A Bicycle Built For Two
As I mentioned in this blog, the morning portion of the Chinese wedding tradition seemed to strike me as the most fun. At least, with a design twist, that is. As I was assembling my psychological armour for this event, I would classify the morning as my helmet: it kept me sane.
In traditional Chinese culture, the wedding event starts just before dawn. The groom and his entourage make their way to the bride’s home, (which was traditionally her parent’s house,) and the first act of getting married was to remove the bride from her parental home and transport her back to the marriage home—the groom’s family house. This is because China has been a patriarchal society for centuries; the bride was expected to give up her family to become part of the groom’s family.
As losing a daughter is never pleasant and often the bride doesn’t want to leave, over the years there have come to be some superstitions associated with this first stage of the wedding day.
First of all, the groom and his entourage are supposed to bang on the door loudly and slip money through the cracks in red envelopes until the family is satisfied that a suitable amount of money has been provided for the bride, at which point they will open the door. The bride’s parents need to set their minds at ease that their daughter is going to be adequately provided for. If the bride’s family doesn’t hold out for enough money, it does not bode well for the new couple’s prosperity.
Then, as brides are not able to leave without shoes, often one of her shoes is hidden in the family’s home and it is the groom’s job to find this shoe before they can leave.
Finally, as it is considered very bad luck for the bride’s feet to touch the ground between her parent’s home and the groom’s home (even with shoes on, apparently,) the groom removes the bride by carrying her over the threshold and then puts her in a sedan chair that is carried on the shoulders of several men in his entourage (including himself, I assume.)
Now, let’s not forget that for several centuries in China, women couldn’t have walked on their own because of their bound feet. Also, without the embroidered slipper for her small “lotus foot,” the deformed limb would be just a series of wraps to disguise it, thus pointing out yet another reason the shoe was necessary.
[I’ll pause for a moment to let your stomachs settle…]
So, with both shoes on her feet and the bride having been safely placed in the sedan chair and hoisted above their heads, the procession begins. They loudly make their way back to the groom’s house with chanting and banging and loud music, like a parade displaying his new acquisition.
Those of you who know me at all can figure out rather quickly that some of these traditions were enough to make me want to gag.
To begin with, I am an independent adult and didn’t need to be “released” from my parent’s home. Secondly, I wasn’t interested in being purchased (bride price?) via cash in an envelope slipped under a door. Thirdly, I didn’t want to be carried on people’s shoulders across a strange city, like a prized pig on a stick about to be roasted in matrimony!
Everyone told me that the event could start with the afternoon banquet and we could just skip the morning portion. They all assumed that a modern woman like myself wouldn’t be interested in such ancient traditions that had little to do with current times. The problem is that I had heard about these rowdy wedding mornings and the fun that they inspired. I wanted that! And, quite honestly, no one had planned the morning portion because of their assumption that I didn’t want it and I realized that there was something, just one thing, that I could organize on my wedding day.
I started to see how I could insert my own cultural elements into the traditional Chinese wedding. Knowing a bit of myself could be expressed started to put my mind at ease. The greatest form of protection that I could give myself in advance of this crazy wedding ride was in the form of that psychological helmet. Anti-steamrolling gear.
So the morning part became my baby. It went like this:
I’ve always loved the song “A Bicycle Built For Two.” It’s cute and romantic and I’d often thought it would be a perfect bridal vehicle for my environmental mind. I know China has two-seater bicycles available for rent and I asked my in-laws if they knew of a place that would rent them to us. Guo Jian and his cousins and friends then rode those bikes from his parent’s house to my parent’s hotel to pick us up.
I even implemented a different dress code for this portion and had everyone—men and women alike—wear black and white in the form of black pants and a white shirt, black jacket if desired. Some of his female cousins wore skirts, but everyone was told to be ready to ride a bike in whatever they chose to wear. This was when I was the most comfortable, as well. I put on my favourite black dress pants, a white button down shirt, short black boots and a fitted dress jacket. That was when I felt the sexiest all day.
And since we’re talking about inserting my culture here, let’s also remember that it’s not just about my Western culture, but also about my queer culture. If I had been getting married to a woman, I would probably have worn a tailored and perfectly fitted suit. At least, that’s how I always pictured myself at a commitment ceremony. I know I can pull off a dress, but a suit suits me! So, getting to wear my imagined wedding wear at least briefly on that day really seemed to fill a gap somewhere in me that I didn’t even realize I had had.
I agreed to the loud door banging and envelopes under the door, only because it seemed to be so central to the game of it all and was the part that everyone was the most excited about participating in. I decided to view it as a ticket price to marriage rather than a dollar figure associated with my worth! After all, marriage is an important event that is worth of an admission price, don’t you think?
Funny enough, the guys with Guo Jian that morning got so excited that they broke the door before any reasonable amount of money was passed underneath it. That’s probably par for the course considering I married a fellow musician, though! Our prosperity is likely to have little to do with monetary reward. Little money but lots of enthusiasm!
Then, I had hidden one of my boots by tying it from its boot laces to the curtain rod and the whole collection of guys searched high and low for it. Eventually, Guo Jian started whining at me to tell him where it was but I wouldn’t. I just sat there finding it extremely amusing that I had only one shoe on while they were spinning around the hotel room.
I am easily swayed by the need for good luck and so I decided that letting my feet touch the ground was probably a bad idea, even with the shoes on. That was part of the motivation for the two-seater bicycles. They would enable my feet to not touch the ground but I could still help with the transport between my parents’ hotel and my in-laws’ home.
So, there I was sitting on the bed, with my feet dangling off of it, one shoe on and one shoe off, grinning. I had a moment of comparing Chinese wedding tradition to Cinderella!
The boot was finally found (by Guo Jian’s cousin) and Guo Jian tried to put it on me in a fumbling act of gallantry, but I intervened and got the job done (also indicative of our future!) and then he carried me on his back out of the room, down the elevator, and over to the bicycles that were all parked just outside the hotel’s main entrance.
This was so fun! We had to get some help with the dismount so that I didn’t touch the ground, but when I was steady on the back of the bike, I got excited about the next part.
The whole crowd of us then cycled across town in the dawn’s light and I giggled the whole time. It was so fun! What a wonderful way to start the day with exercise and joy and so much laughter.
Ironically, none of us wore bike helmets for this ride. I know, I know, it’s dangerous. Maybe as dangerous as marriage.
When we arrived at his parent’s house, we were entering stage #2 of the morning affair. I should clarify that this stage was difficult to insert myself (and my culture) into. It’s the more formal portion of the morning tradition and featured an MC, a tea ceremony, and the parents. If you do the morning tradition, the formal ceremony gets put here as opposed to during the afternoon banquet.
So, we were greeted by a long red carpet, the decked out MC in his pink pants and flapper shoes, and lots of firecrackers. I felt terrible for the residents of the apartment complex as the firecrackers banged and cracked and rattled off of the apartment bricks and windows with a deafening roar.
We quickly parked the bikes and went upstairs to get changed into our formal wear. “My” portion was over and it was only about six a.m.