I had the opportunity to attend a co-workers wedding this past weekend. As the boss I was asked to be a special guest and to make a small speech of congratulations. I was honored to be invited and to be asked to participate; I was also excited to see a Chinese wedding.
My observations should be read in light of several facts. While there is a very strong ideal of American weddings, with a church, stately music and long procession down the aisle I come from a long line of Mormon weddings. The ceremony occurs in private in a Mormon temple with only family and close friends (less than 50), typically there is a brunch afterwards and then a break until we reconvene at the wedding reception in the evening; usually these take place in the gym of a local church that has been carefully decorated to hide its basketball like quality. Alternatively this is my only Chinese wedding so its difficult for me to tell how much of what I experienced was traditional or typical.
Lu Yu and his bride to be both live in Beijing. She works as a prosecutor and Lu Yu works as a software engineer. Lu Yu is from the Yanqing district of the Beijing, still technically within boundaries of the Beijing Municipality, but its 90 kilometers from the city center out past the BaDaLing Great Wall far enough away that it is more countryside than the city. The wedding was to occur at 11:08 am, the most propitious time and date to be married according to the Chinese calendar. Lu Yu told me that his wedding wouldn’t be super fancy, and would be simpler; much of this I would guess is his reaction to weddings that you can observe in Beijing where you can see a Lamborghini driving down the street next to the sea of bikes and enclosed motorcycles.
Sofi and I left our apartment at 9am and we arrived around 10:15. The wedding was located at a big wedding hall 新风酒店 (New Wind Hotel). There was a large red arch entry way; a balloon structure made of polyester and air held aloft by the electric blower. Lu Yu told me that the morning would involve him “stealing the bride”, where she would be barricaded in a local house and he’d have to bribe her “escape” with red envelops hongbao and other gifts. We just missed them arriving at the wedding hall in a long line of black Audi sedans; thousands of exploding fire crackers announce their arrival. We walked up the four flights of stairs to the fourth floor to a large hall with a large archway of flowers at one end, 12-15 large round tables that could each seat 12 people each and at the other end a stage draped in pink with two flower encrusted intertwined hearts. Lu Yu introduced me to his parents and his brides parents and we sat at the table with other fellow Amazonians. Lu Yu came up with the master of the ceremonies (MOC) to discuss the proceedings and my part, that I’d be first introduced and then later be asked to come up on stage to give my speech.
The tables add had two large bottles of orange juice, a red bottle of BaiJiu, a plate of candy and a plate of cigarettes. Baijiu (白酒) translates to White Wine, but its really distilled liquor though this was only 38% or 76 proof. If your ever in China and someone asks you if you want some wine to drink this is probably what your gonna get. The table also had sunflower seeds as a snack and everyone sat around chewing seeds and chatting as guests arrived. Most everyone was dressed rather casually, jeans, t-shirts or sweatshirts. The parents of the bride and groom were dressed a little nicer, but virtually no dresses or suits except for the to be married couple.
Sometime shortly after 11 but not coinciding exactly with the designated time, the lights in the hall were turned off and things got very very dark except for two spot lights that were centered on the back corner and loud music blared over the speakers closely resembling the Eye of the Tiger theme from Rocky. The MOC announced the wedding was to commence in a very loud professional announcer like voice. Then he came running through the arched banner at one end through the tables to the stage at the other end where he took several bows in the spotlights. He reminded me of a cross between a game show host and the announcer at boxing match. The spot lights, the music and showers of confetti all contributed to the sensation of stylized, choreographed and orchestrated event.
My ability to understand all of what went on is limited to the smattering of Chinese I could understand. But the general outline was fairly easy to follow. First there was a series of questions from the MOC on stage to the wedding couple who were gathered under the arch of flowers. There was a serious officious tone to a series of questions to Lu Yu to which he answered a loud “YES!” and the same to his bride to be. Then the couple walked between the rows of tables under spot lights with people throwing rose petals on them. The rest of the main events were :
- I made a speech : excusing the fact I had to speak in English, honored that could attend Lu Yu’s wedding on his happy day and I wished him and his wife a long life and happiness and love with each other and through their children. Mine was translated by the MOC. He said a lot more words than I did leading me to believe he was very liberal in his translation.
- Lu Yu’s brides boss also made a speech, his in Chinese and I am sure sounding much better. He even got a few laughs.
- the couple exchanged rings, Lu Yu got a bit nervous and had hard time getting the ring on her finger
- they exchanged a kiss, it was a nice moment afterwards
- father’s on both sides gave a short speech, it was cute seeing their awkwardness at speech making in the bright lights of the spot lot and the pride and emotion in their eyes.
- the couple used a long taper to light a heart shaped tier of candles
- the couple poured a huge bottle of wine over a tiered stand of wine glasses while they all filled from the overflowing
- the couple toasted each other with a glass of the wine and drank with arms intertwined
- the couple presented a cup of tea to each other’s mother’s calling them mother
- the bride threw her wedding bouquet into the crowd of hopefuls, who included men and women; in fact the person who caught it was a guy and he gave a short speech as well with everyone laughing because of some confetti he had hanging from his lip
- the bride and groom threw small stuffed animals that were surrounding the wine glasses and candles into the crowd. Zhihui’s wife caught one and she gave it to Sofi.
All of the photos on Flickr here.