Sunday, June 17, 2012

Same-Same, Just Different

One of the jobs that I left behind in the USA was that of being the church
wedding coordinator. I would help with the logistics of the wedding rehearsal and the church wedding ceremony.  If you've been to a Christian wedding you may have noticed the middle-aged lady in the back of the church with the wedding party. She carries a clipboard, drapes keys around her neck for access to everything and assists the Pastor, the wedding party, photographer, florist, musicians and guests. As the intensity of the big event blossoms her job is to keep a lid on the confusion and move the day forward. 

 Yes, that was me.  It was another thing I loved and miss about my life in Michigan.

Some brides-to-be welcomed my input. Many arrived in my office months before with their own clipboards and 3" thick three-ring binders and a list of questions. Some approached everything with wide-eyed wonder and others deemed me a nuisance - until they needed something, of course. A handful worked well with the Pastor to make their wedding day spiritual and meaningful, but not all of them. There were those who just wanted to "get to it and through it" and on to the party bus. I still refer to the young ladies I helped on their special day as "My Brides." Through those years and since, I've learned to respect the variety and never ASSUME there is only ONE WAY to have a union of two people commence.  

So weddings continue to fascinate me and yes, in China they seem to be 
"Same-Same, Just Different." 

This is what I've learned about weddings here in China: 

As in the United States, a Chinese marriage between two parties is a legal contract.
In the Jiangsu Province it requires a trip to an official government office, presentation of all sorts of documents, a few words and some signatures.  Two double red official stamps later the happy couple is officially married. This occurs without fanfare and often it's just the bride, the groom and the clerk. (You may recall the Norman Rockwell illustration of a young couple applying for their marriage license from the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, June 11, 1955.)

Afterwards in China, there is time to stop for a bowl of noodles and the newlyweds go on with their life and work as if nothing happened.

The fun has just begun of course because next on the list is for the bride and groom to secure a photographer for  wedding photographs. This entails a weekend/week long trip long before the wedding celebration (what we would call the reception.) Off they go "on location," so to speak, to scenic overlooks, natural settings and historical places.  An entourage with rented gowns, garb, props appear with them. Make-up artists and production assistants help provide Princess Perfect results.  One friend wanted to make sure she had her photos taken with a horse. She searched the internet and found someone who would do just that and her Prince Charming, although not initially thrilled by the request, granted her that wish. Smart guy. The resulting glamour shots were enlarged and displayed at their Wedding Celebration along with a music-filled slide show to delight their arriving guests.

Julia and Tao

With the photographs completed the planning continues toward Wedding Celebration day.  This can be months after the official ceremony and as in the US involves great attention to coordinated details.

Finally it is Wedding Celebration day!

Traditionally the bride is "captured"  by the groom and his cohorts very early in the morning.
They go to the groom's hometown residence to meet his family and she brings with her a 'red envelope' monetary gift from her parents. Sort of like a dowry from yesteryear.  The groom's family happily accepts this and there is food (surprise!). Everyone is happy and off they speed to the hometown residence of the bride with a 'red envelope' from the groom's family.   Then, surprise of ALL surprises the bride's family accepts the groom into their family (plus the gift of money) and they give it to... you guessed it...the Happy Couple.
More tea more food.

The rest of the day revolves around getting ready for the Wedding Celebration which many relatives, friends and co-workers attend.  There will be a wedding feast and drink and fun.


In the year that we have lived in Nanjing we have attended two such Wedding Celebrations.

Wedding customs seem to be a blend of Asian and Western and some feel like they are right out of a romantic movie.
Let me walk you through the latest Chinese wedding we attended and you will see what I mean. 

Here is the invitation to Benny and Joyce's wedding:
A Cartoon-like Military Theme to the Day

The reception was held on a Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. for a lunch feast at a hotel in Nanjing.  There were well over 200 people in attendance. 

The Red Carpet Awaits the Bride's Entrance-  there is the Big Guy at Table #1 (Left)

Our tables were already strewn with some food and drink.  The party would begin at exactly 12:08 p.m. because the number 8 is considered very lucky in China.  The lights were dimmed, the Master of Ceremonies cranked up his microphone and groom Benny walked slowly from the stage down the red carpet and through two pillars to meet his bride.  She appeared through a draped arch singing a love song like a nightingale out of a Disney movie.   

The "show" continued and Benny kissed her hand and presented her with her bouquet of flowers. Together they floated on to the stage to the next round. I respectfully say "show" because the MC's job was to whoop the rest of us into applause and laughter at all costs for the rest of the afternoon. The microphone was on full-tilt and there was a "game-show' quality to the proceedings.

