Tag Archives: Wedding customs china

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 3) – Part-time Bureaucrats and the King of Pandas

Restaurant Inner Mongolia

After we managed to acquire our translation, we were off to the registry office. Since I am a foreigner, said office is not just the regular registry office but instead a “special one” across town. We found out just how special it was when we arrived to find that the registrar was not there. Mr Li’s mother had been trying to contact the kind sir since Saturday to no avail and repeated calls to his office on Monday morning while we were getting our stuff done were of course to no more successful. His colleagues tried to appease us by informing us that due to the fact that about only 50 marriages between foreigners and Hohhotians take place a year, the registrar worked on a part-time basis and was currently “in the countryside”, which is probably code for sitting at home drinking tea doing absolutely nothing at all.

I think the question I ask myself most whenever I deal with bureaucratic entities in China is how on earth this country still keeps running considering no one in the administration actually ever does any work. Then again, it is probably necessary for them to be Lazy Larrys so that they can employ five people to reach the productivity rate of one regular person, in order to keep everyone employed and unemployment rate up.

After calling the Prince of Pandas, as he shall henceforth be known, he suggested we come back at 4.30 since he, and I quote, “might be around then.” But, you know, he couldn’t be sure of course, and it wasn’t like we had a plane to catch. A call to his supervisor though seemed to take care of the small issue of when he would bring his derriere into work, thus we were given an appointment at 2.30pm and left the building accompanied by a lot of swearing on my part. To my German genes, these situations are infuriating to say the least, and it is all I can do to keep myself from getting physical. With regards to our new appointment we were told to be absolutely on time, since the registrar had to leave at 3pm for another appointment (read more tea slurping, maybe some TV or card games).

So, in the meantime, there was nothing much we could do except go for a delicious lunch at a nearby Mongolian restaurant. I consider myself incredibly lucky insofar as I am a massive fan of lamb meat, or a lamb fan, and Mongolia is to lamb as Germany is to sausages. We had a most heavenly lunch of oven-roasted lamb and stewed lamb with glass noodles and Sauerkraut, which for some strange reason is identical to German Sauerkraut. A frequent subject of speculation between Mr.Li and I is how the Kraut ended up in two countries so far apart and which country had it first.

To my utter surprise, I even managed to not get any grease or sauce all over my dress (you would be just as astonished if you know of my unique talent to get food everywhere while I eat except in my mouth, apparently, like a toddler just with slightly longer arms).

I also steered clear of the Mongolian milk tea; for some strange reason, people in these parts of the world think it is a great idea to add salt instead of sugar to said beverage; a concept, which I with my bourgeois European taste buds simply cannot accept.

After posing for some slightly surreal pictures in my German dirndl and Mr.Li in his black suit in a Mongolian restaurant, it was time for our next quest; celebratory alcohol!


Jet-Set Wedding

Beijing cctv Tower

Wow, so I have not written in a while and now I need to try and catch up! A lot has happened in the last weeks; in fact so much I have barely had time to digest it all.

It’s the typical long-distance relationship syndrome! Getting used to your boring life and as soon as you meet up with your partner you feel the need to squeeze all the excitement you missed out on into a couple of days; in our case combined with Chinese New Year and Valentines Day this has equalled trekking to seven different cities in three weeks. I still have a week to go and already feel exhausted. Even more so, because in our case the squeezing in part included getting married.

YAY, we did it, isn’t that unbelievable?!

Of course it took another couple of runs to offices of any form and description and a lot of grey hairs appearing from nowhere until we managed to beat the system. Buckle up and get ready for a long ride!

I will not go into detail on the exact route the documents we needed to get my single certificate took, as I hope to provide a detailed infographic at some point. Suffice it to say it took three attempts for the documents to be verified, since the German’s followed the official Chinese standards which the notary translator in Hohhot did not.

Luckily, the town in Germany I am registered in is so small that the registry office know us well enough now to allow for me to submit my documents while I was in Germany and to hand in Mr. Li’s later, once the Chinese and German embassy in China finally managed to sort out their s..tuff.

