Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wedding Preparations

Since we had the house and knew we would get the funds in time for the wedding, Mr. Liu and I again went our separate ways to make preparations. He worked it out with the construction company building the house that at a certain point in the construction process, his own company would come in to make custom modifications for our family. He also went to the city to apply for permits to finish half of the third story into a bedroom, bath, and small sitting area for Liu Yuni and me. There was a tatami alcove in behind the bathroom that could be used for reading, or later when we had kids, the kids could sleep there. The front half of the third floor was the roof garden and laundry area. On the second floor, Ma and Pa Liu had the master bedroom in the front half of the house, while there were two smaller bedrooms and a half bath in the back half for the girls to share. The living room/dining room took up the front half of the first floor; there was another full bath under the stairs, and Liu Yuntian had the first floor bedroom off the kitchen in the back of the house. The house was on a gated dead-end street with only three other houses. It was quiet, and there were a number of rice paddies in the neighborhood, so for the first year or so, it was also cool. (Then, everything around us got built up, too.)

My preparations presented a much greater headache. I had to find a way to get Defense Department approval of the wedding so I could legally register as Liu Yuni’s wife, obtain my permanent resident “blue book”, and renew my passport. I spoke with General Manager, and he suggested we try to pull strings through the wives of several high-ranking officials who were members of the church. At one point, I had tutored the wife of one of Taiwan’s ambassadors in Spanish. The ambassador was a high-ranking general, and his wife also had many connections in the Defense Department. I went to a luncheon one Sunday at noon with several women like the ambassador’s wife and explained my predicament to them. None of them was successful in getting us permission. But a seed was sown. Eventually, one of my co-workers had a daughter who was dating the son of the highest-ranking Army general at the time. The daughter knew Liu Yuni from church and wanted to help us. She persuaded the son to speak to his father on our behalf. In the end, we obtained a kind of verbal permission. IF we were able to have a regular court wedding, and IF Liu Yuni was able to get leave from his commander, THEN the Defense Department would not give us any trouble when we registered the marriage. This really wasn’t any permission at all, but what that high-ranking commander did not know was that on the day in basic training, when the Army took all the new recruits’ ID cards and stamped them “active military”, Liu Yuni was not there. The night before, a huge fire had broken out in the kitchen of the neighboring unit and all personnel with construction experience on the base had been roused in the wee hours of the morning to get it repaired. Since Liu Yuni’s first-place records in bricklaying competitions and his construction licenses were recorded with the government, the Army had full knowledge of them. He had been named crew leader of the kitchen-repair team. He worked night and day for three weeks without returning to his basic training unit. He only finished the repair two days before he was shipped off to his regular duty post. Since he missed the processing day, his ID card still showed him as a full-time student.

I got his ID card on a visit to his permanent base where we both spoke with his unit commander. The commander was slated to take a promotion exam in the spring and needed to learn some English. The commander said that if we fed the entire unit when he brought them to the wedding feast and if I would teach him and three friends English once a week for the first three months of our marriage, he would give Liu Yuni whatever leave he needed. So one of the “if’s” was taken care of. When I got back to Taipei, I went to the Municipal Court to register for a court wedding. December 25th is “Constitution Day” in Taiwan, and it is a national holiday. The court holds mass weddings in all of its courtrooms all day long on December 25. Usually about twenty-five couples get married at a time in each courtroom, with a new group coming in every hour on the hour. I thought that would be the best time for us because my parents could be there, AND no one would ask questions about Liu Yuni’s military hair cut. The lady at the court asked me why the groom had not come along to do the paperwork. I told her that he was working outside of Taipei. She asked about his classes. I said that he only had one English class left to go, and it did not meet during the day. He only came to Taipei when he needed to. (None of this was a lie, but neither was it the entire truth. I had managed to pick up some arts of Chinese pragmatic dissembling.) The lady said that he was lucky to be getting such a pretty and capable bride, and gave me all the forms to fill out. When I had filled them out in Chinese, she was even more impressed and gave me the letter that would get us into our court wedding time-slot. “If” number two was taken care of.

