The Beginning of a Lifetime

When you marry a woman from Chaoshan, you are expected to do a tea ceremony. It’s a way to show respect to the woman’s parents and signifies the beginning of married life. Oddly enough, neither Bella nor I knew what the ceremony entailed specifically. We knew it would be with her parents in her hometown of Puning, and that it would involve tea. I had hoped to learn more before we went to her hometown to do the ceremony. But it was too late now.

We had flown into a city nearby, taken two short train rides, and were now on our way to her village. Fortunately, the tea ceremony wouldn’t begin until the next morning. There was still time to find out what to do.

On the afternoon we arrived, Bella’s mom was out working so we drank tea with Bella’s dad in their house. I couldn’t communicate much with her dad in the Chaoshan dialect, but I did know one phrase quite well – “Jia dei!” Basically, it meant it was time to drink tea.

That evening for dinner, Bella’s mom and older sister joined us along with her brother and his family. As usual, there was a mouthwatering array of dishes. Once we finished dinner, I heard Bella ask her sister about the tea ceremony. Her sister didn’t say much, except that it wouldn’t be too complicated and that we needed to serve tea to the parents.

I had hoped to hear some more details. Was I supposed to pour the tea in the cups and then serve it? How was I supposed to serve it? What should I say? And most importantly, anything that I should avoid doing?

In my more nightmarish scenarios, I imagined myself pouring a cup of tea for Bella’s dad. Then as I attempted to offer it to him, the cup would be too hot and cause my hands to shake, leading to the tea spilling out onto my future father-in-law’s pants. I figured that would basically nullify the wedding.

At any rate, the tea ceremony would happen tomorrow at 10am. I hoped I would be ready.

The next morning I woke up and met Bella at the hotel. We walked to her parent’s house and ate some sticky rice buns filled with sesame and peanuts. We also ate some xiami, a type of shrimp dumpling. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to need to pour the tea or not. But I would find out soon.

Finally it was time to begin the tea ceremony. Bella’s sisters and brother were there to witness the event. One of the sisters got two pink plastic chairs and set them down in front of the tea table. Bella’s mom and dad sat on them and waited for us. The tea had already been poured into two cups.

So Bella and I first each offered a cup of tea to her dad with both hands. We said, “Baba, qia jia dei!” and he took the cups from us. Then we did the same thing with Bella’s mom. This time her mom grabbed both cups at the same time, which was a fairly impressive feat. She drank both cups, and the tea ceremony was over.

But there was still one important thing left to do. I needed to give a dowry to her parents to officially marry their daughter. And so I gave them a red bag filled with 100RMB bills that added up to 28,888RMB. And I gave Bella’s mom a diamond ring. Fortunately, it fit her finger quite well.

Both of Bella’s sisters also offered us a monetary gift of 888RMB. The number 8 is considered a lucky number in China. And the more “8s” you get, the better. I was pleasantly surprised by their gift to us.

After I had offered the ring to Bella’s mom, she gave me a traditional golden ring with the character “cai” stamped on the front. This basically was a wish for me to make a lot of money in the future. I couldn’t promise Bella a life of wealth and ease, but I would try as best I could to provide for her in our life together.

Bella’s mom and sister disappeared for a short while and reappeared with some hongbao from the gift I gave to the parents. We were given 8,888RMB back, which was a typical custom for the dowry. I was beginning to like these lucky “8s.”

For the last night of our stay in Puning, we took 二哥’s son and daughter out for dessert. They finished their homework around 9pm, and we began a leisurely walk to the bubble tea shop. Once we arrived, we ordered some appetizers, drinks, and some ice cream too. It was an indulgent treat, and I was glad we could do something for the children. I suppose in the future we would be the indulgent aunt and uncle who only visited twice a year, bearing gifts and candy. But there certainly could we worse things to be known for. We wouldn’t spoil them too badly.

Thursday morning had come. We had a quick breakfast at Bella’s parents, then called for a Didi (like an Uber ride) to take us to the train station. It would not be long until we met again. A few hours later, we were back in the bustling city of Guangzhou, trying to find a taxi to Galaxy Hotel. I had forgotten how busy this city could be. At least we didn’t have to take the subway during rush hour.

We didn’t plan to do much before our wedding day that Saturday, but we did want to meet with our informal wedding coordinators, Joe and Kurt, to make sure all the wedding details would happen as we hoped. Joe came to dinner early, but Kurt and his wife, Isabella, came later because of traffic.

Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any big issues for us to discuss. It was more a time for Bella to catch up with her friends and for us to confirm the wedding plans. I imagined some details might be forgotten on the wedding day, but I was thankful that Bella’s friends were willing to spend time to help organize our special day.

Friday was a fairly restful day for us. We went to one of the local hospitals to pick up our medical check. I was just thankful I didn’t have to have my blood taken again at the hospital. It’s a much more pleasant experience to go to the hospital to get a medical report than to wait in line for a blood test where people bare their arms, receive a needle puncture, and watch their blood flow into glass test tubes.

After the hospital visit, we rested back at the hotel for most of the day. It was almost surreal that tomorrow would be our wedding day. After nearly 6 months of planning, it was nearly here. We had already made a legal commitment, but this time we would make our commitment to each other before God and man.

That evening Bella went with her former roommate, Ring, for a spa treatment. I wasn’t invited so I had some time to relax and reflect. Nearly a year ago I had asked Bella to be my girlfriend, and tomorrow I would commit to be her husband for the rest of our lives together. It was sad to know couples who had made vows to each other and later broken them. This was a solemn promise, probably the most important one I would ever make. I prayed that God would give me the strength to love her “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

Saturday morning came fast. Bella and I chatted with my parents on WeChat for a little while. Sadly, because of Covid restrictions in China, none of my family were able to come to our wedding. The night before, each of my siblings and my parents had sent short videos wishing us all the best and giving us some advice for our life together. I would have loved to hug them in person, but at least we could share that special time together.

After the chat, we packed up all our things, double-checked the room to verify we had everything, and took a taxi to Park Cafe. Bella’s family had already arrived there after a 5am departure from their hometown. It almost felt odd to meet them outside of Puning, but I was grateful they had come. I knew it meant a lot to her for them to come show their support and love. Soon her dad would be walking her down the aisle.

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