Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wedding Madness

Warning: this is a LONG post with lots of photos.

So, this weekend was a holiday and while my lovely friends went to Shanxi Province to frolic, I went to Yantai for my friend Jean's cousin's wedding. It was really generous of her to invite me and I had a great time: my first Chinese wedding, and a whirlwind mix of family, friends, food, and Western/Eastern traditions.

Yantai is a city just south of Dalian, over the water. We took a six-hour boat ride early on Saturday morning. The boat was huge, and featured an endless amount of small, eight-person rooms with beds. There was also a deck, where people threw pieces of bread and sausage in the air for the seagulls to catch.

When we arrived in Yantai, it was warm and breezy and balmy and I immediately regretted only bringing my Dalian-weather wardrobe: sweater, jacket, skirt, boots. We were met by Jean's relative and then drove to the hotel to meet up with her gugu (father's sister) and gufu (father's sister's husband). Gufu and Gugu's daughter was the one getting married, but I forget her name, because Jean mostly referred to her as Jiejie (Older Sister). Gufu's mom owns a barbecue restaurant in Yantai, so we went there for a great meal with the family. Everyone spoke in Chinese and I tried to catch up, but it was hard. It was a very "off" weekend for me and Chinese.

The next morning, Jean and I woke up at 4 a.m. to go help the bride get ready for the wedding day. I'm not a fan of rising before 9 a.m., but the city was beautiful and empty that early in the morning.

We spent the morning helping prepare, but I'm using the term "we" loosely. I kept trying to help, and everyone kept telling me to sit down. I was trying to be polite by helping, and they were trying to be polite by refusing my help, and it just ended with me hovering awkwardly and moving things unnecessarily from one place to another.

Additionally, during downtime Gufu would entreat me to "perform" for everyone in the form of a song or dance. Everyone stared as I, sleep-deprived, tried to politely decline. Jean looked at me expectantly. "Just express yourself," she said. I didn't know how to explain that my singing voice would majorly bum everyone out. As for dancing, nobody wants to see me perform one quarter of a hip-hop routine I learned in a dance class sophomore year.

Jean and her cousin LeLe decorate the apartment

Gufu is given a fancy red tag identifying him as Father of the Bride

Fireworks are arranged in a heart shape

The musicians eat a quick breakfast of dumplings

Luckily, I was saved by the fact that the bride was ready (in the first of FIVE outfits she would change into over the course of the day) and it was time for the groom to arrive. In a Shandong Province tradition, he had to follow the ritual of arriving at her parents' house to pick her up. However, the bride is hidden in a room, and he is thwarted at each entrance, forced to answer riddles and pay money to advance. It's like a video game!

Jean asks the groom a riddle.

He attempts to get invited into the apartment. "Ba! Ma!"

Once in, he gives money to his parents-in-law, and serves them tea.

A lot more happened inside the apartment, but we missed it because our job was to wait outside, armed with flower confetti, for the precise moment the bride and groom left the building. I didn't mind - I was happy to have a task.

Jean and LeLe wait for the bride and groom


After leaving her parents' house, the next step was to go to their new apartment, across town. More fireworks were set off, and the crowd and musicians followed them.

The next location (seriously, it felt like a music video shoot) was the beautiful Yantai beach. Now, this wasn't a typical Chinese wedding: it was much more extravagant than most, according to Jean. Aside from the fact that Jiejie is their only daughter, they're also fairly wealthy (although their apartment was modest by Western standards), and they've had some family problems that might have inspired them to make this affair more special. That being said, the extravagance was all very...Chinese.

For example, to celebrate Jiejie's talent for piano, they set up a large, white piano on the beach for her to play. But in (modern) Chinese fashion, she wasn't actually going to play, but instead was going to fake it alongside a recording, while singing into the microphone. But the host started the music too early, and so she just sat there, frozen, until the groom led her offstage. It was weird. By the way, in this photo, she is wearing Outfit #2.

Even though I couldn't really understand the vows, which were set to loud, cheesy music, they seemed pretty heartfelt. At one point he mentions Er Ling Yi Er Nian (Year 2012), and says that even if the end of the world comes, he'll still be there for her, or something along those lines. Then, Wo Ai Ni (I love you). Strangers gathered, the wind blew, Jean cried tears of happiness.

After the ceremony, it was time for lunch! It was a delicious meal of seafood and it included some famous, expensive delicacies.

Featured: Sea Cucumber (black, spiky) a piece of chicken, and a spoonful of Shark Fin Soup

Jean's grandfather was a superb drinker. That man downed an impressive amount of wine and baijiu. A few relatives came over to talk and, again, I had to politely refuse to sing for everyone at the wedding.

The couple entered again, walked down the "runway," and addressed their parents. The bride was on Outfit #3.
And, after lunch, Outfit #4.

Then we went back to the hotel to take a shower and a nap. Weddings are exhausting! When six o'clock rolled around, it was time to meet up with the bride and groom, and all the cousins, for a low-key meal. It was just the "young people" (I don't know how to say that without sounding ancient) and it was really fun.

In Shandong Province tradition, the table has two "hosts" and the most important people sit next to the hosts. They put me next to the groom, solely because I was the American guest, and I felt awkward about it. But the awkwardness abated after many Tsingtao beers and toasts, and what I lacked in Chinese language skills, I made up for with my ability to open a beer bottle with wooden chopsticks. Thank you Chris Hildner!

After dinner, we stumbled back to the bride and groom's new place. Tradition dictated an evening of playing "tricks" on the bride and groom, or, rather, challenges. The final decision included: having the bride lay down on the couch with an egg in her mouth and making the groom roll the egg down her body using his chin, suspending an apple slice from a string and seeing who could bite it first, trying to pop a balloon between their bodies, and balancing chopsticks above their lip without laughing at the ridiculous face the other was making. I contributed the idea of blindfolding the groom and having a Marco Polo-style search for the bride, which went over well. Note: we are now on Outfit #5.

The next morning, we had a delicious breakfast of dumplings, which I could eat all day, every day, can't-stop-won't-stop. There were also some pig's ears, which I ate out of politeness, but were mostly tasteless. Around 8 a.m., we set out for Dalian. I was immensely grateful to have been invited to the wedding, and Jean's family was really welcoming, generous, and patient with my awful Chinese. All in all, it was a great holiday weekend. And I didn't have to sing!


  1. I have so many comments on this that I will have to just email you, but this sounds like such a fun adventure! With a side of completely bizarre.

  2. This is amazing! I got to accidentally crash a Chinese wedding reception once (complete with a juggler...my friend and I, despite not knowing anyone involved, had to give a toast), but I never got to see an actual wedding. Fun!

  3. Um, EVERYBODY wants to see you perform one quarter of a hip-hop routine that you learned in dance class sophomore year.

  4. Wow! It sounds like an awesome weekend. Going to a wedding in another culture is always such an interesting experience. When I was in Senegal we attended a wedding in the village. They kept sitting us next to the bride and we were in the "official" wedding photos with the bride and wedding party. They also kept making us get up and dance in front of all the wedding guests. It was an awesome, yet bizarre experience. I think it is so funny that they kept asking you to sing and dance. Does this happen often in China?