grey marble

September 20, 2009

A Beijing wedding

I leave for Uzbekistan in under eight hours. I feel unprepared. This morning military aircraft flew over the hutongs in preparation for the October 1st celebrations, some trailing colors behind them. On the rooftops locals pointed and took photographs. One man with a red armband pointed behind me. Look, he said! There'll be more coming.

Last night I met with friends for dinner at a duck restaurant down the street. It was the newest incarnation of Da Dong. A kitchen stadium welcomes guests who can see the ducks being roasted by chefs over open flames. If you order the special duck you're able to walk up and choose your own duck. We shut down the restaurant.

I skipped the afterdinner char to come back and finish doing laundry. I debated whether to begin packing but decided I was too tired to try. I went to bed.

The night before I had attended my friend's wedding. The months of planning had come to a head.

The morning began slowly. I went and bought breakfast for the bride and groom. Hair and makeup arrived at the house and the bride began her preparations. The groom gave me envelopes of money with which to pay the vendors. I checked the list and familiarized myself with the delivery schedule.

The photograper arrived and we hung out in the calm before the storm. Around eleven thirty a van arrived and we packed last minute items into it to bring to the site of the wedding, a temple in a nearby hutong that was in the midst of a conversion to a hotel and event space. The wedding would be their second event after the first stage of renovation.

We arrived at the temple at noon to find the narrow alley leading up to the temple packed with delivery trucks and workers. The gates had not been opened and nothing could be unloaded. We quickly found the manager who unlocked the gates. Trucks began pulling in and unloading. They were told not to drive over the patches of grass even though we had been given permission and instead did worse dragging small carts over the land. Permission to pull the trucks forward was re-granted.

Deliveries began to come in earnest. Tables and chairs were being unloaded while flowers were stacked in the front courtyard. My cell phone rang; the drinks delivery had arrived. I distributed my envelopes of money, lightening my load. The caterer arrived as did the roast pig. The guzhen player arrived, the band, the wedding cake.

The wedding began to take shape. The registration table was assembled as well as the alter. Chairs were lined up in front of the alter. The alter was dressed. In the temple the dinner tables were prepared so that they could quickly take the place of the ceremony space while the guests were in the forward courtyard having cocktails.

Guests started to arrive. Ushers kept them in the forward courtyard as we undertook the finishing touches. Light refreshments were served. A red cloth was signed.

A woman played the guzhen as guests sat. I learned later she was working on an album that was to come out the next year. She was vivacious and spoke with wide eyes about her instrument and her plans for the future. One of the bride's cousins is the vice-dean of a music conservatory in Vietnam. He played the flute during the ceremony and the guzhen player expressed admiration at his command of the instrument.

Once the guests were seated, the guzhen player began a classic Chinese song; a favorite of the groom's father. The groom entered, eight men bearing symbolic gifts to the bride's family. They placed their gifts on the altar table and took their seats. The Family followed, first immediate family followed by aunts and uncles. The bride's father introduced his family; the groom's father his, then the groom requested permission to marry the bride. The bride's father accepted the request and the bride entered.

The parents lit candles, then the families burned incense to the ancestors, and then the bride's family decked her out in jewelry. Once prepared, she turned and exchanged rings with the groom. Chairs were prepared and a tea ceremony was performed with the family members assembled by the altar. They then began a processional into the front coutyard where drinks were served.

The wedding was beautiful, a mixture of Vietnamese and Chinese traditions. The bride wore an ao dai; the groom was dressed in a Mongolian-inspired jacket. After circulating through the crowd, the bride disappeared into the back to change. Guests mingled.

In the back, there was a crisis with her hair. She had wanted it down originally, but it didn't work and so she tried putting it up. Her sisters tried consulting, confusing the hairdresser. When I went in to check on her, the bride asked me to translate. I thought she looked great. They took some orchids out of an arrangement and put it in her hair. She looked fabulous.

The chairs from the ceremony had been cleared from the courtyards and dinner tables were in place. The groom's brother-in-law seated the guests. Appetizers were served. The bride finished her preparations, and then the couple were announced. They welcomed their guests and sat at their table amongst family. The parents were thrilled. The groom's mother thanked me for helping them prepare. The bride's brother presented a slideshow, set to music written by their parents and by Ennio Morricone. Dinner service began, a series of Thai dishes catered local Beijing restaurant. The band played, a mix of jazz and European tunes, on a bass, guitar, and accordion.

The couple left to toast each table, slowly making their way around the courtyard. The tables welcomed them, each in their own way. The bride and groom then sat to eat what they could before toasts began.

The fathers each welcomed the guests. The bride's father told of how he was already a Wong, having chosen that surname as the name under which he wrote music. He had brought a CD with him, and the bride's brother joked that they would be on sale in the back after the wedding. The groom's father ended his toast with a poem, which he delivered with great exuberance. I gave a toast, the groom's sister gave a toast. Toasts followed by colleagues and friends. The evening kept passing, too quickly.

The cake was brought out, and after a few words from the bride and groom, it was cut and served. The cake was delicious. Dinner had been delicious. The wine was delicious, my glass seemed never to empty.

The party moved inside one of the temples. It was a smaller party; the older guests having left after dinner. The first dance was announced. Then the floor was open. We danced until two in the cavernous space. One of the photographers produced cigars left over from the bachelor party. He offered me one and we walked to the back courtyard to celebrate as the Cure and Modern English played in the temple. I couldn't not dance. I had to dance. I went back in. Outside, it began to pour.

After the last guest had left, we collected what we could and packed up one last van to take us back to the house. It was three in the morning. The bride wanted a cheeseburger; the groom and I walked to MacDonald's and brought back sacks of food. We sat and ate and talked of how well the wedding had gone, of how wonderful it had all been. The after wedding brunch would be in a few hours, but until then the bride and groom could rest.

Posted by eku at September 20, 2009 11:53 PM

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