I’m a sucker for Chinese weddings — especially when they involve my fellow yangxifu. Which is why I couldn’t help but put together a little compendium of wedding stories about Western women and Chinese men tying the knot, from getting the little red marriage books to slipping into those little red qipaos. I’ve included snippets of stories from Tianjin Shannon, Tales from Hebei’s Kelly Sandor-Yang, Ember Swift, and My Beijing Survival Diary’s Michelle Guo.
“The Most Married,” that’s how Tianjin Shannon describes what just about every foreigner who marries a Chinese goes through — the fact that we often end up saying “I do” on more than one occasion. But for Shannon, that meant four separate times — two more than myself, but that’s only because I still count the civil ceremony. (Cue the jealous looks…;-)) Still, I’ll forgive her since she regaled us with the whole scoop on all three ceremonies.
Her first walk down the aisle happened in her husband’s hometown in Hunan Province:
As we stuck to tradition the the next part proved to be very fun – for me at least! Tony’s dad was waiting for us outside their apartment and as soon as we got there he lit a strain of firecrackers, the pops and cracks resounding off the surrounding buildings of the courtyard like a firing squad. Then, it was Tony’s job to carry me up the stairs to their apartment….on the 4th floor. Now, doesn’t that make you Americans carrying your brides over the threshold look like a bunch of wusses?!?! 🙂 He made it to the top and we were ushered in by cheers and hoots from his whole family as they congratulated him.
She and Tony later flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand for their second time around, where they concocted a “tradition” for a little fun:
Emilie hatches an idea. “Lets wake Haike up and throw him in the pool! We’ll tell him it’s an American tradition!” We all agree! Zhao Bin goes to find a sleepy Haike and as soon as he emerges he is hoisted up and carried to the pool – he didn’t fight it, just said, “No! No! No!” the whole way. Kristi reminds me…check his pockets! Get his phone! Close call. Haike goes in. I go in with no struggle…it’s my destiny.
Wedding number three took place in Tianjin, where they both previously lived in China…which included a few naughty games:
So, at the end of the night when we finally got to sit down we were joined by Haike’s good friends – those who had also joined us in Thailand. And since we didn’t allow them the tradition of “playing jokes” on us in Thailand, they insisted that they help us take our things home and that they stay for a while once we got there. So, that’s what we did! We trudged home and about 8 good friends stayed for another hour or so. It is tradition for the couple’s best friends to play games with the new couple after the reception. Sometimes they have to yell things out the window…sometimes the woman lays down on her back and the man does push-ups over her…I don’t know what else! Haike had to do 5 push-ups with me sitting on his back…and he did it! Strong husband! 😉
For their fourth time around, they planned a small reception in Shannon’s hometown in Iowa, USA, which included this touching moment:
In a very unexpected surprise my stepbrother, Taylor, and brother-in-law, Dave, provided the most touching and thoughtful gift of the evening. Right after the dance started they asked Haike to join them up by the DJ during a break in the music. Dave started out by handing Haike a gift and saying, “We know it’s not signed by D. Rose but it is signed by everyone in your new family and we just want you to know that we are here for you.” Taylor then added, “Shannon has always been like a real sister to me and I am so glad to have another brother.” Haike opened his gift – a basketball signed by every single one of my family members at the reception. We learned later that Taylor had even bought a Mandarin dictionary and had practiced saying his part in Chinese but got too nervous when it came time. For me, it was the most beautiful moment of the night and still makes my heart lurch with gratitude whenever I think about it.
For laughs, you can’t beat Kelly Sandor-Yang’s epic Wedding Follies in China — so many, she stretched them out into five generous posts.
From part 1, Kelly describes something many a Chinese bride experiences — the groom coming to fetch her:
It is Chinese custom for the bride to sit on a bed in her parents’ house to wait for her groom to come and get her. Her shoes are hidden somewhere in the room, and her friends join her inside to lock the door and try to prevent her husband from coming in. They make him do all sorts of things to prove his love for her. My husband pounded on the door, answered skill-testing questions, sang in both English and Chinese, and passed red envelopes of money under the door for them.
Check out the photos that accompany this piece, priceless!
In part 2, she shares how she and her husband shocked more than a few hotel guests:
The groom usually carries his bride to the waiting car and my husband was prepared to do the same. The hotel room, however, was on the 13thfloor, and our friends are apparently not very clever. He picked me (and my dress) up and carried me to the elevator, where we had to wait because no one had thought to push the call button ahead of time. After about a minute, my husband decided to set me down on a little side table near the elevators to wait. The elevator finally arrived, he hefted me up again, and we got in with several other people, including the videographer. On the way down, of course, we made several stops at other floors, the doors opening to some very surprised Chinese people.
Part 3 includes many hilarious outtakes, including how Kelly unwittingly created a new precedent for the bouquet toss (a tradition common in Western weddings):
We planned to have our kiss on stage and then exit up the staircase, tossing the bouquet from the top of the stairs. Since this is not a common tradition in China, I had to explain it to my single, female colleagues and encourage them to get up and try to catch the flowers when the time came. Thankfully, most of them were game and excitedly gathered below. Unfortunately, I didn’t toss the flowers hard enough away from me, so they fell straight down, where a random man from a table nearby reached out and caught them. He was pretty proud of himself!
