My first Chinese Wedding experience.

Myself and the rest of the staff (chinese and foreign) at EF were invited to Helen’s wedding that took place on Tuesday this week. It was a pretty interesting experience, completely different from the routines of a traditional western wedding. The wedding took place in a large dining room on the third floor of a nice hotel and there were about 14 dining tables set up for the traditional Chinese meal; the large, spinning platform in the middle of the table, place settings for ten, a cigarette tin, a plate of oranges and seeds, candy boxes, coke and bottles of beer and beijo in the middle for the table to share. The tables lined the two side walls and the front of the hall had a platform with the stereo system, bubble machines, microphones and a projector that showed pictures of Helen and her soon to be husband. The room was very bright, various shades of red decorated the walls and tables because red is the traditional colour for good luck in China.

The invitation said to be at the hotel at 12:00pm, so we rushed to get there on time because obviously it’s rude to arrive at a wedding late. Except apparently it’s not rude in China because we got there just before 12 and there were barely any people! It was close to 1 when the hall was almost full, and still no bride or groom. Apparently it’s normal for people to show up whenever because the bride and groom are normally late anyway. Here’s why: It’s tradition for the bride to go to her hometown (that’s right, HOMETOWN) before the wedding and the groom, after decorating the bridal car with his best man, comes and picks her up to bring her to the reception. At the brides childhood house, he must do a series of tasks/questions before the family allows the groom to enter the house and fetch the bride. Sometimes, the groom is offered snacks to enjoy with the bride and her family before departing. The couple then performs a traditional tea ceremony with their families and then head to the hotel or restaurant where the reception is being held so that their extended family and friends can witness the union of the couple.

So based on this information, I assumed that Helen and Peter were already married by the time they showed up at the hotel around 1:30pm. Helen looked stunning in her frilly white dress and her husband looked very happy at her side. The minute the bride and groom arrived the food began being served to the tables. There was a lot of it, all different kinds of traditional chinese meat and vegetable dishes. It was so odd because at a western wedding usually all eyes are on the bride and groom and there’s a time for eating and a time for watching the ceremony/happenings at the head table. But at this wedding, Helen and Peter were up on stage doing something ceremonial looking and people were making speeches in the microphones (all in Chinese obviously), while we ate and talked amongst ourselves. It didn’t appear to be rude because the people at the Chinese tables weren’t even paying attention to the stage but were mostly focused on their food. Nuts.

Some highlights that made me look up in amazement/hilarity/confusion while we ate:
-at one point Helen and Peter kissed and suddenly “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Housten blasted on the speakers.
-When the couple first arrived, they stood underneath a white canopy at the back of the hall for 15 minutes while we were being served food, and then made their way up the aisle towards the stage together while a man walked behind them, shooting huge, red and gold confetti over their heads with a loud, intense confetti gun.
-the bubble machines went off at one point while Helen and Peter were on stage, but it didn’t even seem like it was supposed to happen because nothing significant was happening at the time.
-The parents of the bride and groom were at the beginning of the aisle when the mother hopped on the fathers back and he ran with her towards the stage. A very strange tradition that I don’t fully understand.
-It appears that the ultimate goal of the couple at their wedding reception is to get drunk. Very drunk. I explain this below.
-There were 2 forms of entertainment during the reception: one singer that could sing so high that he sounded like a little girl, and a saxophone player who played “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King. Outstanding.

After Helen and Peter descended from the stage, they left for about 10 minutes. When they came back, Helen had changed into a beautiful red and gold gown, as is tradition. Then, they visited each dinner table with a tray of shot glasses. At each table they filled the shot glasses with beijo (the most disgusting, strong, burning drink in the world, a mixture of tequila and vodka but it’s the Chinese drink of celebration) and each person at the table toasted them, cheers’d, and downed the shot. I couldn’t say no, but I made sure to clutch my coke can in my other hand to chase the nasty taste down. Helen and her husband must have done at least 20 shots within 2 hours that I saw of, and they are both so tiny I was very impressed that they were still standing by the time we left.

Where I’m from, weddings are generally a day thing. You go to the church ceremony, then to the reception which lasts all night. This was not the case on Tuesday. The reception ended and we left the dining hall around 3:00pm, being there a whole of 3 hours. Basically, you go, you eat, you laugh, you drink, and you leave late afternoon to go back to work drunk. It was such an odd but wonderful experience. People don’t even dress up weddings! I wore a dress without considering the differences between Chinese and Western weddings, but I could have worn sweatpants and I would have blended in better. All in all, I enjoyed myself for sure and I would love to experience another wedding sometime. But I think that if I ever get married I’ll stick to the western style shindig and avoid the 20 shots of beijo!

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