The second wedding I went to in May was a cross-cultural ceremony between my Australian coworker and his Chinese wife (they were already legally married but hadn’t had an official party). I was particularly interested in this one since I had a Chinese girlfriend. Better bring a notepad this time.
They had the ceremony in Shunde, an affluent city south of Guangzhou. Some of us teachers took a bus shuttle, and two hours later, we arrived for the premier event. It was at an expansive, two-story restaurant that looked like an Italian villa. On both sides of the restaurant, across the river, was a residential complex with three-story houses. Clearly, there was money to be made here.
Since we arrived early, some of us walked over to a nearby park. We weaved our way through the hordes to an ancient tower and then returned to the restaurant for some water and cool air. The ceremony would take place in the same area as the reception area. The room must have seated at least 400 people. At one end, there was a stage mounted with an enormous screen that was as wide as the stage and taller than me. Neil and Flora had a slideshow of pictures from their childhood and their life together after they met. And they had the obligatory wedding pictures too, in traditional and modern dress.
Facing the stage were about 10 rows of chairs on each side of the aisle which had a red carpet, duck-taped on the sides and trailing back to the entryway. We mingled around. Some of Neil’s relatives and friends had made the trek over from Australia. The rest were Flora’s relatives. It seemed like most would come for the reception.
Once the ceremony began, Neil’s uncle assumed the role of pastor, and introduced the couple, with the help of a Chinese translator. Neil waited expectantly for the bride to walk down the aisle. First, the flower girl and ring bearer walked down the aisle. Then the bridesmaids. Now it was the bride’s turn.
A spotlight shone on Flora and her dad. It seemed like time stood still as they purposefully strode down the aisle. Finally she made it to the stage. They exchanged vows and rings. Flora nearly lost her composure, but Neil stood firm. After they were announced husband and wife, they kissed, and the ceremony ended. Time for pictures.
I forgot how many pictures photographers took for a wedding. First Neil’s parents, then Flora’s parents, then both, then uncles and aunts and cousins, then some friends. All the possible combinations of pictures with family was dizzying. I think they would have a substantial wedding album at the end. At any rate, we were able to get a picture with the bride and groom towards the end of the picture taking.
But Neil and Flora weren’t done yet. They walked downstairs to the main entryway, stood in front of a brightly lit wedding display, and took pictures with most of the incoming guests. I think my mouth would be fixed in a permanent smile after that. It’s not easy getting married.
The food came, eventually. I had heard Shunde was famous for its food. So I was particulary interested in this part of the wedding. Neil and Flora returned to the stage this time and did a tea ceremony with both their parents. They then thanked their parents for their investment in their lives, and each of the fathers gave a brief speech.
It was interesting to note the cultural divide between their talks. Neil’s dad was more personal. He talked about scuba diving and skiing with Neil and Flora in Montana. But Flora’s dad gave a generic speech, thanking all his friends and guests for coming to his daughter’s wedding. It was more a public speech than a personal talk.
After the father’s speeches, the food began to arrive. It was a 12-course meal. I needed to pace myself. Sometimes, there’s Chinese food I find troubling to look at or eat. This time I had no complaints. The sauces and flavoring for these dishes was exquisite.
When dessert began to come out, Neil and Flora began walking to each of the tables and toasting each person. The rest of the wedding ensemble (close family and friends) followed close behind. Flora had changed into a traditional red, golden wedding dress with a headdress that would put fashionistas to shame. She even had gold bangles on her arm as well. I could only imagine how stunning weddings in ancient China must have been.
Eventually, they made it to our table. And we toasted them. I think Neil was relieved the ceremony was over. He been fairly nervous about it, but I don’t think anybody could tell. Now they could eat and toast all the guests.
It seems like tea is an integral part of marriage in southern China. Before the wedding, Neil told me he and Flora had an elaborate tea ceremony with the parents at their house. Then they had a tea ceremony for the wedding ceremony. And now they were toasting all 400 guests. Tea runs in people’s blood here.
Joanna was anxious to take her 10-year-old kid back home, and it was getting late. I couldn’t move much after the 12-course meal and all the tea. The other teachers were in a similar predicament. It was time to go.
I was glad I came. It’s always interesting to see how two cultures mesh together. And this one had melded a Western marriage ceremony and Chinese reception together into a seamless whole. My congrats to Neil and Flora. I wish them well on their new life together.