over from heat stroke, when the cherry blossoms are blooming and outside shoots will not potentially render you incapable of attending your actual wedding.

The added problem is that while I love hot and humid, Mr.Li having grown up in dry Inner Mongolia with -20 degrees winters absolutely despises the Southern climate and will start sweating waterfalls once it gets to 25 C°. He also launches into endless moaning about the heat, which on a stressful day such as the wedding shoot, which will include changing outfit and getting make up done seven times, is really not very constructive. So, in order to avoid major drama and possibly death by high heel, we needed to squeeze into the minimal spring window.

I thought I had found the perfect date when I realised beginning of April was a long weekend. Initially, Mr. Li agreed to take the photos then; until he found out that this was actually Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when ghosts walk the earth and Chinese honour their ancestors by cleaning their tombs and burning paper money and paper iPhones so the dead will be comfortable in the afterlife. “NO, NO, NO, we can’t take pictures during the Tomb-Sweeping Festival,” Mr. Li protested vehemently. “That is when all the ghosts come out and they will show up in our pictures and bring us bad luck.”

At this point, my fuse just busted. Here I was trying to align all the atmospheric factors to make this as painless and conflictless as possible, and now ghosts were occupying my perfect picture weekend?! Yet, Mr.Li was insistent, and indeed, when we went to 798 Art district during the festival, there was not one couple taking wedding pictures to be found, an irregularity that Mr. Li saw as proof that Beijingers shared his superstition. When I told all my colleagues down here in Nanjing about this, they all shook their head in disbelief. They had never even heard of such a belief. The good old North-South divide, ruining lives since the beginning of time. It can’t have been the urban rural divide in this case; though often lower tier cities and rural areas are much more superstitious than the big urban centers, Beijing is hardly what you would call rural.

So, back to the planning sheet. Next opportunity was the 18th April, sitting perfectly between our two visits beginning of April and 1st of May weekend, also still in the blossoming Nanjing spring, and far enough from the fires of hell to appear in May.

Again, it was not to be. The company was already fully booked. So, I took the next appointment on the 25th April, knowing full well that there is a big chance that Mr.Li will be moving from Beijing to Shenzhen that weekend, meaning we would have to postpone yet again. Though, with the looming danger of taking pictures in suit and make-up in the scorching heat, he seems rather eager to get it wrapped up before May if at all possible.

The photo fiasco concludes the bad China week, by the end of which I was just about ready to pack my things and hop on a plane back to Europe. I felt like everything I touched in relation to the wedding was just ending in disaster, a feeling that is still quite present in light of my recent wedding company experiences.

The Dates (Part 3) – The Chinese Wedding

Calendar august wedding China

So after a lot of back and forth with regards to the Chinese wedding, involving certain Chinese superstitions, we had originally planned to keep it simple and set the date for 1st October. Although not a very auspicious date by any means (not an unlucky one either though), it is a very popular choice for weddings in China since it marks the first day of the national holiday, when everyone is off work and free to come. The temperature at this time of year in Hohhot is just about bearable and I had already made my peace with an Autumn wedding, when to my utter delight Laolao retracted her original statement.

“Since the two boys are cousins, not actual brothers, it is ok for them to be married within a year of each other”, she informed her daughter.

And so, once again, the date of the wedding was wide open. I knew instantly that it had to be August, since eight is an auspicious number in China but more importantly it would be warm in Hohhot (despite the hair-raising cold in winter, which is no stranger to averages of -20 degrees, summers can still climb up to 35 degrees). Since some of my best friends and family are making the long trip from China for this occasion, I then thought how great it would be if we could have the celebration sometime around my birthday, so I could get to spend it with everyone.

Since people will be arriving and leaving at different times, I quickly realized that if I wanted to make sure that everyone was there for my birthday, there was one sure-fire way to make it happen; have the wedding on that same day. So, in another example of German efficiency, I decided to combine the two (I sure hope I won’t regret that one day, this marriage better last!). This is only made better by the fact that my birthday includes not just one but two eights and to top it all off it will be my 28th birthday. Well if that isn’t enough auspiciousness to last a lifetime, nothing will help!

The Dates (Part 1)

Just a warning, folks, this is a long one due to the uncountable superstitions and some regulations present in Chinese culture. Enjoy!

While so far we had gone through a couple of minor confusions as our different cultures collided, they were nothing compared to what was yet to come; the dates. While I did possess a basic awareness of the Chinese obsession with auspicious dates, the exact dimensions remained hidden to my sight until we began attempting to find our dates for the Chinese certificate and wedding ceremony. These are separate in Chinese culture and the “legal side” of getting married, so the trip to the registry office to register as a married couple, is a rather private affair, which only the couple itself attend dressed in slightly formal but not flashy clothing. After the fact the couple receive a red booklet with the certificate, whose overall design reminds of China’s more communist days. Six months to a year after this rather pragmatic process follows the wedding extravaganza with countless fascinating traditions; more on this another time.

So, two Chinese wedding dates had to be selected. With my Westernised attitude I was trying to be efficient, and as we would otherwise have about 4 different dates to remember and celebrate in the future, I suggested our three year anniversary that was coming up on the 13th December 2014. I do not share the common western belief that the number 13 is an unlucky number. In my youth, as one of the Fridays was coming up, I decided to put the theory to the test and so I analysed carefully my luck throughout the day. My conclusion was that quite far from being unlucky I had actually spent a rather happy and joyous day. From that day on I decided that the 13th would actually be my lucky day. And a few years later, this date was the beginning of the relationship between Mr. Li, aka my future inofficial fiancé, and myself. So, looking at the date of our third anniversary (13/12/14) from where I stood, it was a pretty cool date.

