January 6, 2007 - Guyuan, China
The Trophy Wife
Ah, the New Year.
In America we busy ourselves with keeping to resolutions - for at least a week - and start thinking about taxes.
In China? It’s wedding season.
The last week has seen me to two and I’ve got another two lined up.
The first was a bit of a surprise, my first Chinese wedding. A friend from the local teachers college called me on Sunday and asked if I was free on Monday (yes, it’s Saturday now… I’m catching up) to attend a wedding. I had met the bride once at a small private school here in Guyuan where she is the principle. Being here to participate as much as possible in the community - read that as interested in everything - I agreed to reschedule my classes.
Ms. Wang seemed surprised when I asked for the afternoon off for a wedding. She asked where it was and how I was getting there. I naively replied that the wedding was in Guyuan and thought nothing of it.
She squinted at me.
The look of a mother bored across the desk. Was I trying to pull something over on her or was I just daft?
Unknowingly, I just smiled and thanked her.
We all met outside the teachers college, not far away a car idled - ready to whisk us away - good sign. Imagining a bit of a ride I quickly settled in - I couldn’t think of any nearby hall or meeting place that would serve well as a wedding hall. Still mulling over this the car pulled up to Wei Mao, a fairly large local restaurant trying to compete for the local top spot with one other banquet facility.
Lunch first, I asked?
My friend just smiled as she got out of the car.
And that’s when my Spidey Sense went off. It’s getting quite the workout here.
We walked into the restaurants’ largest banquet room - to find a few hundred people - and just like that, the conversation died. Silence.
Dead silence. And then…
From the depths of the jungle it came.
Its’ advance was preceded by the horrible rending and crashing of underbrush and trees, a sick creaking of distressed wood and the final pop as it gave way underfoot. A thick pungent smell enveloped the small clearing, invaded the nostrils and smothered the tongue - the musk of matted hair, thick-leathery skin and sharp, fresh tang of tree sap heralding the advance. The once lively chirping of birds and hooting of small monkeys had ceased. For what seemed ages the monstrosity of sound trundled closer - an agony of waiting - unprepared for what was to come.
At the far end of the sun-dappled opening of trees it appeared. All hundred necks craned and eyes scrabbled to get a closer look.
There! The white elephant!!!
My comfort level regarding being the sore thumb is also getting quite the workout.
And just as quickly applause broke out as we were ushered to our table at the front of the room, in front of the stage and surrounded by the wedding party.
Necks craned again to see the bride enter seconds after we sat down, and like a heat seeking missile, she brushed off family, friends and photographers to come and greet us. Her poor family getting upstaged by some foreign lout.
Skipping any semblance of a ceremony - the new couple took the stage - and rather unceremoniously, were attacked from all sides by a barrage of shaving cream and silly string. Quite the sight - bride in her new dress with hair quaffed to perfection, groom looking quite dapper in his tux - both with yellow and red silly string hanging off their noses.
The couple made a few gesture of greeting to the crowd, a wave to their parents and then called us up on stage. We were the opening act.
As much guilt as I feel for coming into Guyuan and being treated with ambassador status, skipping long lines, speaking as an honored guest and brought to fancy dinners - I do realize it’s a two-sided coin. I bring a certain amount of face to who ever might be showing me around - forget the bride - I’m the trophy wife.
The wedding soon got down to business. The business of eating lunch and was mercifully short at that, a mere two hours.
I was back at school a few plates of banquet food heavier and a couple glasses of baijiu lighter in time for afternoon classes.
Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?