We were privileged to be invited to the wedding of NuoBei and Zhihao today.
NuoBei was one of the students who studied in the University of Cumbria and who spent Christmas with us back in 2015. We have remained friends and kept in touch via social media (what a powerful tool that is).
We travelled to her home town of Changshu, which is 20 minutes out of Shanghai by high speed train, to Suzhou and then 40 minutes by car. We met up with Cathy & Rofoam also students on the Cumbria exchange who have been shepherding us through the day, translating and generally explaining what was going on.
Witnessing a special occasion such as a wedding in another culture is a rare treat and we have felt particularly honored to be invited.
The day began with a ceremony at the home of the bride followed by one at the groom’s house for close family only. We met up with everyone for the light lunch in a restaurant
Well, when I say light lunch…
Here is some of what we were treated to:
Ice grass on the left was particularly delicious but I gave the ducks tongues on the right a miss (!)
This is fried fish in the foreground and a shrimp & egg dish at the back. Balancing on the other plates (it really got piled high) was some rather gorgeous Chinese bread, slightly sweet and steamed.
I was not at all keen on the scary fish especially those razor sharp teeth!
These two however were ‘safe’ to eat, a sort of savory egg dish with mushrooms and behind that Chinese yams and spring rolls.
Chicken soup (I didn’t get a picture of the pumpkin soup) but both of those were lovely. And this was only some… there was also chicken feet, pickled young bamboo shoots, mushrooms, large prawns in shells, pak choi and sheep’s stomach. It was a real treat to be able to sample so many delicacies. (Well perhaps not all)
Kevin and Cathy having a go at the crabs which are a specialty of the region and in season at the moment.
Every table had beer, strong spirit like a sort of schnapps but with a different taste and coconut water in the centre and one of the rituals was for the bride and groom to visit each table in turn for a toast.
The hotel had a soothing display on the main stage which changed scenes frequently. And kept any small children occupied.
NuoBei wore a dress of traditional red at this stage for luck (she had 5 changes during the whole day)
And her hair was decorated with golden ornaments in quite an elaborate style
With a traditional gold dragon necklace purchased in Hong Kong.
We ate for 2 hours (taking care to pace ourselves) then the couple departed for some formal photographs. In the west we see a wedding as a chance to dress up but here only the close family dress in formal clothes. Everyone else was quite casual.
Back to our hotel for a rest and then on to the formal dinner in the evening.
And oh boy! What a spectacle that was. A no expense spared event. We speculated whether this was a by product of the single child policy: Only one wedding to fund for both families so they make the most of the occasion.
This one was in an industrial sized hotel that clearly caters for huge weddings.
I would estimate 400-500 guests (of which we were the only non-Chinese). We were treated to screens showing the couple in a fashion show of bridal wear
There was no religious aspect. A MC kept things rolling along (+ he played the sax) and there was a script that the whole event followed. Things began with the bride walking in on the arm of her father and they both sang (this is optional apparently). At the end of the walkway both parents hugged her and placed her veil over her head ready to send her off to her new life. This was a very tender moving moment.
The groom then appeared and clutching a bouquet of red roses he sang beautifully to his love. Then going down on one knee he handed her the flowers. There weren’t many dry eyes in the room at that point as he had a strong clear singing voice.
There were promises, speeches, video shows of their journey together to date. Then they welcomed the parents to the stage and they made speeches too.
And another feast began, this time with lobster, pigeon, big crab, beef, pork, fish, dumplings and on and on it came…
Interestingly the dessert was watermelon and tomatoes. Not a usual combination but I learned later that this was served because of the auspicious red colours.
More toasting of the happy couple (in another outfit) at which point we said our much rehearsed piece in Chinese which wished them a hundred years of happy marriage. We gave a gift that I had stitched and framed ( it was hard knowing what to give! Money didn’t seem right as we weren’t Chinese. Quite a dilemma)
Most people gave red packets of money like this
A careful record was made of who has given how much. Apparently if the couple are invited to another wedding they give the same amount in return!
Then the games began. We scanned QR codes, shook our phones rapidly and winners collected prizes. Teddies and soft toys were thrown randomly into the crowd and before we knew it the whole thing was over (8.30pm). There was no DJ and no dancing, although it would have been good to have worked off a few of the calories we had consumed! This was a big difference to a UK wedding.
Another HUGH difference was the smoking. I have noticed that in general Chinese people smoke a lot more than back at home or even in Thailand. People smoke more on the streets and even in restaurants and we are not used to that anymore. It feels like stepping back 20 years to eat in a smoke filled fug. You don’t realize how much we appreciate clear air.
It is however, the custom at weddings to provide cigarettes for each table!!!
And they did in shockingly large quantities!!!
We arrived back at our hotel clutching a gift from the bride’s parents (everyone got one)
We were exhausted but feel culturally enriched. What a fantastic opportunity this was to experience such a special occasion in the lives of these two young people.
Thank you NuoBei and Zhihao