You could hardly ask for a better day for a wedding: sunshine from a clear blue sky and mild temperatures. This weather, in December! Only the Wuhan mud smeared the picture. But then, if you're in the know about Wuhan mud, you understand that the street cleaners created it, early in the morning, spraying the dusty roads down so that people wouldn't be inhaling those particles. It hadn't rained in a while, and everything was covered in a drab, dirty coat. Seven years on, I can't get used to Wuhan mud. Or Wuhan dust.
But none of it tarnished this wedding.
Like the street cleaners, I was out early, to catch the first bus to Hong Hu (洪湖 ), Tristan's hometown. I've fallen into the Chinese habit of not pre-booking my ticket; for long-distance buses especially, that is not necessary. I would either luck into a relatively early departure, or have to wait a few hours.
As it turned out, the bus would be leaving within minutes of my buying passage. And, as though the fine weather were an omen of nothing but good to come, the coach was a newer, more comfortable model than I expected. Usually, buses that rumble into out of the way places tend to be small and raggedy, their maintenance questionable. For a change, I rode a long-distance bus that was not only comfortably appointed, but virtually empty! And, even though some commented on 'the foreigner', nobody approached me.
I pulled out my recorder and started making impressions of this trip.
Hong Hu is a small town, about three hours away. So off the beaten track is it that the only way to reach it using public transportation is by bus: no trains anywhere near there. I had been to a village on the outskirts of Hong Hu my first year here to attend the wedding one of my students' relatives.It was quite an affair, and my first traditional wedding in China.
Tristan had called me the day before to inform me that the actual wedding had been moved to 5 PM. I thought this would give me a breather in the morning; I wouldn't have to get up so early and catch the first bus. However, he said that there would be plenty of wedding related activities, and I should still come as soon as I could.
I was glad I did!
Upon arrival at the hotel where the event was set up, Tristan's mother fell upon me, thanked me profusely for deigning to grace her son's wedding – as though it were such a chore!, and took physical possession of me: pulling and pushing me in whatever direction she wanted us to go (how I hate that!). After making our way across the room where lunch was in full swing and every table in the vast hall was fully occupied, with her making introductions all the while, she finally plopped me down in a chair, at a table full of Tristan's old school chums.
I vaguely remembered some of the faces: Jeff, who is now married and a father; Sean, who I met in Shenzhen when Tristan lived there; and Johnathan. You might remember him from the first year I was here; he and his girlfriend came to my home for dinner and subsequently questioned everything I did, even going so far as to take a knife out of my hand so Marie could slice a potato (See How Rude entry, posted 2010). Catching up with them was an odd affair; after each question, one or the other of the men urged me to eat. I was at odds as to whether I should eat or answer questions!
I managed an eighth of a hard-boiled egg and a bit of lotus root soup before being tugged away again.
After posing for endless photographs with anyone in attendance that wanted to, Johnathan invited me to McDonalds' for a coffee. Apparently, he had drunk too much the night before and needed a pick-me-up. As there was a lull in wedding activity, I agreed to ride with him. As soon as we walked in the restaurant, I was swarmed by every teenager in the place, and they all shouted at me in English! I gave them my standard answer for occasions such as this: “I'm French, I don't speak a word of English. Do you speak French?” Of course, I said this in Chinese, and it helped that Johnathan had mostly forgotten his English and we were conversing in Mandarin to begin with.
Back to the hotel again, for games! Tristan was going to 'fetch his bride', a traditional activity. En masse, we all trooped up five flights of stairs, arrived at the bridal suite, pounded on the door, and were finally let in after Tristan slid a 'red envelope' under the door. And then, Linda couldn't find her shoe (it was cleverly hidden inside the drape tie-backs). Now properly shod, Linda agreed to marry Tristan. He then scooped her up and carried her downstairs.
An uncle had apparently become attached to me and matched me, step for step, all the way up and then down the stairs. Descending together, he remarked how surprising it was that I could even manage stairs, seeing as I am so fat!
And then, the parade through town. In the first Hong Hu wedding I attended, it was done on foot, with fire crackers heralding our approach. This time in was done in cars, with a videographer hanging out of the car window to capture the bridal car driving by. It took almost two hours to get every shot the artist wanted. Thank goodness for clement weather!
The videographer was a caricature of an artist, complete with beret that somehow stayed on his head, even as he hung halfway out of moving cars.
Back to the hotel, with ample time for Linda to reset the curls that had blown askew during the ride. Tristan and I had a private moment. He's been my protegé ever since he graduated from our school, in 2011. Over the phone and during visits, he's shared his life and his woes with me. I held him as he cried over the death of his father, shortly after graduation. He brought Linda to my home, as though I were an actual relative who must give approval of his beloved (of course, I approved!). Today, I am so happy to see him marry the woman he loves!
Now, for the big moment: the formal ceremony.
Tristan and Linda's wedding was the most lavish affair I've ever attended, and that's saying a lot: I've attended weddings in four different countries! Everything was perfectly choreographed, even my little speech before the lovebirds took center stage. Tristan, ramrod-straight, escorting a beaming Linda to the front of the room, where they would exchange rings and then kiss. The moving 'thank you' speeches, made to their mothers, and the promise that the newlyweds will not forget their obligation to them. Mothers crying. Tristan crying. Me, crying.
After the sumptuous meal, Johnathan and I loaded up. Long-distance buses had stopped running already and, as he also lives in Wuhan, Tristan had arranged for him to give me a lift back. We chatted lackadaisically. I was never as close to Johnathan as I am with Tristan.
Tristan and Linda's is most likely the last wedding I will attend in China, and certainly the last one I will be invited to speak at. Although this occasion was beautiful and pleasurable and moving, through it all sounded the sorrowful knell, ticking off my 'lasts' in China.