They exchanged rings quickly then lit a unity candle under the direction of the barking (no exaggeration) MC's chatter.
Benny and Joyce did what they were told to do under those stage lights. This was all done in Mandarin so you will realize that my eye-witness reporting caught about every third word in every third sentence. I could tell WHAT was going on even though I really didn't get the jokes. And then they disappeared. The lights came up but the food which included the delicacies eel and turtle just kept on arriving at our 12-person lazysusan-bedecked table.
Exchanging of Rings and Words

We continued to eat and sip away. Note that the bride and groom haven't had a bite of food yet.  After 30 minutes, Joyce and Benny returned to the stage, to applause, confetti and bubbles.  Joyce was bedecked in a new hairstyle,new accessories and a beautiful fit-for-a-princess aqua-blue gown.

* * *
Things were about to get more interesting because the Big Guy, my Big Guy, is Benny's boss and as "Lao Ban" had the honoured privilege to give the very first speech & toast the new couple. Dear Irene helped by editing the speech a few days beforehand and translated it from English to Mandarin.  The Big Guy would say a line in English and Dear Irene would interpret it for everyone in the room into Mandarin. (Humor tends to lose its punch while waiting for translation I assure you.)

Benny Listening Intently to his Lao Ban

The core of the Big Guy's speech was to tell Benny the three things he should learn and say that will guarantee a Successful Marriage to his beautiful bride Joyce. He was encouraged to listen carefully because after all the Big Guy had been married for 36 years.   He said to Benny: :

 "Use these three phrases often:"
1.  "Yes dear."  - "This is almost magical" 
2.  "You were Right and I was Wrong."
3.  "You look as beautiful today as the day we were married."

The crowd laughed loudly after each numbered declaration and were very attentive to the Biggest White Guy with whom they had ever shared atmosphere. 

I was proud, very proud. 

As the Big Guy and Dear Irene left the stage other special people were summoned to toast the couple. After a few of these toasts I, not surprisingly, began to fuzz-out since all the speeches were sounding the same to me without any English translation. I smiled politely but really wasn't paying much attention to any of it.

Suddenly everyone at our table began to chatter loudly as they looked my way.  I stopped looking down at my blue-veined 50++ year old hands, that at that moment looked exactly like my dear sweet departed mother's, and someone poked me and said....

"You!  They Want YOU!"

"Yes, You! - He wants you to go up there!"

Being beckoned by a stranger and encouraged against my will by our tablemates, I

sheepishly went up to the stage dragging Dear Irene beside me.

Dear Irene interpreted: "He wants to know if your husband really says those things to you?

 And one by one in Mandarin and English she asked me if he said:

"Yes dear?" - I affirmed.

"You were Right and I was Wrong" - "Well according to him I've never been wrong, right?"

"You look as beautiful today as the day we were married" - I affirmed, blushing all the way    back to my seat, of course.

* * *
Another break ensued while Joyce changed again, this time into a traditional Chinese red dress. While they were out of the room the MC did not miss a beat or opportunity to chatter to the half-interested and well-fed crowd.  As the music ka-thumped he threw stuffed military baby toys out to the up-stretched armed crowd and played a few silly games with some of the remaining singles in the room. 

The afternoon concluded with the bride and groom's family stopping by to meet the Big Guy and thank him for his words to Joyce and Benny. Everyone stood up around our table and raised their glasses in celebration, not just once.

It was a Grand Affair and I was so glad we were there.
Suffice it to say that wedding trends come and go and customs float from East to West and back again. Witnessing Benny and Joyce's Wedding Celebration broadened my experience here by joining two people, two families and two lives.

I truly do LOVE weddings with all their bouyant promise.

Wishing a newlywed couple longevity, prosperity, happiness and even a family of their own is not new of course but it is cross-cultural and we were privileged to be a part of this one.

The union of two may take place at a church, synagogue, city hall, beautiful garden, hotel ballroom, on a beach, boat or corn field. It really doesn't matter, does it?

Yes, all weddings are "Same-Same, Just Different."   

And as I used to say as a wedding coordinator in my past life:

..."and in the end.....they're JUST as MARRIED."

Congratulations to Benny & Joyce Married in the Year of the Dragon

Thanks for Reading,


:::::::::We look forward to attending Dear Irene's wedding next Sunday, June 24th, during Dragon Boat Festival Weekend.. She too, will be a Lovely Bride:::::::::