But of course, I had not counted on Chinese superstition, which when it comes to numbers and their auspiciousness reaches an unimaginable extent. As Mr. Li informed his mother about our chosen date, we were immediately informed that this was impossible as 13 in Chinese is pronounced “Yao San”, which also means “to go separate ways”, suggesting the relationship is doomed. Hence this is a common date for divorces; for weddings not so much, as you can imagine. What was more, in our case the added tragedy was that Mr. Li’s parents were divorced on the 13th of December. To top off the bad luck trifecta, it is the date of the Nanjing Massaker, which to me, as a Nanjinger by choice, is an ever present part of dark history.
Although I am the type of person who tends to hold a devil may care attitude towards other’s opinions, it would be rather immature to cause such aggravation to the people around me. Also, four sounds similar to “dying” in Chinese while the number two, “er” is a modern expression for stupid, which would have made our wedding date “will die, will be stupid, will go separate ways” (yes, in that order)…maybe not then. And anyway, why get upset if I still had my German wedding?

The next suggestion I came up with was that Mr. Li and me choose his birthday, the 5th December and roughly a week before the inauspicious three-year anniversary, to get the certificate, and my birthday, the 18th August the following year for the ceremony. I was sure this time I had managed to play by the rules, since 8 is a very auspicious number as its pronunciation “ba” apparently sounds similar to “fa” (a bit of a stretch, say those cynical voices in my head, but let’s not nit-pick), which means big fortune. By this logic, my birthday according to the Chinese system is 818; big fortune, will have big fortune. I was proud of my suggestion since it corresponded to Chinese belief, while being Germanically efficient; no need to remember extra wedding dates, just celebrate them on each other’s birthdays and have a third, German wedding date. But once again, I had underestimated local superstition.

After Mr. Li had presented his mother with this latest suggestion, the grandmother “Laolao” was consulted; as the oldest living relative she is the authority on any wedding-related issues, from dates over colours to traditions (and in my belief the only one who actually knows all of the complex rules and superstitions by heart).

I might have to interject here that Laolao is the grandmother on the mother’s side and Nainai is the grandmother on the father’s side, or if you are from Southern China Laolao is called Waipo. Traditionally, the father’s side is the one with the authority, however in this special case, due to the aforementioned divorce, Mr. Li mainly grew up with his mother and her family, having less contact with the father’s side, and therefore it is Laolao, not Nainai, who is holding the matrimonial presidency so to speak.

Laolao decreed that it was not to be, due to his cousin’s marriage which was coming up on the 12th of September. According to traditional Inner Mongolian belief (my friends here in the South had never heard of this rule), if two young couples get married within the space of one year, the equilibrium of the universe is upset and in order to restore the balance an old person, quite probably poor Laolao herself, would die.

Looking at my incredulous face upon sharing the news with me, Mr. Li thought quickly of a way to reason with me.

“I don’t really believe in this superstitious stuff either, but let’s say we ignore the custom and Laolao does die shortly after; the whole family will blame us.”

He was right; a horde of angry Inner Mongolians is not generally an occurrence you would wish upon yourself, so better appease the gods and wait a few more months to tie the Chinese knot.

So, after days of contemplation, we returned to a date that Mr. Li’s mother had initially suggested; the 1st October. Being the first day of the Chinese national holiday, which lasts one week, this is a very traditional and popular date, ensuring that it is practical for guests to attend. In terms of auspiciousness it does not seem to have any particular meaning from what Mr. Li could tell, it is simply a matter of practicality. I could not help but notice that the Chinese way of writing dates makes our wedding day 101; let us all hope there will not be any reason to call the police then…

One down, two to go. The next date, that was still an issue, was the certificate date for China. Since out three-year anniversary was now out of the question and the birthdays idea had fallen through, we were back at 0. Furthermore, Mr. Li informed me that we had to wait until after his 25th birthday to get married, since according to Chinese labour law, he would get only three days paid holiday off for his honeymoon if he was under 25; after his 25th birthday, though, he could take 13 days paid leave.

It almost sounded to me as if 24 is the sell-by date, once you pass it, they feel sorry and give you a better offer (since obviously 25 is old in Chinese singleton years). On the other hand, one could argue that this policy supports a healthier attitude towards marriage promoting “marriage after 25” and a less rushed approach towards matrimony. After all, blitz marriages, where couples around 25 years old get married within one year of beginning to date, are incredibly common in China due to the pressure put on the young people by their parents and society in general; this then leads to astronomical divorce rates especially in recent years as the legal dissolution of marriage has become more socially acceptable. Recent figures of Jiangsu province, where I currently live and work, suggest a couple gets divorced here every three minutes. Not a very rosy outlook. With this in mind, I would applaud the incentive provided by the government to marry slightly later in life (although still rather young from our western perspective).

Back to the topic at hand; the dates. So after 5th December, not on 13th December, and not on Valentine’s Day either as Mr. Li cautioned me:

“Everyone marries on western Valentine’s Day [there is also a Chinese Valentine’s Day]; we would have to start queueing at the registry office at 3am!”

Yepp, not that one either. Since we have to get a certificate of nubility for myself (more on that later), I figured we could just play it by ear depending on when we manage to get said document from the Germans. But as irony would have it, in order to get the certificate, one needs first to set a date. Ah, the unbreakable circle of bureaucracy.

With all this chaos at hand, I can’t even begin to think about the German wedding date, although guesstimates place it somewhere in May 2016. For now, even the Chinese certificate date is still written in the stars; will keep you updated.