Around a year ago my friend and colleagues A. told me :” Marco, next year would you like to be the best-man at my wedding?”. “Yes, sure!”, if this makes happy my friend A. why should I deprive him of his happiness? Besides this is my first Chinese weddings.
Since that day my friend A. has constantly remind to me “Marco you are not marrying this year right?” and “Thank you Marco for join my wedding” each time we met, and he had two good reasons to do that. In fact it’s badluck for a groom to have a best-man who is already married himself. Furthermore a foreingface presence is very popular, expecially because during the weeding cameras are following the couple the whole time and many people will see the special guest wandering how we met.
Chinese wedding are quite long, usually they starts at 8:00-9:00 a.m. and they can least till 11:00 PM. In some ways I felt the proceed in”slow-motion”.
Becuase the house of my friend is in the North of Shanghai we met at his house the night before the wedding.
The night before the wedding is different from Western culture mostly because the there is no bachelor party, the couples are separated as for abroad, but mostly due to the fact they have to wake up early in the morning to welcome their best freinds who will support them for the whole day.
The date for the celebration it’s choose according to fengshui and the Chinese lunar calendar, bringing supposely good luck to the couple.
As a matter of fact the dates for the signature of the wedding contract and the wedding party itself are carried in two different dates (even months can separate the two). As in moder China the wedding has a relevant meaning socially as facade of the wealthy of family, by the other hand the signature of the wedding contract is not that important.
The night before the wedding we went for a simple dinner in a restaurant nearby and by drinking a beer in front of the tv. The day after I will understand why the night before we took it easy.
The Morning of the Wedding
We woke up around 7:30 a.m. to start the preparation and still I have no idea of what I’m supposed to do.
The house has been purchase and already restored few days aerlier. Around rooms are framed the pictures of my friend and his wife in their wedding clothes, many red paper-cutted symboles are sticked in the windows, and in the bedroom other objects functional for the wedding, etc.
Little by little four other friends join us. The conversation continues slowly talking about the new Iphone6 in Shanghainese. We are waiting for the parents of A. that are bringing with them some fruits to display on a little table in the livingroom.
The parents of the groom will spend the first part of the day in this house waiting for us and preparing a sweet soup of dates and other sweet-fruits.
10:00 am we leave the house and we reach a building called “Shanghai Wedding Center“, an amazing structure completely dedicated to the weddings.
In the Shanghai Wedding Center we come to be picked up by a driver of a Rolls-Royce car of the same color of my friend tuxedo, and another 3 black Audi cars will follow us. We wait for one hour and we go the house of the braid.
Starting from this moment all the wedding will be similar to a reality-show, and a camera-man will film us for the whole morning.
My reality-show alike experience as best-man begins. The camerament starts its shooting saying,: “please smile and be natural when A. enters in the car”.
The second shot films the groom dinstributing a lot of hongbao to us that we will use them during day.
Hongbaos are one of the main elements of the wedding, the groom is giving them around to bestman and friends, security guards, etc. and also he receives them from his guest at the night of the banquet.
Once arrived in front of the braid’s house the sicurity guards comes to greet us at the gate showing the plams of theirs hands to us, “Happy wedding! … Congratulation!…”. Their wishes are for receiving some hongbaos.
Money are another important element during the wedding, they simbolize wealthy and luck. During the whole morning A. will gave this hongbao (red bag) around several time. As best-man I received an hongbao myself too!
We step out from the car, filmed again when I open the door to A. getting out the car, our entrance to the building is documented.
To the Braid’s Parents House
The door is opened for us and we are welcomed by the braid family. I’m greeted by the older ones but the younger cusins and friends ignores me… nevermind, it’s now coming a moment I heard about for a long time and don’t want to miss it.
The groom has to find his way to enter into the bride bedroom to symbolizing his sincere intention to marry his wife.
Inside the room the braid is sourrounded by 4 girlfriends laughing and screaming jockes from the other side of the door. A. has a great sens of humor and plays along with them to fill all the games they prepared for him such as singing some songs, replying to some tricky questions and doing some pushups.
We leave the house after one hour and we wait the couple to come out after that we detonated a long line of heart-shaped firecrackers for good luck.
The cameras documents now us now in the bride-groom special vehicle this time going to pay a visit to the parents of the groom who are waiting for the couple in the new appartment that A. lately bought with the help of his family.
The Groom House
It’s practically mandatory for the groom’s family to buy a house before the marriage as a form of security for the family. This type of investment would required the couple decades to repay the full amount land by the banks.
Housing prices are really high in China, expecially if we consider that the average salary in towns as Shanghai in 2014 is 7,214 yuan ($1,162.9), an investiment that requires the whould family to be involved. As common in China nobody felts uncomfortable sharing with others the price of his appartment (a practice that I never asked no one but about which I’ve always been informed of).
