Wedding in Beijing
In 1996, I went to Beijing to teach English as a Foreign Language. While I was there I met a wonderfully handsome man who was widowed and I was quite attracted to him. He was taller than I am, and I am tall for a woman, and he had a beautiful face. He also noticed me, because he asked his housekeeper who I was. He did not speak English at all and I did not speak Chinese, but it did not seem to matter. Before long we were introduced and that July we were married. Our wedding was a wonderfully traditional Chinese wedding.
My dress was red silk with a long skirt, and my female students came to my home that morning and styled my hair all stacked up high and secured with Chinese combs with red tassels. I felt beautiful, especially when the whole neighborhood, which in Beijing is like a village, since the apartment buildings are inside an enclosed area, along with shops, vegetable stands, restaurants and other venders. Next the whole neighborhood arrived at my door with a decorated chair on poles. This is the modern version of the sedan chair. My groom arrived with a group of friends and I was escorted to the chair. They lifted me up and we began the wedding journey.
There were dancers with balloons and beautiful fans, and we stopped every so often and they danced, gracefully swaying in unison and waving their fans, artfully opening them and then closing them with a sharp snap. Their dance was at once very sensuous and yet very stylized at the same time. People gathered from the markets and everywhere to watch them and to peer at the bride. They carried me around the village three times, and then we stopped at a small, decorated arbor with red ribbons everywhere. There was a man in a wide furry hat and long flowing light green robes waiting. I was told by one of my friends that he was a teacher from the only officially recognized church in China, my husband’s thoughtful gesture to my culture. The man, himself, was from the same cultural group as my husband’s Mongolian ancestors. I could picture him and my husband riding swift black horses across the steppes with long hair and bright robes flying. He spoke the vows in Chinese and my translator repeated them in English and translated my replies. They bound our hands in ribbons and we shared two glasses of wine by entwining our arms and sipping, and then doing it in the other direction. I was expecting to break the stem glasses so that nobody would ever break the bonds they represented. However, they were whisked away instead to be made into a house decoration I would find later.
After this ceremony, I was once again hoisted to the chair and my husband was placed in one which matched and we were paraded a short distance to the wedding support at a nearby restaurant. The family and friends had rented a huge portion of the restaurant and the feast was magnificent. The Beijing Duck was especially excellent. It is roasted on a spit for more than twelve hours and constantly basted. It is sliced very thin and served with tiny julienned green onions, sauce and rice paper rounds. One places the meat in the round with some onions and a bit of sauce, then rolls it up to eat it. It is really a uniquely wonderful dish. We also had some goof blush wine and wonderful fruit and flower tea which was freshened from teapots which the servers used by standing 6-8 feet away and tipping so a jet of water shot out straight into our cups. They are amazingly accurate.
After the first couple of courses, the wedding gifts were presented and unwrapped. Many were bits of money wrapped in red paper. However, we got some very nice dishes and a tea set also. Some lovely towels and a fuzzy blanket. There were lovely paper cutouts for the windows and Peking opera masks with tassels, plus some beautifully decorative good luck symbols carved from wood, painted and festooned with tassels. My friends said we were not given totally traditional gifts for fertility due to our advanced ages, but instead were presented with those for happiness. Then a western style cake was brought out, which we ceremoniously cut, and then the waitresses cut the portions for the guests and served.
When we became tired, our friends and family paraded us once more back to the apartment, where we were left alone for about an hour until someone rang the phone over and over until Yang answered it. They asked him how things were going. This is a joke on the newlyweds. About twenty minutes later, his sister arrived, ringing the doorbell to bring us breakfast. I think Yang told her it was too early, but she had an answer to that also and began bustling around the kitchen. We sat up in the kitchen and shared a late night early breakfast.
Once we were alone again we went back to bed, but Yang only wanted to cuddle. I figured out why after another half hour and there was another knock on the door. This time it was a group of the men of the family with drinks. They had already consumed quite a little bit, and they said they came to share. So we politely shared with them. They left and we went back to bed, but were only there about ten minutes before Yang’s two sons were back with his daughter to clean up. It was nearing daylight when she finished so Yang turned on the TV for the early news. I understood by this time that we were not to be left alone this night. Sure enough, the housekeeper arrived and began fixing breakfast, which we did not need, but ate politely.
We were scheduled to leave for our “Honeymoon” at 9, so I prepared and packed. We were only going to be gone a few days, so a small bag was enough. We did not leave the day before because it was too late in the day for the train by the time the celebrations were finished. Most mainland Chinese do not even take a honeymoon, since both the people generally work and do not usually get time off, unless it is one of the long Chinese holidays. We went to Dalian for our honeymoon. It is a city on the coast, about a ten-hour train trip from Beijing. We had nice seats in an air-conditioned car, so we stretched out and slept part of the way. Relatives met us when we arrived, and carried us to a series of bungalows, escorting us to one which someone had vacated for us. It was all decorated in red flowers and crepe paper hangings with red cutouts on the windows. I was shown to the shower, which was quite good by Chinese standards, since most do not have much pressure. When I finished, I was presented with new clothes, a lovely silk skirt and top in gold and red. It was evident that somebody had given them my sizes, as it fit perfectly. I expect it was custom sewn by one of the ladies, since I am larger than the standard Chinese sizes, being 5 foot eight. When Yang was ready we were whisked away to a huge supper at a nearby restaurant and I was treated to some traditional Chinese dancing. By the time we got to bed we were both too exhausted to do anything but sleep.
The next two days we were up almost at dawn for a day filled with tours of many nearby sites: beaches and gardens and lovely old buildings. Some of these were obviously religious in origin and some were ruins. Many of these had tourist information in English, but all had lovely pictures, so I collected all I could. My friends or students in Beijing would translate them for me later on. Most of the relatives spoke a little English, and everyone who did took time to chat with me. It was mostly the same conversation over and over, but I enjoyed it all the same. I felt quite accepted, and I got the feeling that they quite approved of me, though marriages with foreigners are often frowned upon. I was almost glad to get on the train again after two days of constant sightseeing and celebration. We slept most of the way back to Beijing.
Yang never learned English and I never learned Chinese. I think we are both simply not talented with languages. However, more than a few people have commented that talking is not always the key to harmony.