When I first came to china we met some very unique and fascinating people, forming relationships that would last many years. I've the MBA to thank for this. CEIBS is not only a jam-packed cranium (and an expensive phone book) but a chance to understand globally distant people in very accelerated and revealing situations.
Earlier this year I was asked by one of the first people I shook hands with upon arriving in 2009 to 'help the groom' at his upcoming wedding. He's from Hong Kong and his wife is Shanghainese. Helping the groom is tantamount to the western Best Man except there can be more than one, there's no speech and the role is essentially to help him through the happiest, and probably most arduous day of his personal life.
The Chinese wedding day begins at 7h45am when the Groom is allowed to return to the home he recently purchased. He's been living there alone for the past few weeks. For the last couple of nights, though, his parents banished him whilst they have turned it into a matrimonial home (read: redecorating everything flowery pink).
After a light breakfast of meat dumplings and deep fried dough sticks, proceedings get underway by heading over to the bride's house. On route, male friends & family are collected in order to make a mob large enough to handle the upcoming test of determination.
Arrival is signified by firecrackers and boiling oil poured (in the form of shaking heads and wagging fingers) from the bride's apartment upstairs. She's holed up with every female member of the family, who are quite explicit in their reluctance to let the day progress. As a troupe we must first negotiate with the entry gate, then the stairwell, then the front door of the apartment. Fistfuls of red envelopes, answers to awkward questions and pleas for safe passage are required in order to beat the gatekeepers and progress to the next level.
With the eldest female amongst the brood distracted by a couple of red notes, it's time for the end of level boss. The Bride. She's in the bedroom, demanding for the groom to bawl a godawful rendition of her favorite Li Yuchun (read: Justin Bieber) song. He does, and an hour after we arrive, the door has been breached and he can try and slip a ring on the bride's finger before she notices.
To celebrate the transaction we're all treated to a sweet soup of fruits and nuts. Tea is poured, babies cry and after many pleasantries we're back downstairs for more firecrackers and to convoy 8 vehicles (significant) back across town to the groom's place.
His parents have changed out of their pyjamas and are now ready to host the cavalcade. Tea is poured, cake is cut and photographs in the pinkness shot in their hundreds. The wedding video team, appropriately dressed in jungle camouflage and chain smoking cigarettes, demands for re-takes to get just the right amount of light to catch that one loving glance amongst the nine of bewilderment.
Then we're off to take more photographs at wedding shot hotspots on Fenyang Road. It's mid afternoon. Half of the groom's backup team have retired to the hotel. I've turned to soup inside my suit and whilst the bride adjusts her hair, we sneak over to Lawsons for a cheeky beer. "I need a holiday" the groom admits.
Then we're back in the cars and over to the wedding reception venue on People's Square for dress rehearsals. Walking down the aisle, ferociously kowtowing and roving spotlights are all practiced before the doors are open and 25 tables of guests flood in. A table at the entrance is on-hand to receive red envelopes which are publicly opened and the amounts written in a huge leger. It's customary for the whole wedding and more to be covered by the total cash gifts.
Some of the guests seemingly wandered in off the streets, or forgot to change out of their short and t-shirts. That guy in camouflage who was holding the camera is actually a relative who has forgone a lapel carnation in favour of an extra cigarette behind both ears. He's still in a vest.
The ceremony itself is relatively short. Bows, vows and applause are followed by four or more courses of fancy wedding cuisine. Some appropriately high-grade cycling down the aisle, singing, violin playing and party games bring the formalities to an end and. As the bride and groom go from table to table for alcohol laden cheers, guest filter out full of the joys of marriage.
Fortunately the happy couple managed to swap out the wine in their glasses for grape juice, though before they can retire to their hotel room, must first be greeted by their friends, who, jumping around on the bed like baboons, seem determined to give them no peace. By this stage I was a broken man and slipped off home to contemplate on whether this or last year's Spanish wedding in Oviedo would go down as the world's longest.