Saturday, August 15, 2009

Church Wedding

My bridesmaids and I listening to speeches and/or praying.

Yuni and the groomsmen singing

My family and the English interpreter (the microphone has a transmitter, and all English speakers could hear the translation on FM radios)

the Liu family and Hakka interpreter

My dad's speech

My mom's speech

Pa Liu's speech

Some of my American friends

Some of our Chinese friends

The guardians of the cake tables

The day before our church wedding and the big wedding feast, my dad’s cousin Brian and his daughter Jill arrived to help us celebrate. I was so happy to have more of my own relatives there. Fortunately for me, the church had had an international training that went up until a week before my wedding. A number of my friends had come for the training and decided to stay for my wedding. In the end, instead of just one bridesmaid like the Chinese usually had, I had four: one of my friends who had gone to the same high school with me, one of my friends from my college years, and two friends from Taiwan. Liu Yuni got four of his best friends to sit with him as groomsmen. My American friends had not planned on being in a wedding party, so my bridesmaids wore the training uniform—a navy skirt, white blouse, and zipper sweatshirt. In keeping with Chinese customs, we didn’t walk in as a procession. The bridesmaids sat in four chairs to my right and the groomsmen sat in four chairs to Yuni’s left. We were on a single row across in front of the speaker’s platform in the main church hall with a large flower arrangement on the podium behind us. Our guests were seated in chairs arranged in a U-shape facing us. My relatives sat in the front row directly across from me, and Liu Yuni’s family had the entire section directly across from him. My relatives and friends had radio access to the interpreter. Liu Yuni’s mother, grandmother and eldest aunt were close enough to hear the Hakka interpreter, but I don’t think that everyone in his family who needed interpretation could hear the interpreter. I had not realized how many of them would be at the church when I made all my plans.

During the month before my wedding I had made up a little booklet for our wedding with the hymns, a few Bible verses, and the story of how we met and what we hoped our future would be like. It was in English on one page and Chinese on the facing page. My friends at the publishing company had helped me, and it looked very nice. Everyone who attended the wedding received a copy.

The morning of the wedding I went to the hair dressers to get my hair and make-up done. The make-up artist was quite excited to do her first “Western-doll” bride. But she failed to take my skin coloring into consideration. Most Chinese brides want to appear as white as possible on their wedding day. They usually wear eight layers of pancake make-up. I lay back in the chair for the make-up. The make-up artist kept applying layer after layer of whitish foundation. My skin is naturally very white. I have a hard time even getting a tan; usually I burn red like a tomato. By the third layer of pancake make-up I was beginning to look like the bride of Dracula. I kept trying to tell the make-up artist that I thought I had more than enough make-up on my face. She got upset and insisted on doing all eight layers of foundation. Finally, the hairdresser and owner of the shop told the make-up lady that she needed to consider my natural skin color. It wouldn’t do for me to be so pale I looked like a corpse because that would be considered unlucky. The make-up artist reluctantly stopped with the foundation and began painting on the eyeliner and lipstick. The eye make-up was tastefully done; the lipstick was bright, bright red. So in the end, I looked like a vampire with blood on my lips. Fortunately, the make-up was so on so thick, I did not need any more for the rest of the day. After the make-up artist left, the hairdresser did my hair.

After I was all dressed and ready, I did the unthinkable for a Chinese bride. I went to the church hall and made sure that everything was in place and going smoothly for my wedding. I checked the guest sign-in sheet and gift tables, the photography and videographers, the cake tables, and the chair arrangements. All my friends were laughing at me because Chinese brides are supposed to wait around demurely while everyone else takes care of things. But I was too excited to sit still.

Finally, the Liu family arrived. They came in two buses and as many cars as they could borrow. Most of the cars and seats on the buses were empty because these were the vehicles that would be transporting my family and our friends from Taipei down to Chung-li for the wedding feast that night.

