Sunday, May 6, 2012

City Wedding v. Country Wedding

Ken’s wedding now 6 hours past, and with me not in attendance gives me time to tell you the difference between weddings that happen in the city versus those in the country. I have attended a wedding in the country over Winter Break but that whole episode left a bad taste in my mouth (not from the food) so, as I recall, I promised to tell you about it in the Village People entry (dated February of this year) but never did. Now is the time.

Country weddings are tinged by whatever ethnic minority culture that occupies it. There are 56 minority cultures in China, most of them centered in the country. Each culture has its own traditions and rites.

I described a typical city wedding in the George is Getting Married entry, posted December 2010. City weddings tend to be more universal, the theme being: look how much money we have. Indeed, in order to have a successful wedding the most expensive cars are rented, the most lavish accommodations are reserved and the most costly food is served.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

In a country wedding the bride is called for by the groom and paraded through town. Traditionally wedding gowns were red, and a square of red cloth covered the bride’s head and hid her face, but even in the country they have now adopted the western ‘white wedding’ type gown. Usually the gowns are rented, so the country bride has to be very careful to not get mud on it while walking down dirt lanes. The procession includes a marching band playing traditional music, and dancing girls. At the end of the line come the groomsmen who play out long rolls of popping firecrackers, dragging the streams along until they are depleted.   

City weddings also make use of the gown rental system but there is less of a worry about getting it dirty because the bride is not paraded around on foot. She and the groom go directly from the apartment to the rented cars and head off to the banquet hall. In the city the cars take the most circuitous route, but drive all the way to the dining facility. It is rather comical to watch a fleet of black cars, decorated with flowers and, somewhere in the procession a videographer is hanging out the window or sunroof, filming everything. In the country they drive directly to the village but stop short of it. Everyone in the wedding party gets out of the cars and walks to the groom’s home, playing games.

City weddings also incorporate games, as described in the ‘George is Getting Married’ post. In the country the games are a bit more ethnic. The wedding I attended, the elder male relatives, with painted faces and their hair done up with flowers, at times try to capture the bride to deliver her to the wedding home. The intent is to disrupt the procession and hurry the wedding along, before the bride has time to change her mind. The groomsmen and attendants try to stop them by shoving them out of the way, blocking their path and even removing their shoes and socks. The marching band and dancing girls have resumed their oddly discordant musical renditions, and will continue to play and dance all the way to the groom’s home.   

Country weddings do not make use of a banquet hall or restaurant. People have houses in the country, so usually weddings are held there. I should specify that weddings are held at the groom’s house. Invariably, the banquet is held outdoors. Nevertheless here too lavishness seems to be key: the caterer serves dish after dish. The meals are the sit down variety by necessity. It is difficult to eat a traditional Chinese meal standing up so there must be enough room for the whole wedding party. Sometimes the entire town is invited, so the banquet tables are set up on the main throughfare.

In the country as in the city, the bride and groom do not eat with their guests. They spend their time serving the guests and circulating. Another commonality is the gifts offered to the new couple: money. That offering is made in a red envelope. A typical sum is 200Yuan per envelope. In the city the mothers of the bride and groom count the money behind the scenes while the glitzy celebration goes on in the forefront. In the country, the groom’s mother and father ceremoniously count the money in front of all the guests. The new couple stands to the side, looking on.

In the city, once the meal is over, the city wedding is also over. The new couple stands at the door of the restaurant, wishing everyone a safe ride home and proffering cigarettes and candy. In the country there is music. Karaoke and traditional music play long into the night. Sometimes a country wedding celebration can last for days. Strangely enough, music does not factor in to a city wedding.  

In the country the bride is allowed to change her clothes for the dining and festivities portion of the celebration. In the city the bride wears her gown all through the celebration.

Can you imagine her discomfort? 

One of the biggest differences between weddings in China and in America, besides the lack of reverence and religion, is that in America the bride and groom are served first and are the focal point of the event. In China the exact opposite is true: the bride and groom serve everyone and in fact, never even become the focus of the wedding. The parents, the family, guests, games, accoutrements and attendants are more important.

One very amusing game played in a country wedding is when the bride tries to gain access to the bridal suite. Those rooms are occupied by the younger male relatives of the groom and they will not open the door until the proper amount of money is handed over. There must be a red envelope for everyone in the room. The bride has to guess how many are in the room and hand the envelopes through a crack in the door. If she guesses wrong she has to keep trying until she ‘pays’ all of her new, young male relatives to gain access to her rooms. Once she has gained access she is allowed to change her clothes. Of course, the young male relatives leave before she does, and she is attended to by the female relatives of the groom. 

The particular wedding I attended, it did not seem the bride enjoyed herself very much. When the male relatives attempted to ‘kidnap’ her she slid off their backs and took off running by herself. She ran in the right direction – toward her future husband’s home. I asked my friend Dash why the bride ran off. She told me it was because she was from a different ethnic group, whose wedding traditions were a bit more sedate. It was cold outside and the poor bride, dressed only in so much froth and lace, was getting tired of messing around. Can’t say as I blame her.

A few other details: in both country and city weddings, photography takes place months before the actual ceremony. I touched on that last year April, in an entry called Sunny + 70 = Frolic. I’d like to get a little deeper into it, if I may.

In America, wedding photography tends to involve elaborate posing with various members of the wedding party and family, taken during and after the ceremony. Candid shots are taken during the reception.

In China wedding photography is done months up to 6 months in advance. Only the couple are photographed, and not in wedding finery. Photographers interview their customers to decide on a  theme, and then they – the couple and the photographers, select an array of costumes ranging from the bizarre – a zoot suit, complete with spats for him and a flapper dress for her – to the artistic. Sam and Penny’s wedding had a nautical theme. I witnessed a bride wearing a traditional Korean costume being photographed atop a wall. Various props are used: toy guns, guitars, plastic flowers, fans and the like. The couple strikes curious poses, giving the appearance of fun. Sometimes the bride is photographed by herself, but not the groom.  

Hair and makeup are done in the studio before the whole entourage hits the streets for their photography session. By entourage I mean photographer and assistants (at least 3), makeup and hair artists (for touch ups), and the bride and groom. Wedding photography is a day-long affair. 

According to Sam, a wedding is quite an accomplishment. He and Penny let me watch their wedding video (actually shot on the day of the wedding). Neither one looked particularly enthused throughout the whole shindig. Sam said it was because it was such an exhausting day, about midway through it all he wanted to do was go to sleep. Of course, he is glad he is married but wished the whole event could have been a little lower key.

But, when in China, and when the theme is showing off and lavishness…  

Here’s wishing Ken and Della a happy union and a long life together, even if you and I weren’t there to celebrate with them.   


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