Oct 3, 2011

My Best Friend's Wedding: Ceremony and After Party

Continuing on...

Around 5:30 the bride and groom were ready to meet and greet the guests as they arrive. Michael and Li Er Su stood facing the elevators and waited for their guests. As guests arrived, they handed Michael a "hong bao" (red envelope) filled with money. Michael then gave this to his groomsman and then the guests and the bride and groom took pictures.

The tradition of the hong bao was something that was a thorn in my side for awhile. Basically, Chinese people do not give wedding gifts. There is no registry, gift table, etc. You give a red envelope filled with money - the closer of friends you are, the more money you give. And it's a lot. If I were to have given a hong bao, it would have had to have at least 200$ in it.

The idea is not that it is a gift, but that it is like putting money in the bank. When you get married, you get that money back, so it is given equally from both parties. In my case, as a foreigner, Michael told me not to give him a hong bao because it would be awkward. The thought is that because he will probably not attend my wedding, that he will never "re-pay" the hong bao and this is bad juju.

After much turmoil, (gift giving is SO not my love language, I suck at gifts so gifts in a different culture is stressful for me), I decided on a french press coffee machine. I even went to the bank the morning of the wedding and stared at my bank balance. Currently at about $300 to last me through the month of October. I wondered if I could do it- give a hong bao and survive the month. But realized that giving a hong bao was not just not my culture, but also I couldn't afford it. :(

Me and the happy couple during the photo session:

As guests arrived and were seated at round tables, I made my way around the room talking with people from the hospital that I casually know either from orphan work or English class. It felt like a big reunion.

Then at the lucky time of 18:18pm, the wedding ceremony began. Weddings in Chi.na are worlds apart from weddings in America. The bride wore white for a small part of the ceremony, and they said "Wo Yuanyi" (I do), but other than that, everything was different.

Take a look at the bride's entrance:

Weddings in China are a business deal between families. There isn't the sweet love factor that is felt at weddings in the West (don't hate me for generalizing). This wedding was about money, show-ey-ness, and showing off. There was loud music, lights, games, (no dancing), and lots of food and alcohol and smoking by the males.

The "ceremony" itself lasted about 5 minutes. Then we ate and there were some games on the stage. Michael's parents made their way around the room toasting every table and then Michael and Er Su also made their way around. Traditionally, guests can leave after they have toasted the couple. By the time Michael made his way to our table in the back (me and some nurses hid out in the back, rather than at the table we were assigned to), he was tipsy and hilarious.

There were a few snaffews, including a period of time where the bride and groom got mad at each other and left the room for a few minutes, but in the end I think Michael was happy with the party.

I asked May why Michael was going so overboard with the festivities (boat, food, venue, etc) and she answered, "he wants 'mian zi'." Mian Zi is the Chin.ese idea of "face." So many interesting cultural ideas were at play for me to watch and absorb.

But outside of being a cultural observer (and being so thankful to NOT be a Chin.ese person,) I was so happy to be with my besties. Two of my other close Chi.nese friends, May and Judy, had never met. They both know Michael, so we all abandoned our tables to sit together. It made me happy to have two of my dear friends meet. They are all such wonderful, amazing people and are so special to me. To be in a room with many of my fave Ch.inese people from over the years was so special.

(May, Me, Michael, Judy)...

My and Wei's baby (a former student), Me and Wendy, a table of doctor students, and Me and Dr. Li, one of the best pediatric heart surgeons in Asia, (Michael's boss and my friend).

The guests trickled out after they finished eating, but the best friends stayed and continued toasting and hanging out.

We then made our way out into the rain to KTV. Michael had rented two VIP rooms - one for his friends and one for her friends. And there we stayed and drank and ate and danced until 3am.

Before the party I had resigned myself to two things: I would be one of the last to leave, and I would not bow out of the drinking early. There are many things I have to think of before these kind of events - what to wear, phrases to know how to say, etc. and one cultural thing I knew was that as a bff, I had to drink a lot and had to outlast other mediocre friends.

And it was so fun.

I made a lot of interesting acquaintances during those 6 hours of drinking at KTV. At one point I was nestled between a gay immigration officer who was telling me stories of Americans he knows in Chin.ese jail, and the Target exporter guy who was telling me he would give me any dog related products if only I go to dinner with him.

I pranced around the couches and joined in with singing Chin.ese songs when I knew them. It was so fun to just hang with my friends and not have to be the "foreigner." Michael and his bride went back and forth between the two rooms, but mostly the bride just attended to her drunk bridesmaids. Parties in Chi.na quickly turn into drunk-fests, (such a drinking culture). and I am so glad I don't have weak-drinking Asian genes. This American tanker was the most composed of all the guests! Even after drinking my weight in green tea and whisky. The sad thing is that this kind of drinking is expected. I knew if I didn't drink, that Michael would not be happy.

I saved all the guys' business cards so if I ever need an immigration officer or dog beds, I know who to call! haha.

The night ended with me and Michael crying and hugging in the corner, "I can't believe you are married," I told him. "Me either! I love the single life!" he replied.

His own dreams for his life aside, he's a married man now. And according to Chin.ese tradition, they must become preggers in the next year.

I had many emotions about the wedding, the day itself, and now in hindsight. I don't even know how to tell the stories. There's so many levels.

I am incredibly happy for my friend. I am sad for my friend. I mostly just want the best for my friend. I want blessings and joy and peace in his life.

And I'm thankful to be along for the ride.

That's what (best) friends are for.

walk slow. xoxo.


JGrine said...

that video. was awesome.

JGrine said...

and the wedding was kitsch

Mom said...

This is unbelievable! So outside the "Box" of what we know! I so wish I could have been there! I'm going to play the video on my screen at school so I can really see their faces. The music was hillarious! Josh Groben!!! I love it!

Anonymous said...

What a princess bridal gown. Wowza. Sounds like you had a good, old-fashioned (maybe not) wedding blow out. Good, you needed to get wasted. -- ellie