Wedding Day Chronicles — Part 2
Everything about my first and main wedding day (there were three!) reminds me of a series of made-for-stage vignettes. The day itself was so full of action, but the moments were so singular in each scene–so distinct. If I were to stage the show, I’d start it with that restaurant scene from this blog, I think. Followed up by the hotel room search-for-the-shoe scene and then the bicycles-built-for-two scene, both from this blog.
Then I’d be up to this scene, starting at 6am:
The sun is just rising. The smoke is starting to clear from the enormous explosion of deafening fireworks that greeted our arrival. Everything still looks cloudy, though, through the weak morning light. My ears are still ringing…
We had just arrived at my in-laws’ home on the back of a bicycle-built-for-two. The wheels of the bike rolled alongside of a long red carpet and then crossed it before someone cried out, “Don’t ride on the carpet! Too dirty!”
We were quickly ushered off the bike and I paused, worried about touching my feet on the ground as per the stories about bad luck, but no one seemed concerned about that. They just wanted me up and off the bike like it was a prop that was now out of synch with the scene. I tentatively let the pavement find my feet and hoped that I didn’t need to go looking for wood to knock on in exchange for breaking that particular pact with the luck goddesses! (There was a serious internal clashing of cultures happening in my superstitious brain in that moment!)
We were rushed into the apartment to get into our formal wear.
The MC was there when we arrived. He was some sort of television personality in Shandong province, but Guo Jian had never heard of him. His voice boomed and crackled in the speakers, loud enough to cause feedback in fact, as he welcomed the small crowd of extended family and pajama-clad neighbours who had gathered to watch this affair. He wore pink pants and flapper-style black and white shoes all topped with a red and black silk jacket that shimmered when he moved. I kept expecting him to pull interlocking colourful scarves out of his sleeves.
We only had ten minutes to get changed into our formal wear and I remember feeling that it was similar to changing clothes backstage between scenes in a musical. Quick and efficient, I was even helped into my nylons by my mother-in-law like she was “crew” and I was the female lead.
Then, back in the courtyard, we were corralled to the far end of the red carpet—Guo Jian and I, our friends Valentina and Liyang (our equivalent to best man and maid of honour) and then my friend Cheryl, who was there from Canada to stand up for me as my queer witness.
When the two confetti machines burst like shotguns I almost hit the ground. I hadn’t known that was coming. The colourful twisted paper fell swirling around as I recovered my surprise. Someone handed us a red fabric bow (or knot?) to which we each held an end linking us together like a parade banner and then we were cued to slowly make our way to the end of the red carpet. Our friends trailed us ceremoniously. I don’t even remember if there was music. At the end of the carpet, there sat both sets of parents with the ridiculously loud MC standing off to one side.
The parents were seated in chairs with a table between them. On the table were some flowers, some seeds on plates, and then a traditional Chinese tea set. My mom and dad looked surprised. I had warned them that there’d be a tea ceremony, but they had no idea what they were expected to do and I think they were nervous. What’s more, they had been told to dress casually and my mom told me later that she was so upset to have worn “slacks” (who calls them that anymore?), especially when the cameras started flashing in every direction. She still mentions that when she sees those pictures. (It’s okay mom!)
The ceremony began with a showing of our marriage licenses to the camera and crowd.
The next section is characterized by bowing. It became the common thread in each of the next steps.
First we were told to bow to each other, then bow towards each other and touch noses (I have no idea what that’s about!) and then bow towards each other and, yes, finally, to kiss. It was so strange to kiss at a bowing angle, I have to say. Our midriffs were five feet apart, our heads with chins jutted outwards like birds were only able to find each other’s faces briefly to land a quick peck before having to save ourselves from falling over!
It’s a an old tradition to honour both sets of the parents by bowing down to them as authority figures and elders. Then there was the bowing to the four directions.
Then there was the bowing to the crowd.
Then there was more bowing to each other.
Bowing. I’m not big on it. I don’t really believe in bowing down to anyone, to be honest. I did it out of respect for his culture in the moment, but I vowed then and there to never bow down to his culture in my overall life. In fact, it was that tiny pact in my head that enabled me to do it at all. Sometimes we get through these moments in silent negotiation with ourselves. My inner voices had already had the peace talks.
The only thing I hadn’t thought about with this portion of the day was my dress. It was fairly fitted. Okay, it was tight. I mean, dangerously so. As I got down on my knees and bowed forward to both sets of parents, I pleaded with the universe to keep my dress from splitting at the seams. Mercifully, the universe granted my wish.
Then, I had to say, “mama (mom) and baba (dad), please drink this tea” (in Chinese) to his parents as I served them a cup each. He had to say and do the same with my parents and he stumbled in English much to everyone’s glee. Everyone clapped, even the man in his plaid flannel pj’s whom I’d never met before and who mustn’t have ever seen a real live foreigner before because he wouldn’t stop staring at me with the open-faced, unabashed curiosity of a four-year old.
The outdoor portion of the morning ceremony was pretty much complete then. The MC bellowed voraciously as though he needed to fill all pockets of audio space with his voice first, for a while, and he did so with a lot of formal language and gusto that I couldn’t understand because of the crackling speakers anyway. That was only our first taste of him. He would be a repeat character in the afternoon at the banquet. Great.
Then the formal photos began. We posed in group shot after group shot.
Remember, I hadn’t slept a wink. Neither had Guo Jian. The photos show me straining to stay awake and keep my eyes and smile from drooping.
Then we all headed upstairs. Guo Jian carried me over the door frame to his parent’s apartment as per tradition. I had been there before, of course. The crowd that had beat us up there cheered. And like herding sheep, we were barked into the “marriage bedroom,” his parent’s spare room that we’d barely ever slept in, and then I was told to wait on the edge of the bed until the auspicious moment when the noodles would be brought out.
Yes, I said noodles.
(The noodle portion is a whole other blog.)
As we waited for 6:36 in the morning to roll around—the fated hour—it was all I could do not to fall backwards onto the bed and disappear into a dream state.
The flashing cameras kept me awake.
That and the fact that I really couldn’t move that much in my dress!