a modern wedding with Chinese characteristics

My nephew – my sister’s son Yu Wei – got married on April 29. I took my girls and two good friends down to Nanjing to attend the wedding – a modern one with Chinese characteristics.

It was a whole day event. We opted to miss out the early morning ceremony when the bride groom went to the bride Wang Hui’s home to pick her up. We did make our way to the groom’s house just in time to welcome her. In front the building, in an up-market residential compound in Southern part of the city, the stage had been set for the brides’ arrival, which consisted of a heart-shaped flower gate and a walk way of pink balloons in shape of Mickey Mouse! When the fleet of wedding cars turned up, loud fire crackers were let off. Then the newly-weds walked through the gate, amid showering confetti. The groom was clad in a smart suit and the bride, in a western white wedding gown, held a bouquet as well as an apple (pinguo in Chinese, symbolizing peace). These days, a wedding is a complicated fare with both traditional and western elements.

Up in the luxurious and if slightly tacky flat, they carried out a ceremony with the groom’s parents, my sister Weijia and her husband Changyong. Wang Hui brought tea to her parents-in-law. First to her father-in-law: “Father (from this day, she’ll call him father as in tradition),please have some tea.” “*Ai!” *Changyong responded loudly with a broad grin and in return, gave her a huge red envelope, stuffed with money. Then it was Weijia’s turn. Like in every other aspect of Chinese society today, money is featured prominently throughout the wedding ceremony. The director of the show was a cameraman from a wedding company. I find him and his camera very intrusive. When my sister handed over her envelope to her son, the cameraman shouted: “Stop! The envelope should be handed over to the bride.” They had to do it again. Later on during the evening ceremony, the cameraman rather rudely snatched off Kirsty’s Lady Gaga hat, complaining it obscured Kirsty’s face but that was just the style my daughter desired!

After tea/money exchange, the new couple was offered some sweet soup of dates and peanuts – wishing them to produce offspring early. No problem there. The bride is actually pregnant, which was why they got married now instead of later in the year as originally planned. The guests slipped red envelopes into their hands. I placed my bundle of money inside an antique box with erotica paintings – as if they needed sex education.

Then lunch. Throughout history, food has always been the main ingredient of a Chinese wedding. The night before, we already had a banquet in a stylish restaurant right by my old factory. Lunch was at a down-to-earth restaurant outside the compound – for convenience, I gather. But dishes kept on coming, way after we stuffed ourselves. Such huge amount of the waste. Waste is all too common in Chinese weddings. Even poor families like to splash out on this occasion, let alone for a well-to-do family like my sisters’.

The main ceremony took place in the evening at Jinling Hotel, one of the best hotels in Nanjing. It started at 18.58 – an auspicious number. Just about all weddings start at this time. About five hundred guests sat in 40 tables in a banquet hall.

It was chaired by a master of ceremony. The first part was the actual wedding ceremony. The father walked down on a walk way with the bridge – now in a different wedding gown, and handed her over to the groom. Someone from the ministry of civil affairs served as the witness (they had actually got married at the ministry with their certificate.). I was amused to see that the witness asked the wedding vows in Chinese translation: Yu Wei, will you take Wang Hui as your wife? You’ll promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. After both made their vows, the witness declared them husband and wife. .The crowd cheers, wedding march went off and fog and bubbles were released into the air. Then, accompanied by soft romantic music, the big screen showed the ‘journey of their growing up’ from baby pictures to their graduation ceremonies and their most memorable moments, mostly the couple shopping in Hong Kong and Macau.

The part two was the more traditional ceremony of the new couple bowing in front of the parents. The bride was clad in traditional red this time.

Then the banquet started. My girls were scheduled to perform but I didn’t expect that they were to sing while the eating and drinking were going on. Together, they sang ‘Happy Ending’ and May sang a solo ‘The Girl from Impanema’ to perfection and finally they did a rap version of a Chinese ancient poem ‘Goose’, which they made up themselves and it was hilarious. Sadly, not many paid much attention. I tried in vain to ask the guys from the next table to stop for two minutes. When the girls came down from the stage, I congratulated them and apologized for the lack from attention from the audience. May said: “I don’t mind. For a Chinese, the choice is obvious if it is between food and singing.” My Spanish friend Alex sang passionately a piece from Tosca and an Argentinean tangle, also half drowned in the loud toasting and drinking and drinking game.

Before 9 pm, the MC thanked guests for coming and the party was over. Within the minute, all guests, their tummy full and their faces flushed, rose and left. Quite incredible. By Chinese standard, the wedding ceremony was a big success. We were still in a happy mood. We gathered up lots of fresh roses and lilies. Holding flowers as micro phones, the five of us started to sing Freddie’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” while the workers dismantled the decoration. We sang all sorts of happy songs all the way back to our hotel.

The girls and I decorated our room with flowers. It is believed to be auspicious to share things with the newly-weds.

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