We stop at the entrance of the couple future apparmentment and all our cars are waiting in line to enter in the house. The parents of the groom detonate more fireworks before the couple can happily access to the building.
I come out the car, a quick snapshot with the camera, another smile and the lens follow the couple inside the house.
There are no games waiting for us this time, insted the couple meets the groom’s parents and the rest of his family. A few greeting, more cigarettes between the men (I always fake it by holdining in the hand and none ever realizes) and we have few minutes of relax.
The livingroom of the house has been prepared with fruits and seeds symbolizing prosperity and with another sweet soup.
The cameramen comes, I take care of the glasses of sweet soup to be served to the groom parents and which I pass to A. In the background frames everywhere of the couple in their wedding clothes. The pictures are really nice and funny, and have been produced in a Korean studio.
The couple again follows them drinking their own soup in front of the cameras.
Time to go for lunch, at this time we are all starving because we didnt had the time for breakfast the morning.
Around 14:00 we go with all the cars to the restaurant. Another quick shot in front of the restaurant and A. holds in his arms the bride.
The lunch keeps going easily, the groom seat with me and another group of boys, the maid seats with her family, and the last table is for the groom family. I’m quite glad to know that neither alchool or specches are required this time.
The cars are now bringing us back to the wedding center for the afternoon activities.
Back to Shanghai Wedding Center
We have the whole second floor for us.
On one side there is a hotel-alike appartment with all the things necessary for the couple and the family to change theirs clotes (white tuxedo for A. and red Qipao for the braid), the other part is a huge hall in Qing dinasty style decoration.
It’s just 15:30 and t we start to take some test of the night wedding party. There is an announcer which is leading the family the whole steps.
At 16:30 we go to the upper flor and we reach a fake church room.
We take seats and the musical theme of the weddings starts as in the movies, and another announcer comments the couple. The groom is waiting in the room and braid enters accompanied by her father.
Here the cameras film the exchange of the two rings and pop theme song celebrates the union.
The Wedding Banquet
The final part of the celebration consist in the Wedding Banquet, which appears like a celebration of this union in front of all the community close to the couple.
Little by little all the guests are gathering to celebrate the wedding. The couple stands in the main entrance of the wedding hall to greet all the guests and to take a picture with them. Each time a person join the sposes for a picture delivers an hongbao to the couple.
In a Shanghai the correct amount for a hongbao when partecipating for a wedding is around 300-500 rmb. This is a common practice to support the spouse families who spent a considerable expense for the wedding. Each table alone cost around 6,000 rmb, I counted 14 of them. For Each table an expensive bottle of baijiu has been prepared (each bottle 1.000 rmb). Overall, for the location renting, car renting, clothing, hongbao to participants, etc. they might have spent around 140.000-180.000 RMB (22,000-28,000 USD) .
All my Shanghainese frieds experienced something similar.
The guests take their seats and the celebrations begins.
The groom takes the stage and the announcer introduced him to the guests. The bride maid and I we are hidden behind red lacquered gate, waiting for the signal to open the door from which will come the bride accompanied by her father.
Up on the stage the groom meet the maid’s father who give a benediction to the couple. This moment had been tried before during the afternoon tests, when the announcer explained to the bride’s father how to hug the couple. Common for the youngest generation, this plot is quite different from the one of the one older ones of the 60’s.
The celebration goes on until it’s the time for the toasts, a ritual known as Qingjiu, perhaps the most important because the spouses have the chance to thanks all their friends and family members.
The groom and the bride followed by the maid of honor and me browes each table toasting a glass of wine and offering cigarettes to all the male guests.
This procedure requires quick movements, the glasses of the spouses must always ready to toast and the cigarettes (branded as Xuanxi, ‘ Double Happines‘) are always ready.
In order to avoid unpleasent experiences for the couple, the bottle of wine that we hold in hand does not contain wine but black-grapes juice, which has been previouly prepared by another gourp of friends.
Little by little the celebrations ends, and its 22:00.
Weddings are always an occiasion for social gatherings and, regardless of the culture from which we come from, they are the mirrors of the wealth of the family and the recognization of couple’s union.
The fact that the Chinese are reinventing modern marriages it shows that the youngest generations are suspended in the between of the tradition and a reinvented modern pop-culture. Pompous celebrations are common nowaday worldwide. Lets just think for a minute to all those weddings helded by jumping with a parachute or immersed in a tank full of sharks.
What separates China from the West is the hermetic and emotionless structure of the ceremony itself. Despite the funny jokes and friendliness behind it, the choice to live the ceremony as a reality-show hides the real feelings of the couple.
But as a dear Chinese friend taught me years ago, “we too have our Chinese feelings, as you have your own“.
So the most important thing at the end of the day is: if this is what makes happy the new generations as my friend A. too, then this is exaclty what they should do, because surely they are happy and proud of their celebration. Congratulations.