We have officially attended our first Chinese wedding! On Tuesday we traveled back to Tianjin to attend Claudia (Ling Ling) and Wen Xi (Vincent)’s wedding. It was certainly a cultural experience from start to finish. We had expected a “traditional Chinese wedding” to include women in silk gowns, traditional music, and maybe a dragon dance or something…but we found ourselves in quite a different atmosphere. Upon arriving we immediately realized that we were over-dressed for the occasion. I had gone out and bought new shoes and a dress, but the majority of attendees were in very casual (we’re talking Nike dri fit) shirts. Although David opted to go without a coat in his long-sleeve shirt and tie ensemble, he was still more dressed up than the groom, who wore a short-sleeved pink collared shirt and tie. The bride, however, was shimmering in her bold jewelry and long, white, dress. We were sat at a table close to the front, and were offered candy and pumpkin seeds to munch on before the ceremony. There were also liters of soda and bottles of beer and wine at each table. We watched the frenzied bride and maid of honor as they made lots of last-minute preparations for the ceremony, and chatted in our meager Chinese with the bride’s family. Then, our friend Candy (maid of honor and sister of the bride) asked us if we had memorized our script for the cake cutting. “Huh?” we replied. Candy had sent us an email a few days prior with what she explained were wedding greetings for the event, however, we did not understand that we were supposed to memorize these lines to present in front of everyone before we cut the cake for the bride and groom. We had been informed about some type of cake-cutting that we would lead…but the details of the speech had eluded us. So, we furiously tried to memorize some Chinese blessings. I did a terrible job because my short-term memory is horrendous, especially when I can’t see the words in writing. David fared better, but we were still very worried.

At last the ceremony began, and boy what a ceremony it was. An emcee “hosted” the event with a microphone and a laugh track, while another Chinese girl was hired to tell the audience when to clap. Pop songs and “Amazing Grace” played in between the different aspects of the ceremony. Claudia was a music major and she sang a really beautiful song with Vincent…as they were surrounded by bubbles and rose petals. After the song, the emcee announced many prominent government officials and important people who were in attendance at the event, and the couple said their ‘I dos.’ Then Claudia lit a torch of a candle on fire, and Vincent poured champagne over a pyramid of glasses. At this point…the Americans were called up on stage. The emcee pretended our attendance was a “surprise” as Claudia and Vincent stood with their backs to us, and we recited a few English and Chinese blessings together. I’m pretty sure no one understood any of the Chinese, especially because they wanted us to say it in unison, but it was cute and we managed to get through the speech and cut the cake without any major catastrophes. (Ah yes, maybe one catastrophe was that I put on bronzer and looked like a florescent pumpkin…thanks, I know.)

After cake, we ate dinner…obviously. Dinner came as a huge assortment of plates, which came quickly and were stacked 5-levels tall on the table. It was difficult for David to find anything without meat, but most of the guests at our table didn’t seem to eat much either. We had some lively Chinglish conversations with Claudia’s friends from school, some of whom knew some English and were all very nice. Following tradition, Claudia and Vincent walked around to each table and had a drink, and the guests showered them with money in red envelopes. Alas, since it was a Tuesday, everyone went home around 9pm after dinner, and we headed out with the younger attendees to Claudia and Vincent’s new apartment. We said some more Chinese blessings together with the couple for the wedding video, and looked at their truly incredible pre-wedding photos. They went to Hainan in Southern China, and had photos on the beach, complete with a wedding gown and piano! Vincent had just recently purchased the apartment, which was spotless and very nice. There were dates, peanuts and apples scattered around the bed, which are a traditional Chinese symbol for good luck in the marriage.

Overall I think the two most beautiful parts of the wedding were Claudia in her gown and two subsequent out-fits and hair-dos, and a part of the ceremony when the parents were honored. In this tradition, the parents welcome their new son and daughter into their family, the ‘new child’ serves them tea, and calls the other partner’s parent “Mom and Dad” for the first time.