In part 4, Kelly and her husband trekked out to Inner Mongolia to have another ceremony in his hometown. Well, the wedding company had no clue about what they wanted, and apparently, neither did the videographer:
At some point in the morning, a videographer showed up and started filming us. He filmed me getting made up and also spent some time in my parents’ hotel room with them and my brother (I think filming them wishing us well, but I’m not sure, since I haven’t seen that video). Finally, my hair and make up were done and I was ready to get dressed. My mother and my husband prepared to help tie me into my dress, but…
“Uh, camera guy? Yeah, I don’t know you that well. You are most definitely NOT staying in here and filming me while I change!!”
I don’t know exactly what my husband said, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t a direct translation. The guy even had the nerve to protest, but my husband put his foot down.
Part 5 includes the Wedding host from hell (who almost wore Crocs to the ceremony), an impromptu visa check by the police, and the wedding music Kelly never intended for them to play:
We had brought a flash drive containing the music we’d chosen for our first wedding and hoped to use it. However, we also knew that since time was short, it wouldn’t necessarily work out properly, since it was music the wedding company staff weren’t familiar with. Hence, I was totally unsurprised when the music for the ceremony began and I was treated to the lilting strains of…are you ready?…the theme music from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
As someone who landed in China, only to find that my inlaws and family had managed the majority of our wedding planning, I can totally relate to Beijing-based musical artist Ember Swift and what she wrote about wedding plans:
As the nights started to get cooler and autumn was closing in on me. I realized that the wedding was a month away and we had done nothing but organize my parents’ arrival and book a space for our Beijing event. I didn’t even have a dress!
Guo Jian, on the other hand, was completely at ease. “What are you worried about?” he asked me, irritated by my tight energy about it all. “My Mother has it under control. This is their wedding, not ours!”
Even in another language, the meaning of this sentence shocked me. It took me awhile to let it sink in. Shouldn’t I be indignant? It seemed we were having a wedding for his parents and his extended family, not to mention a series of demanding cultural expectations. While the marriage is about us, the wedding is about them, he explained. “Isn’t that the way it is in the West?” he asked innocently.
Ember also discovered that, when it came to the wedding plans, she turned out to be at least one dress short:
I got fitted for a qipao 旗袍 or Chinese silk gown about a month before the wedding. My mother-in-law and I chose a beautiful silk pattern of red with gold design, the typical wedding colours of a traditional Chinese wedding gown. Normally, I’m not a red and gold person, but I found myself enjoying the silky royalty of it all and really looking forward to wearing such a stunning piece of clothing. And it was truly beautiful.
Then I discovered that there is often a “costume change” that occurs for women (why not men?) between the initial part of the ceremony (a word I use loosely, as it’s more of a performance) and the part that proceeds the ceremony when the bride and groom visit each table to clink glasses and thank people for coming…. Here I had thought that all was settled and I was “good to go” with my wedding prep but no, now there was another dress that was expected of me? I sighed a big, audible sigh, I’m sure.
But what’s really inspiring is how Ember discovered how to meld her own cultural traditions into a very traditional part of a Chinese wedding — the morning where the groom and his entourage pick up the bride:
I’ve always loved the song “A Bicycle Built For Two.” It’s cute and romantic and I’d often thought it would be a perfect bridal vehicle for my environmental mind. I know China has two-seater bicycles available for rent and I asked my in-laws if they knew of a place that would rent them to us. Guo Jian and his cousins and friends then rode those bikes from his parent’s house to my parent’s hotel to pick us up.
I even implemented a different dress code for this portion and had everyone—men and women alike—wear black and white in the form of black pants and a white shirt, black jacket if desired. Some of his female cousins wore skirts, but everyone was told to be ready to ride a bike in whatever they chose to wear. This was when I was the most comfortable, as well. I put on my favourite black dress pants, a white button down shirt, short black boots and a fitted dress jacket. That was when I felt the sexiest all day.
Earlier this year, Michelle Chu became Michelle Guo after she tied the knot with Alex. But not everything went as planned — particularly when they went to the government offices to register their marriage in China and get their certificates:
What happened was, two days before the wedding, Alex and I headed to a local government office in the town where he is registered. However, as soon as I pulled out my passport, they said that they couldn’t register us if one of us had a passport. They were only able to do registrations between two Chinese citizens. The officers referred us to another nearby small city, but when Alex called them, they said they couldn’t do it there either, and referred him to the Zhengzhou office (the capital of Henan province). After calling the Zhengzhou office, Alex confirmed that we could indeed be registered for marriage there. At this point, we were not pleased that we had wasted half a day, and had to spend the next day making a trip out to Zhengzhou. *sigh* The things people do for love (and marriage).
The couple made it to the office in Zhengzhou, where they hit a snag in the registration process:
….After being nervous, my next “strong feeling” was anger. With 20 minutes left to go, one of the women told us that there was not enough time to complete our registration and we’d have to come back at 3pm. Keep in mind, this was the DAY BEFORE our wedding, and we still had a two hour drive back to Alex’s hometown, more wedding things to take care of, and then a pre-wedding celebration that night for all our family and friends.
Did Michelle and Alex make it to the ceremony on time? Find out when you read her full post.
Have I missed any posts on Chinese weddings you’d like me to feature? Let me know — I might just have to do a follow-up on this topic. 😉
How did you meet? Why do you love him/her (or Chinese men/Western women)? How two different people “complete each other” in unexpected ways? We’re looking for a few good stories from Chinese men and Western women in love to share on Fridays. Submit your original story or a published blog post today.