This all happened with amazing efficiency. We got the documents approved in the way the Germans required, they in turn issued my single certificate, which my mother, after saying good bye to another €80, quickly sent to Beijing.

Once the documents arrived, I boarded the next possible high-speed railway to Beijing in order to get the final document issued by the German embassy. This went as smoothly as I could have ever wished for, as I popped in and back out and then as a reward went on a little spree at the international supermarket down the street. After moving to China, visiting supermarkets that sell cheeses, sausages and German bread becomes as exciting as front-row tickets to the Backstreet Boys to my 12-year old self (yes, I admit it and no, I am not ashamed).

After a Chinese New Year’s Party and an enjoyable weekend in Beijing, we then jetted off to Hohhot on Sunday evening in order to attempt to get married the following Monday. And with that, stay tuned!

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!

Fake Wedding (Part 2) – Blondes, Old Jazz Bands and Chinese Media

Shanghai Fairmont Peace Hotel Wedding ShowAfter an action packed day of eating and visiting the hotels stunning presidential and nine nations’s suites (the latter costs about £700 – 800 per night, while the former is ¥88,888 or almost £9000 per stay), finally it was time for the wedding show. It was indeed all staged, and this being Shanghai the female was a tall, stunning blonde model, as opposed to a regular local employee. If ever we needed a reminder that Nanjing is just a second tier city, haha.

Even more interestingly the male model seemed to be mixed Asian-Western, yet another indication of how the local society sees AMWF couples as something to strive for.

While the actors were trying their best to be convincing, they did spend most of the ceremony in conversation or giggling, and it was difficult to tell whether this was meant to be part of the show or whether they were just being disinterested in doing their jobs properly. After the MC gave a far too lengthy and even more sappy speech (am I the only one who gets severely irritated by Chinese MCs and their way too flowery language?), they exchanged the rings and kissed. It became clear at this point that Mr Handsome had been looking forward to this moment as he began to devour the poor girls face; his “kissing style” was positively violent. Yet, the young beauty managed a brilliant smile and even laughed heartily as they poured Champagne over a tower of glasses and tried with minor success to cut the cake. Her dress was beautiful I have to say, and I very much enjoyed the French Renaissance type wedding display.

I did indeed stumble upon something useful for the wedding; the flower bouquets in the decoration used a fabulous mixture of flowers and colours, so I am hoping against hope that the dear Hohotians (is that what they are called? Well, it is now…) will be able to imitate the splendour of Shanghainese decoration companies. I have faith in them, so they better not disappoint me.


Following the fake wedding there was a small surprise, a not so fake proposal. A suspiciously beautiful and perfectly clothed young girl, who looked no day older than 20, got a romantic proposal in the circle of “all of her friends” as the dear MC put it (and 30 strangers give or take) on the roof top of the hotel with the Pearl Tower as the backdrop inside a transparent tent due to the torrential rain that had been raging all day. That’s what I call a grand proposal (not to worry, Mr Li, I still think mine was way better!).

A Trip To The Past – Peace Hotel’s Old Jazz Band


The undisputed highlight of my stay at the Peace Hotel, aside from a fascinating history lesson and a bathtub with feet fashioned into silver mer-creature heads, was the Old Jazz Band, famous in Shanghai and beyond for quite literally being old and rocking, or rather jazzing it up. The band has been playing at the hotel for over 30 years, their oldest member (94 years) having founded the band in 1980. Every night they play the greatest classics of the past century, keeping alive the infamous Shanghai style of the 1920’s. This style was effectively American culture imported and given a local Chinese twist, e.g. Rose,Rose,I Love You 玫瑰玫瑰我爱你. This and many songs I had grown up with such as Que Sera Sera, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the general MGM repertoire filled the bar with memories from days past.

