Friday, January 30, 2009

A Country Wedding

Lynne, Teresa and friends with bride and groom in the front yard of Biying's home











Family members and friends with bride and groom in front of Biying's home






What seemed like a lifetime’s worth of adventures in Hong Kong and China had only taken ten days, and we still had two weeks before the end of winter break. So we attended a church training with materials in English and Chinese. We were again encouraged by how much we could understand, and we were even able to pick out a few errors in the translation from English into Chinese. The training lasted a week; everyone who was attending the bilingual sessions moved into a church meeting center in downtown Taipei. Fortunately, Lynne and I were more accustomed to crowded living conditions because the students were crammed six to a bedroom with people sleeping on the living room floors of the apartments, as well. Showers were scheduled at 3 minute intervals during all break times, and if you missed your minutes, you had to wait for the next day. By that time, we had found a laundromat, so we skipped doing laundry for a week and did several huge loads of washing at the end. It was more than worth the expense.

One of our housemates had to return to her home in a remote rural district of southern Taiwan for her brother’s wedding, and she decided to take as many of us as wanted to go. In the end, five of our housemates went along for the fun. We had to arrive a few days early because our friend needed to help prepare for the wedding. We took the train from Taipei to the southern city of Tainan. Then we transferred to a provincial bus from Tainan to the town of Madou. Madou was very small to our eyes, but it was a veritable metropolis compared to our final destination. In Madou, we changed from the comparatively modern, provincial bus to the shaky rattletrap that passed for local public transportation. The roads got narrower and bumpier, and we finally got off in the middle of rice paddies and fields. We lugged our suitcases and walked along a gravel track for another twenty minutes before arriving in a village of fewer than twenty houses. This was our housemate Biying’s hometown.

There was a Tudigong temple, a country general store, and houses among the rice paddies. The people across the street from Biying’s home owned a pig farm. It was noisy and smelly, but their house was very modern. Biying’s family lived in a Japanese-style wooden home. When you walked in the door, you stood in the sunken living room that was paved with concrete. There were regular chairs in this room. Steps went up to a waist-high level walkway around the living room, which was covered with tatami mats, and each wall off this corridor was a sliding door to a bedroom. There were no beds. Everyone grabbed a quilt and a pillow at night and rolled up in a spot on the tatami floor. There was a very strict rule of no shoes on the tatamis. The kitchen and bathroom were at the back of the house on another lower level paved with concrete. There were rows of flip-flops at the stairs off the tatamis to the back because all the street shoes were lined up near the stairs off the tatamis to the front. For the two nights before the wedding, we all slept in what was soon to be the bridal chamber. Lynne and I didn’t know how to help with most of the chores, but we were able to sweep the yard and hang up some decorative banners. Biying and the other girls did a lot of work getting ready. Our last act on the morning of the wedding was to pack up all our clothes and move across the street to the neighbors with the pig farm. We spent our last night there because the bride and groom had taken over the former guest room.

As far as we could tell, there was not much ceremony to the wedding. The groom and his best man drove off in a decorated limo to pick up the bride. As the bridal limo entered the village, one of Biying’s other brothers set off a big roll of fire crackers. The groom brought the bride into his home and formally introduced her to his parents. They burned incense to his ancestors together, and he took her into the bridal chamber to change clothes. Then all the guests ate a 15 course feast at tables under a tent in the yard. The bride and groom came out and toasted the guests at each table. Each time the bride appeared she was wearing a different dress. After people finished eating, they took pictures with the bride and groom. When everyone was done with the feast, the bride and groom stood at the gate with candy for the women and children and cigarettes for the men. At each stage of the wedding, someone lit off another roll of firecrackers. The bride and groom disappeared into their bridal chamber, and we began to help clean up the leftover food with all the women of the village. There were tons of leftovers, so each woman took home several plastic bags full of food.

Early the next morning the new bride was out before 6 am sweeping up all the paper from the firecrackers that littered the road in front of her new home. I asked if they were going to go on a honeymoon, but no one seemed to understand that concept. The bride was expected to show how hard-working she was. First thing in the morning, she had to bring tea and breakfast to her new in-laws. Biying said that on the third day, her brother would take his new wife back to her mother’s house for a formal visit. Three months into the marriage, they would take their “wedding trip” to Southeast Asia if the bride wasn’t pregnant.

When we were staying in the village, I got a taste of what Lynne went through all the time, even in Taipei. No one in the village had seen a foreigner except on TV. People came up and poked me, pawed my hair, and touched my skin as I was walking down the street. Lynne was much taller than I, so as long as she was standing up, people couldn’t reach her afro. I was short enough that everyone could touch my hair. They kept saying I was a porcelain doll. Unfortunately, I have more nerve endings than a porcelain doll.

Aside from being objects (in the most literal sense of the word) of general interest, we had a wonderful time in the country. Southern Taiwan is in the Torrid Zone, and it was much warmer than in Taipei. The air was clean, and it was very quiet, especially at night. We had been kept awake in Taipei by the noise, and now we couldn’t sleep in the country because it was too quiet.

8 comments:

Joannalynne said...

I'm giving a speech about chinese weddings this week for class. They are so different from western ceremonies.

Teresa said...

They really are different, especially all the negotiations and steps prior to the weddings like bride prices and trousseaus and new houses or just a room. The wedding starts long before the day the bride is brought home. Are you going to talk about all of that?

Linda McLaughlin said...

Very interesting. I think the honeymoon is a European custom.

Teresa said...

I think you're right, Linda, but my time in Taiwan was really my first contact with non-European customs. I still thought everyone in the world went on honeymoons as a matter of course.

murat11 said...

I know your memoir is headed there, but I was curious if you were up at 6 with a broom, the morning after your wedding. Something tells me you'd long since proven yourself.

Teresa said...

Hi Murat:

No, I was not up at 6 sweeping the street in front of the house because we were dropping my parents off at the airport for their flight back to the US and leaving for our honeymoon trip around the island with my cousins in tow. It's amazing we managed to produce three kids...

Teresa

murat11 said...

I might have preferred the sweeping to all the bustle...

Teresa said...

You don't know the half of it. We spent half our wedding night chasing my parents' suitcases in the trunk of Liu Yuni's uncle's car; he didn't go directly home after the wedding, and he had driven my parents down from Taipei. In the excitement of the wedding feast, no one remembered my parents' suitcases with their plane tickets and passports...