Our wedding ceremony took place on February 5, 2014 in 张健的老家, a real country wedding to say the least. His village, 仁安村, is a two and a half hour drive from Xi’an. My youngest sister made the trip as well as a group of my foreign colleagues. The gang included Mike, John, Sara and Sandro, and Cherie, David, and their kids Mina and Jules. What was supposed to be a two day trip turned into a three-day one. We had our first snowfall of 2014 during the wedding which made the trip far more arduous than usual.
We left late morning on the fourth. There were several vehicles that erge，二哥，张健’s brother arranged, including two Mercedes which he had promised me during an earlier Chinese New Year if 张健 and I were to get married. 二哥 also drove the Buick, one of several company cars, filled with most of the foreign guests. The drivers were mostly former employees who worked with him, and they had their work cut out for them. It started snowing on our ride to the village, and by the time we reached 仁安村, a heavy blanket covered the roadways. As we were a caravan of three vehicles, and had to wait for 张健’s college bros (his words, not mine) as well as taking the wrong route, the drive was closer to three and a half hours. When we arrived in 仁安村, myself and all my guests were treated to a lovely meal sans meat as Mina is vegetarian (Jason did an excellent job of looking after all of us and communicating what we needed to 妈妈张). It also helped that Cherie and Mike are far more conversational than I in Chinese. Cherie ended up serving as the translator for the ceremony portion of the wedding.
I had left only two days before with 张健 and 二哥 to pick up Dee, my youngest sister at the airport in Xi’an, and was particularly surprised to see how much work had been done in our absence: a tent had been set up outside, an entrance constructed, our room had been cleaned and properly organized, a makeshift kitchen had been constructed outside complete with a high-tech noodle-making machine, a descending waterfall of woks cooking all kinds of heavenly confections, and even more unfamiliar faces. Most of the immediate family including 张健’s eldest brother, his wife (大嫂子), 二哥’s wife, and 张健’s younger sister, Peipei looked after us. 张健’s mother is not Peipei’s biological mother, and at our wedding I caught my first glimpse of Peipei’s real mother (the resemblance is uncanny). Peipei also spent much of her time clinging to her younger sister who seemed happy to get to spend quality time with Peipei.
After enjoying the lovely meal, we entertained ourselves by playing Uno and teaching one of 张健’s cousins, who became good friends with Jules, to play. Sara also learned and seemed to revel in her victories. Because of the cold, we did all this from the comfort of the kang, a heated brick-bed. After being fed dinner, we made the difficult journey to the county town, 旬邑县, where the foreign guests would be staying for the night, and where we would be picked up the next morning, symbolizing a quasi-home for which the groom, 张健, could ceremoniously pick me up and bring me to my new home. Because of the snow, as well as the fact that we had to drive down the mountain, the drive culminated in at least one hours worth. Dee and I stayed in a room together as she would be my hairstylist and makeup artist in the morning. Both of my sister-in-laws came too so that they had the opportunity to take a shower. I made 张健 come along for the ride as well, even though all of his friends, college and high school, were waiting at 张健’s. They didn’t leave the hotel until around midnight and intended to come pick us up the next morning around eight or nine.
On the morning of our wedding, Dee and I woke up around eight, so we had plenty of time to get dressed and such. We were told to be ready around ten, but in fact, were picked up much later than that. Sara, Sandro, and Cherie took pictures while Dee and I were getting ready: mostly pictures of Dee doing my makeup. Once dressed, most of the other guests came in and we took photos, awaiting the arrival of 张健 and his friends. 杨琦, a very close friend of 张健’s, knocked while we were still getting ready to see if we needed anything. I sent him to Mike and John’s room where they were watching a sporting event, and figured they could keep him entertained.
Cherie was immensely helpful during all this, juggling where to send everyone as well as when 张健 and his friends arrived playing along. What I mean by playing along is that the bride’s side is not supposed to immediately open the door, but require the groom to answer questions about his bride to ensure that it truly is the groom on the other side of the door. Cherie asked him questions, in English, about my favorite color (he said purple :)), my mother’s name (to which he answered her name including her maiden name), animal (his sarcastic answer was Jason), in addition to requesting he sing a song for me (he sang 王力宏’s “One and Only”). Although perhaps by Chinese standards the questions were not enough, I let Cherie open the door. Prior to this whole charade, Mina had hid one of my shoes, that 张健 would eventually need to find before we could leave. Upon entering the room, 张健 proposed to me again (getting down on one knee), and gave me a lovely bouquet of red roses. All his friends filed in, as well as the videographer. Picture-taking ensued (with a few hotel staff joining in the revelry), attempting to find my shoe (with success!), 张健 and I sharing a hard-boiled egg, and then finally being able to leave the hotel. The wedding party re-congregated downstairs in the lobby where a few of the hotel staff and non-wedding guests took the opportunity to capture photos of us (the foreigners). This is where 张健 carried me to the car as a 锁呐, a Chinese oboe played and his friends sprayed us with silly string and lit off fireworks. Sara and Sandro mentioned that we were not the only wedding party at the hotel, either.