It was almost as if I stepped into another time, the band were in their element nodding their heads and swaying with the music, the bar man shaking his cocktails along to the beat and my heart was breaking for those days that are over and the people that have left us. My grandfather was in a Jazz band in Germany at one of the numerous American bases in the Frankfurt area. As a handsome young man he played the clarinet and the sax. It really tugged at my heart strings that I had travelled so far in time and space, from Germany to China and from my childhood to my Tweens, and still the culture is there, the classics are there, and so is the feeling. Say what you want about Americans, but they sure know how to bring the world together with their music.

Reflections on Chinese media

Aside from giving me a weekend I shall probably remember for the rest of my life, it was once again a highly interesting and educational experience to interact with fellow Chinese journalists and those who know them well. I ended up getting a private tour of the aforementioned nine nations suites because every one else ran off to their rooms after they had been fed, massaged and shown the hotel’s most expensive quarters. My host and tour guide Belle, a lovely young woman from the Beijing area, commented with tangible frustration that this behaviour is very typical amongst Chinese media. Indeed I have often heard criticism of the way local journalists do their work, enjoying free stays at high-level hotels, but not actually wanting to do any work for it in return. It was not until the next day, and to the utmost surprise of dear Belle, that one of my Chinese colleagues enquired about some historical aspects of the hotel and asked to be shown the hotel museum (a tour I of course promptly joined). It is generally lamented that the quality of journalism in the country is beyond help due to a combination of government control, government funding, abominably low pay (I met a TV reporter who after 10 years of working for the same company earns ¥2000 a month, often less since her expenses do not get reimbursed) and the fact that many who enter the profession do so for the social prestige (or gain of face) that comes with it and not from a passion for reporting or digging for stories.

The result is sub-par journalism that makes me want to laugh and cry and pull my hair out simultaneously, except that I can’t handle so many complex motorical tasks at one time.

Probably one of the most obvious indicators is a conversation I partook in during breakfast with an employee of the hotel and a bunch of the local journalists who were accompanying me on this tour. The employee criticized the government as only protecting cultural heritage sites such as the Peace Hotel if they see the gain and profit in doing so. They would never, unlike the West, protect cultural relics for the sake of preserving past culture, because they are ignorant, stated said employee. The fact they were making this statement in front of a group of journalists truly surprised me; yet, upon second thought it clearly illustrates the difference between ours and the Chinese media. Where people in the West often fear us and feel unsafe about talking to us because they worry we might turn everything into a story, here it is such an unlikely possibility that people even feel safe criticizing the government. More importantly, as an employee of the hotel which is offering these people a free stay worth thousands of RMB, because of this common practice, they needn’t worry, since saying anything bad would be like shooting oneself in one’s own foot. After all, why would you be thorough, if you don’t need to be?

In this context I have to mention one of the few positive things to have come out of Mr. Xi’s rule; his war on corruption has now extended to a crackdown on media and the very common practice of companies paying for stories. It is common that journalists who attend any form of press conference receive a little red envelope for their “efforts”. While the crackdown, if effective at all, as these declarations often go ignored, might result in my not being able to enjoy as many lavish weekends in grand hotels anymore, it will hopefully do something for the quality of local journalism. After all, isn’t the bigger picture more important?

The Fake Wedding (Part 1)

Christmas Cathay hotel Shanghai This weekend I got to go on a rather exciting trip to Shanghai to the grand Peace Hotel (formerly known as the Cathay, home to many a famous film star and political leader in the 1920s and for the most part of the 20th century. Their most esteemed guests include Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin and Muhammed Ali.

Apart from the excitement of a super luxurious mini trip to Shanghai and getting to stay in a hotel I will probably never be able to afford in my life (the perks of working in the dying profession of journalism), I was looking forward to a Fake Wedding as part of the entertainment.

Often, when five-star hotels celebrate a special occasion to make an even bigger splash they will organize a display wedding for the guests and media present. Sometimes the fake wedding is actually not so fake at all, my boss got to witness one of the hotel staff get married on such an occasion (which is of course a win-win situation for both sides, free wedding venue for the bride and free show for the hotel). I will be curious to see whether the fake wedding on my plan today is in fact staged or genuine. Yet, more than that, I am excited to see how the rich and famous in China celebrate their special day, and what the difference will be to my friend Cherry’s wedding; although to be fair, her husband being a national tennis star, they probably fall under the r&f category. In that case, I look forward to seeing how the glamorous Shanghainese handle things; they are after all famous in the entire country for their fashionable, modern stylishness.