My next step was to meet with the father of a friend from church who had a bakery that specialized in “Western-style” cakes. We were having an open church wedding—as many people from church as wanted could come to the service, but we were only inviting about 40 or 50 of our church friends to the wedding feast prepared by the Lius in Chung-li. I ordered snacks and individual cakes for 350. My friend’s father added extras to bring it up to enough for 500 as a wedding gift. I got people to man the guest book and gift table. Other friends offered to help with the snack table and the flowers. I found a friend to video tape the wedding for me, and another one to take pictures. I also found a Mandarin-English interpreter for my relatives and a Mandarin-Hakka interpreter for Liu Yuni’s relatives. I worked with my hair dresser to design a hair-style and had her find me a make-up artist because Mrs. Liu insisted that all brides had to wear at least some make-up. The only thing left to find was a dress or two or three because Chinese brides are supposed to change several times during the ceremony.

According to Chinese tradition, all of this, including the dresses should have been handled by the family of the groom. The bride’s family does the engagement party, and the groom’s does the wedding. But Mr. Liu did not know anything about church weddings, and they did not have the money to put up for fancy dresses or cakes or anything. They could barely cover most of the down-payment on the house, the customizing of the home (also a big part of Chinese wedding preparations), the bed for our suite (but I bought my own desk, armoire, and sitting room chairs), and the big traditional wedding feast in the street outside their home under a striped awning-like tent. I was used to thinking that the wedding was the work of the bride, so I wasn’t bothered by this. I liked being able to plan things my own way.

In the middle of November, I went back to the US for two weeks to pack up my things and ship them to Taiwan. I also got the money from my grandfathers to pay the balance of the down-payment on the house and to cover some of my expenses for the wedding. My mom bought me a lovely red silk dress (the Chinese lucky wedding color) and a maroon and red coat to wear for the outside part of the party. That counted as two of my dress changes. I wanted to have a formal Chinese chi-pao made, and my dad gave me money for that. As soon as I got back to Taiwan, I went to the tailor around the corner from the hair dressers, purchased red-and-gold flowered brocade, and ordered my dress.

When my worldly possessions arrived, General Manager had to pay a huge bribe to get them through customs in time. That was his wedding gift to me. My friends from work gave me a small refrigerator for my sitting room and a hot plate so I could make tea on the third floor. Other friends from church gave me a rice cooker, an electric sandwich maker, a toaster, a waffle iron, lamps, and all kinds of household items. My family gave me a washer and dryer. When the Lius came to cart my stuff the day before the wedding, it filled the bed of their pick-up truck. I had not realized it, but apparently this was a good thing because there is a Chinese idiom about a bride coming to the family “with an ox-cart full of bridal gifts.” The Lius gained much face among their family because they had not had to pay out the bride price money to my family instead they had been able to use it to purchase their own home, and I still came with a truckload of bride gifts. My relatives and friends were just showing their love and support for me, and they unwittingly bought me much goodwill among the elders on both sides of Liu Yuni’s extended family. This goodwill enabled me to make a number of huge mistakes in my first few years of marriage while I was getting used to living in a very traditional family.


murat11 said...

Fascinating as always, Teresa. What is especially interesting to me is how obstacles were always providentially surmounted. Wonderful details on eveything; I loved hearing about the house itself.

Teresa said...

Yes, you could even say that the obstacles were miraculously surmounted. It was pretty amazing sometimes.

Barrie said...

This is very fascinating. (I think my family would've liked if it the groom's family had been responsible for me. :) )

Teresa said...

Hi Barrie,

It is very different. I am gently trying to break the news to my husband that he may have to foot the bill for THREE weddings if our daughters don't go Chinese. He is not very receptive to the idea yet...

murat11 said...

Sista T: Ain't no gentle way to break that one, cher...

Sepiru Chris said...

Hello Teresa,

I love reading these slices of your life. They are utterly engaging. I'm trying to get caught up to the last installment that I had read prior to my break, but wanted to leave a quick note before I delve into the "older posts" section.

You really ought to come and visit, even if it is only en route to Taiwan. You can be sure that we will popping in the next time we come to CA, although that might well be a while away, yet.


Teresa said...

Dear Chris,

I'm so glad you're back and doing all right. I was getting worried there for awhile after reading how many biopsies that you had.

I probably won't be heading towards Asia until next summer, but if there is a way, I'll definitely go through Hong Kong. Right now I'm working on getting to the other end of the Silk Road in Italy (although I think Venice would be more apropos than Rome for that, but what can I say? I have to go where the class that I need is offered).

Have fun on your upcoming travels.


Cloudia said...

oooo, let's hear about those interesting missteps ;-)

Teresa said...

Cloudia, You just want to hear all the dirt, girl. I'll get to it. Have to describe three wedding ceremonies and a chaperoned honeymoon first.