This blog entry is almost nine months delayed…mea culpa, mea culpa. It was just waiting to be written though, and given that I now have a few posts from my actual wedding day and honeymoon waiting to be posted on this blog, I figured I should get around to writing this up!
When K and I got officially engaged early in 2014, we knew that we would need to hold a wedding celebration in either Hong Kong or China for my side of the family. It was unlikely that many, if any, would be able to come to Sydney for the actual wedding ceremony later in the year. Most of K’s family are here in Australia – it was my family, 99% of whom live overseas, that was the issue.
When my father proposed a trip back to China in April to mark the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing, we decided to hold a wedding banquet two days after the remembrance ceremonies. It felt right that after a period of grieving, should come a period of joy and celebration.
All my father’s siblings and some of their spouses travelled down from Hong Kong to Cixi, Zhejiang province in China, where my mother’s family lives to attend the ceremony – both sides of my family were represented, which was very important to me.
My uncle and aunt had gone out of their way to plan everything for me, so literally all I had to do was show up and go along to everything they had planned. Hair and makeup appointments, ordering flowers, ordering bridal cars…everything had been done for us. My hair and makeup was done at a local beauty salon, where there’s not much consultation about what ‘look’ you want to go for as all brides get given the same treatment of an updo and a classic smoky eye and red lip look.
Dad was incredibly proud. To him, the celebrations on this day were just as good as getting ‘properly’ married. In his eyes from this day forward, I was a married woman.
From our suite at the Shenshi Bridge Hotel (my relatives had debated getting K and I separate suites the night before for tradition’s sake, until my dad scoffed and told them to stop being ridiculous, as we clearly live together and have already had ‘relations’), we got into the bridal car and started driving in circles around the surrounding streets of my grandparents’ village. For the whole drive, our bridal car was preceded by a ute, in the back of which sat a wedding band who beat the drums and clashed their cymbals to herald the arrival of our bridal car.
The most hilarious thing is that the day of our wedding was gray and gloomy, so our musicians were getting rained on. They got more and more miserable, the longer we drove around parading our wedding procession!
By the time we arrived at the main square of my grandparents’ village and got out of our bridal car, a red carpet had been set up for us. My younger cousins were running ahead of us letting off confetti bombs every couple of steps, and there were firecrackers going off left right and centre.
Our walkway was made up of two lengths of red carpet that got progressively wetter and muddier the further we walked. Funnily enough, the men had to run back as soon as we stepped off one section, to grab it and move it ahead, so that two 20m lengths of red carpet ended up becoming a muddy and sodden 300m walkway to my grandparents’ house.
Quick note about attire – I was wearing silver earrings gifted to me by my manager as a wedding gift, a gold and jade necklace that belonged to my mother, gold flats from Aldo, and a red lace and white chiffon dress ordered off Etsy. The white fur shrug was lent to me by my cousin as the day turned out colder than expected. K wore a gray suit from David Jones (uberstone), a pre-owned gray tie, and a red shirt borrowed from my brother.
A wedding is a big occasion in the village, and everyone comes out to watch. People I didn’t know and had never met were taking multiple photos of us, and getting their kids to run up to take photos with us as well. It’s an occasion for general public celebration – more than we’re used to with Western style wedding ceremonies.
They all follow you every step of the way as well – from the moment your arrival is heralded by the band and you step out of the car, right until you enter the house from which you’ll be married.
But importantly, before you step into the house, you have to let off fireworks.
…all the fireworks and firecrackers.
A second cousin’s husband conducted our ceremony for us in Chinese. The wording is not unlike a traditional ceremony, in terms of having phrases like “Do you agree to take this man, etc” or “We are gathered here today…”. I had to translate for K sotto voce the whole time, as he doesn’t speak Mandarin, and had no idea what was going on!
What was different was the amount of bowing we had to do! First we bowed to each other (accidentally smacking foreheads!).
Then we bowed behind to all those outside, and then bowed to the front.
And before we knew it, we were officially married! …though, not actually officially as we didn’t sign any papers. It was official to my family though!
We soon progressed to the nearby community hall, where you really couldn’t miss the fact that it was set up for a wedding… With over twelve tables, there were over 120 people attending the wedding – from second cousins, to third cousins, to fourth cousins once removed, to great aunts by marriage, siblings of great uncles by marriage…anyone that I was vaguely related to was in attendance. Some people even travelled over four hours to be there!
My grandma hired a team of twenty local women to cook up a feast for the banquet. This is the table laden with cold dishes at the start of the banquet, and doesn’t even begin to represent the amount of dishes that were eventually brought out (28 from memory, as a lucky number!). Dishes were piled upon dishes, until each table was fairly groaning under the weight of food. It’s a meal that stretches well into the evening though, and is considered both lunch and dinner for guests.
We hardly got to enjoy some of the food though, as it was our duty as bride and groom to go around to each person and pour a drink for them as a sign of thanks for attending our wedding. This photo is of K pouring a drink for my grandmother. While some opted just for apple juice, each table also had a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, a bottle of hard Chinese rice wine, red wine, beers, and other liquors – it’s not uncommon for the men to all congregate on one or two tables and get really stuck into the hard liquor from midday!
It was an overwhelming day – lengthy and in many parts, confusing as we didn’t know what to expect as everything had been planned for us. In the end, I’m glad that so many of my family members, both from the maternal side and paternal side were able to be there to help us celebrate the first step of K and I’s future together. It meant a lot to my grandparents to have us there holding a wedding celebration – I think my grandmother fears that with my mother’s passing, my brother and I will lose our connection to that side of the family. Having this ceremony helped to alleviate some of her fears, and reassured her that we will always be there.
This ceremony in China was really the start of our wedding celebrations. The actual wedding day didn’t come until 22 November 2014…and you’ll hear about that soon!