The morning started out with a bit of the usual chaos; my train ticket was for quarter past nine on a Sunday morning, and so I got up at 6.30 (still way to early in my books) to get ready and go to Nanjing South, the high-speed railway station. After kissing my bus, I decided to take a taxi to the closest metro station and use the underground transport instead, as it turned out a case of fool’s luck. I maintain that my real name is Queen of Chaos as I am about the most clumsy and confused person I know. You might have guessed where I am going with this. After having been on the road for three quarters of an hour and two stops away from my destination, it suddenly dawned on me that I had note checked whether the train was in fact leaving from Nanjing South and not from the older Nanjing railway station in the a North if the city. And sure enough, there it was, printed in big and mocking characters on my ticket: departure 9.13am, Nanjing railway station. My heart began to race and so did I; out of the metro as soon as it pulled into the next stop.

Oaf that I am what I do have going for myself is a big portion of luck, but don’t ask me what I did to deserve it. The metro line no 1. In Nanjing runs directly from one railway station to the other and as I noticed my mistake I had about one hour before my train was due to leave.

Baidu maps did nothing to calm my hyper-ventilating self as it announced a 44 minute trip lay ahead of me; including the walk from metro exit to station entrance, security check and the trip to the right platform, this was cutting it awfully close. Thank heaven, Baidu maps is rarely right when it comes to estimating time of arrival, often adding 10 to 30 minutes onto the actual duration, which does make you wonder about the validity of its existence, but in my case it was a welcome misrepresentation of the facts. Plus, due to the older train station being a lot smaller in scale than the mammoth that is NJ South, in fact the largest train station in all of Asia by area, it only took me about five minutes from exiting the metro to arriving at my gate. Had the station been the size of the aforementioned, it would have taken about 20 minutes to get from point A to point B. It was 8.40 and I thanked my transportation paranoia for having left ridiculously early. Ironically, I glanced at my ticket earlier to see that my seat number was the number 13, which I consider my lucky number as I explained in an earlier post. Well, in the end I was incredibly lucky not to miss my train, so there you go.

I even had enough time to sprint to the loo and do my make-up, something I had originally intended for the train ride. In hindsight, that was probably a terrible idea; with the rickety environment of a vehicle moving at around 300 km/h, my face would have quite certainly ended up looking like a Picasso. As it was, and without wanting to sound immodest, I managed to do one of the best jobs with my make-up that I with my limited skills could have done. Maybe I should make a pit-stop at train stations to apply my face paint more often.

Arriving in Shanghai reminded me once again of the difference between the southern hub and the Northern capital. Where Beijing is wide and sprawled, Shanghai is tall. You almost get a crick in the neck as you crane it to try and see the end of the seemingly limitless skyscrapers as plentiful as there are stars in the sky (not that one gets to see stars a lot in Chinese cities; due to the heavy smog it is usually impossible).

The next feeling that enveloped me was severe homesickness as we pulled onto the bund and I saw the city’s Christmas decorations. As much as I am critical of Shanghai, and it of me (all I will say our Facebook status would be complicated, since I have terrible Shanghai charma), what Shanghai has down to a tee is creating a genuine Western feeling. The baubles and green twigs winding their way along rooftops were incredibly stylish, another reminder of how backwards Nanjing can sometimes be. As much as it pains me to say it, but the festive decorations here come about as gaudy and cheap as they get.

All of this splendor culminated in the lobby of the Peace Hotel, aka the former Cathay Hotel. What must have been a 10m high Christmas tree with what can only be described as gingerbread villas at its foot greeted our group of media representatives in the Art Deco interior of the Majestic piece of Gothic architecture with Egyptian elements, that was the tallest, grandest and most expensive construction in its time. Walking the halls of this historical place, whose original interior has been preserved, was an incredible feeling, a mixture of humility and pride.

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.

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.