After being whisked into the car (奔驰E300, the Chinese nickname for a Mercedes-Benz sedan), with Mina sitting between us, we headed to the village (大嫂子 sat in front and carried by bags). Along the way, the 锁呐 player continued (张健 just informed me that he recalls that the Chinese oboe player was the same oboe player at weddings when he was a child and is rather infamous in the village!), as well as the videographer frequently continued to videotape our car from the open trunk of the Buick. Mina seemed particularly intrigued about this situation as well as kept both 张健 and I entertained by asking us about how we met. I learned, after the fact, that the other guests, particularly Cherie, were unsure about her whereabouts. It’s a testament to how chaotic and whirlwind-like the day actually was.
Once arriving at 张健’s, our cars were surrounded by the guests, numbering around 400. 二嫂子 presented us with red envelopes and we then made our way to our new home, or room, where I had pre-lunch with my sister-in-laws, nephew, and two of my 姐夫, brother-in-laws. 张健 came to get me soon after finishing up pre-lunch for the ceremony portion of the wedding, where a master of ceremonies introduced us to the tent (the table closet to the stage is where the foreign guests were seated), and Cherie, serving as our translator stood next to the MC entertaining the foreign guests with excellent translations, albeit not exact as it was rather difficult to always make out what the MC was saying. The MC made kind remarks about me and 张健, basically saying how beautiful I was, how handsome 张健 is, and how we are a perfect match. In addition, the village party chief (a woman!) checked our marriage certificates for authenticity followed by speeches from members of both sides of the family (two different 舅舅’s son and daughter, or mother’s brothers’ kids) and 大爸, 张健’s uncle and 爸爸’s eldest brother and ended with bowing to heaven, the guests, friends and family, and relatives. My guests also gave speeches including Dee who made me and subsequently Sara cry, and caused Sara to give Sandro the mike. The ceremony ended with the customary event of the bride and groom calling one another’s parents “妈妈和爸爸.” Since only 张健’s side was present, I called them “mom and dad,” they gave me 红包 and a necklace, and we bowed to them. The ceremony closed with sparklers and us leaving the tent to go back inside so that I could change outfits.
After changing into my 旗袍, with lots of help from 张健 and fretting from Mommy Zhang and my sister-in-laws, we decided I should wear the jacket from my second dress over the lace 旗袍. 张健 and I went back out to the tent to serve our guests candy, cigarettes, and 白酒。We did a rather lousy job as it was frigid, and 张健 definitely had less layers on than me, as indicated by his trembling hand, attempting to serve 白酒。We were soon relieved of our duties so that we could go back inside and warm up. For the rest of the day, we lounged around, eating whenever food was served and trying to keep warm by the heater in our room. It was determined some time in the afternoon, that it would be impossible for the foreign guests to return to Xi’an that evening as snow continued to fall and the roads had taken a turn for the worse. There was a lot of discussion about trying to find a hotel closer, so that the caravan would not have to travel down the mountain to the county town. One of mother’s brothers let 二哥 know about a hotel in the closet town and we saw the guests off. A large group of the auntie’s and 大妈 tried to usher me inside, telling me there was no need to be outside and say goodbye to my guests as 张健 was taking care of it, and that my duties were now in the home; they were also trying to find out if I knew the name I should refer to them as (I can never keep that straight as Chinese familial relations are insanely complicated).
In the evening, it’s commonplace for the groom’s friends to bother the couple; it’s called 闹洞房. Much to the dismay of some of 张健’s friends, I wasn’t at all complacent, except for putting on 张健’s shoe and filling a pillow with grains and then sewing it together, a reference to 早生贵子，or give birth to a son soon. Of course they didn’t leave our room either, instead opting to play 麻将, mahjong, and chain-smoking, while we attempted to fall asleep. They told 张健 there were no empty beds, and finally fed up, he went to show them where there were plenty of places for them to sleep. I think we finally fell asleep around 3, which apparently is early by Chinese standards, as we are supposed to not get any sleep. In the morning, the family was still required to feed the massive hordes of wedding attendees and we did our best to serve 白酒, although I’m not adept at doing so nor a particularly willing participant, much to the dismay of our guests. After the foreign guests returned from the hotel and ate a late breakfast, we began our arduous journey back to Xi’an. This journey included a whole lot of waiting, as some of the cars in the caravan needed to put chains on the wheels due to the snow and without chains, we were not going to be allowed on the highway. The first leg of the journey we traveled on local roads as the highway was officially closed, but as this is China, and 二哥 knew “somebody,” as another driver informed the foreign guests in his vehicle, we were allowed on the highway. We arrived in Xi’an at sporadic times, with one vehicle having to resort to using their spare, and our car having to stop to take off the chains once we reached non-snow-peppered strips of highway, and finally arriving in Xi’an around 8 in the evening. I know some guests had to take the Metro to get home, and 二哥 had to have our bags dropped off the next day as we (Dee, 张健, Sara, Sandro, and I) were leaving on the seventh (the next day) for Lijiang and Dali.
I’m very glad we inevitably decided to have a Chinese ceremony, and that my sister made the trip. I’m grateful that so many of my colleagues came, as they made it so much easier, eventful, and, as the Chinese say, colorful. I don’t think I can even begin to imagine how much work went into the ceremony, especially for 张健’s immediate family. My guests did their very best to express their gratitude because I know that they were rather impressed, satisfied, and pleased that they made the trip. I know I caused a whole lot of 麻烦 for them, but if I said this to Daddy and Mommy Zhang, they would tell me it was an absolute pleasure.
The photos are only a preview of a few we downloaded from 微信 and I will be posting more in the days to come.