Monday, December 11, 2006
"I Was Married By A Judge. I Should Have Asked For A Jury."
- Groucho Marx

But seriously, folks. Have you heard the one about the Irish Setter that walks into a gynecologist's office? He says Doc, I think there's something wrong with my... Okay, I'm getting off-color and off-topic at the same time. Getting back on track with my story, I went to a Chinese wedding this weekend. Correction: I went to a Chinese wedding party this weekend. Since the wedding is in a small town like Laiwu, it's usually a small affair with a limited audience. The party, however, is another story altogether.

About a month or so ago, a woman came into our office with large red envelopes. I had never seen her before, but she definitely worked for Laiwu Steel - she was wearing the standard uniform and my colleagues seemed well-acquainted with her. She was inviting the entire danwei to celebrate her wedding. Considering how many people that includes, I figured these must be very generous people. They even invited me, which was especially nice since neither she nor her fiancee had ever met me before. Who am I to complain? I'm a guest of honor around here. Yet another perk I will lose upon my return to Beijing...

Anyway, the time flew by and on Friday one of my co-workers called to remind me that she would meet me at my hotel to walk over to the reception. She arrived that morning around 11:30, and we proceeded to walk over to a restaurant about two and a half blocks away. Upon entering the restaurant's ground floor, we were greeted by two fuwuyuan, the bride and groom, and their parents. The bride was dressed in a red traditional Chinese pants-suit since the wedding had already taken place the day before. At the hotel I live in, I've seen many post-wedding celebrations taking place at the hotel restaurant. Though the bridal shop in Laiwu has many red dresses, all the brides I have seen thus far have been wearing white. But red is still the color of luck, hence the red suit.

The fuwuyuan directed us up the spiral staircase and at the top of the stairs we were pointed toward several private rooms with open doors and tables with festive decorations. I recognized several managers from my building and went in to say hello. We were exchanging pleasantries when a colleague, Zheng Yanr, told me that we would be in a room a couple doors over. I went in with her and sat down. Zheng Yanr and I had been the first to arrive. On the table in front of us lay plates of cookies, crackers, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, candies, cigarettes, and Chinese appetizers of sorts.

As the guests began to file in, I realized that all the guests in this room were women. And it turns out they were all women I knew from work. Duan Jia, from the office next door, commented that at least there would be no heavy smoking and drinking. Everyone nodded in agreement as did I. All those evenings of going out to dinner, drinking more baijiu than anyone ever should, and inhaling more secondhand smoke than oxygen were all instances in which the majority of my dinner companions was male. I knew an all-female meal would be more relaxing and probably better for my overall health and well-being too.

It was a very pleasant lunch and everyone enjoyed the delicacies that were served. Fine quality meats and additives can be expensive, so the women relished the opportunity to have a meal of such high caliber. They use a lot of pork, so a good number of dishes were off limits to me but, even in spite of this, I had quite a feast to pick from. About an hour into the meal, the bride and groom came into to toast with us. They poured special wine into our glasses. Even if someone's glass was already full, room had to be made for the wine from the bride and groom. Apparently, it has something to do with wishing luck to the newly married couple. About five minutes later, the groom's parents entered and did the same. Then they handed each of us a small red gift bag with the character for happiness inscribed in gold. Inside were cigarettes and candy - what a gift bag. Not exactly politically correct enough for the States, but at least they get right down to business.

But the best part: the women got to take all the food home when we were done. After weddings and celebrations of all kinds, I've seen people take home flower arrangements or decorative ornaments, but the food? Maybe it's like my friend Gang Gang says, "the Jews and the Chinese are like first cousins." After seeing them wrap up every single ounce of food and place them into giant plastic bags to take with them, I have to say - if I didn't believe that was true before, I do now.
posted by Rachel @ 3:00 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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