I’ve gone over in my head several times how I would begin to write this entry, and I still haven’t come up with a suitable introduction. Therefore, I’ll just dive right in with some formalities and then unfold the day’s events and what’s to come as a result of it.
张健和我结婚了！In China, it’s called “登记,” or marriage registration. So, yes, we are legally married in the sense that it’s recognized by the Chinese government. We still have to get all the paperwork notarized for it to be authoritatively official and thus recognized by the US when applying for a visa. This process is very different from US marriage proceedings, but I guess it shares some similarities to a civil union.
In addition, we didn’t exchange rings, nor has my last name changed. Women in China normally do not take their partners’ last name. I may one day hyphenate my name, but for right now that’s the least of our concerns. Also, as some inquiring minds asked me, life doesn’t feel any different now that I am a married woman. Jason and I lived together for quite some time before making this decision, so it’s not as if we just moved in together, as is more common in Chinese marriages. We’ve had time to figure out that we can, in fact, put up with one another!
On September 25th, last Wednesday, after talking to my parents via skype to inform them of the “good news,” we headed to the Marriage and Civil Affairs Bureau. After a rather painless metro ride, we walked into the swanky yet kitschy building (most government buildings are swanky and kitschy) where Jason signed in. We were instructed to go to the 18th floor; you will find, quite ironically, the divorce registration office first followed by the marriage registration office. Across from the marriage office is the office that deals with foreign adoptions.
There were two or three couples in front of us, but we didn’t have to wait all that long. The couple just in front of us in what cannot be called a line, also needed to have their picture taken. The woman in charge of registration, the only employee present, then took us to another room where she took our photos respectively. We then proceeded back to the marriage office where we began to painstakingly fill out our forms.
The woman instructed Jason that if possible, I should fill out the form in Chinese. I mostly assume it’s so her job would be easier. As such, I let Jason fill out his form first, and then he assisted me with mine. When I mean assisted, he wrote unfamiliar or forgotten characters on a scrap piece of paper, and I copied them, not always taking stroke order into consideration. It had been awhile since I had done any formal character writing by hand.
After finally finishing the form (it felt painfully long), along with the woman instructing us to “快点儿,” hurry up, as it was getting close to lunchtime, we were invited into the smallest of the three offices within the marriage office. She asked us some questions about our names, places of birth, and occupations as she entered all of the form’s information into her computer. She also made sure not to miss the opportunity to rack my brain about how to improve her English.
Once she finished her data entry, we were instructed to stand up and read our forms aloud, as a proclamation to further assert the information’s accuracy or “a pseudo-exchange of vows?” Regardless, Jason had to assist me in this area as well. He read aloud chunks, or phrases, and I repeated. I will say that I knew many of the characters, but not all. After the testimonial uttering, we gave her the 99 kuai fee (about $18). In exchange, she presented us with the keepsake box and our marriage identification cards. She congratulated us and we went on our merry way. Before entering the elevator, 张健 said he could finally call me “老婆,” or wife. We also exchanged our first kisses and hugs as husband and wife.
The story doesn’t necessarily end there, because in traditional Chinese fashion, we will hold a Chinese wedding ceremony. A ceremony is best compared and contrasted to the party portion of a Western wedding. Family and friends are invited for a big meal, in some cases, a banquet. A lot of toasting occurs, a master of ceremonies has the couple exchange vows and several other traditions are upheld. The ceremony’s customs also depends on whether it is celebrated in the city or the countryside. Our ceremony will be held in Jason’s hometown, in his parent’s home, and will generally be a traditional affair with a few exceptions. I will not change clothes, nor wear a white wedding dress. I’m definitely looking forward to wearing a 旗袍, a qipao.
The ceremony is likely to be held just before or after Spring Festival. There are still many details to be hammered out, but although I was adamantly against this not too long ago, I came around after considering it further. I know it’s important to 张健 and his family; I should also count myself so lucky that he cares about such formalities as most men can’t be bothered.
There is a slight possibility that at least some, or all of my immediate family will make the trip. Regardless, there will be a ceremony (a Jewish one!) when we eventually make it over to the States.
To any readers who have had a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, what are your fondest memories? Did you also have your own cultural or religious ceremony?