The wedding went off quite nicely. We sang some hymns, some of the elders spoke on the Bible verses, and then our friends and acquaintances stood up and shared their support for our marital union. Some of my friends assured Liu Yuni’s family that I would be a good wife and daughter-in-law. Some of Liu Yuni’s friends attested to his good character to assure me and my family that he would be a good husband. General Manager took it upon himself to give his blessing as our matchmaker. In the Chinese culture this means that if we had problems in the first few years of marriage, the matchmaker would also come in to help negotiate a solution in the disagreements, especially if the two families were unsuccessful at resolving the issues by themselves. It also meant that he was giving up his former stance of opposing our marriage. Liu Yuni’s father spoke and gave his blessing to our marriage. Both of my parents spoke. I don’t remember much of what anyone said. I was in this sort of trance throughout much of the wedding. When there was no one else who wanted to say anything, we sang a few more hymns, and then all our church friends came up to have their pictures taken with us. They came singly, they came in groups, they came with their children, their friends, their mothers. We stood there with the flowers on the podium as the background and smiled until our faces froze.

In the meantime, Liu Yuni’s relatives polished off most of the cakes for 500. Some of them had never had western-style cakes before, and they really enjoyed them. I was somewhat mortified because the relatives would all be attending the dinner feast, and I had planned the cakes for our friends who had not been invited to the dinner. What I did not realize at the time was that each of the Liu relatives had given large gifts of money to Pa Liu and Liu Yuni, enough to pay for the wedding feast and our honeymoon with some to spare. Therefore, the Liu clan felt entitled to the lion’s share of the cakes and things. They assumed that the cakes had been bought with their gift money. Most of the people from church felt the same way because that is the way Chinese weddings work. Many people from church had just come to see who I was marrying. They had not given us any gifts or any money, so they did not feel comfortable eating the cakes.
And so my education in the practicalities of traditional Chinese families began; I knew the theories from my text books and from Teacher Chin, but I was embarking on a lifetime of learning how those theories work in real life.


murat11 said...

Again, one of the things that stands out is how everything fits together, and how different people attest to their responsibilities to you and Liu Yuni - the General Manager, for example. These kinds of things are done here too, of course, but - and I may be reading too much into all this - in Taiwan, all these things seem to be taken seriously. Here, we often go through the forms, but often enough, they don't seem to carry the same weight (or conscious) intention.

Great pictures. Do "guardians" of the cakes = "primary consumers" of the cakes?

Teresa said...

Hi Murat, I have seen the matchmaker used in attempting to resolve differences between the families in marital disputes, both in the Liu clan and among my friends. It is quite interesting. When I first got married, I did not understand why it was such a big deal, other than the fact that General Manager was giving us his blessing. But our Chinese friends and relatives were very adamant that we needed to have a matchmaker, so I was glad that he was willing. We didn't have major fights or anything, but I have seen couples have fights and the wife would move out for awhile. First the families would negotiate, and if they couldn't save the marriage, then the matchmaker would step in. In one instance, after several unsuccessful attempts to save the marriage, the matchmaker negotiated the divorce settlement before they went to the lawyer to get the paperwork drawn up.

"The guardians of the cakes" were told that I had planned to have all the long tables of cakes for my friends from church. They were supposed to keep kids and people going to the banquet in Chung-li from eating them all. I had five guardians, and yet, they did not keep the Liu clan from scarfing down almost everything. I was mad at them for quite awhile afterwards. It took me several years and many weddings to understand the monetary implications that had made my Chinese friends unwilling to eat the cakes and had given my relatives-in-law a sense that the cakes were mainly for them.

Travis Erwin said...

What a great archive you are creating of the event and the blending of cultures.

Teresa said...

Hi Travis,

Thanks for stopping by. Glad you like my "archive". I'm having fun sorting through the pictures and going over the memories. It's also nice to share with my family, friends, and e-neighbors.

murat11 said...

That was another interesting part of the story: that (now understandable) sense of entitlement, which also fits into an overall sense of responsibility, particularly in reference to those who had not, from their perspective, "contributed."

Teresa said...

Yes, my teacher always said that Chinese people have an abacus going in their heads all the time and keep extended mental accounts of what they owe and what they are owed. It is one thing to acknowledge the fact and another, entirely, to live with it.

Cloudia said...

I'm so delighted to attend your unique wedding!
Thanks for being my dear pal.
Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Hey Ms. Cloudia,

Thanks again for your gracious attendance and your gift of stopping by. Do come back for the Traditional Wedding Feast, tonight, okay?