Monday, August 21, 2006

Shanghai Express

It's been a while but tomorrow I may actually be able to write about some physics. For now you will have to put up with a minor rant plus the descriptions of a wedding, Shanghai style.


If it wasn't for the fact that I currently look like Donald Duck (due to a rather amorous mosquito last night), it would be clear that I'm fuming, well, about as much as I ever actually fume.

Having spent considerable time, effort and cost trying to get my computer fixed back in England, things were finally looking up. It was returned from the manufacturers with a new motherboard and hardrive and some of my old data was replaced on it from the old, faulty hardrive. My parents then packaged it up and parcelforced it off to me so that I didn't have to spend too long swinging from system to system to get any work done.

Sunday it arrived and I rushed to open it. At first sight all seemed fine, the 'Received in damaged condition' stickers only seeming like an aesthetic edition, until, on closer inspection it turned out to have been dropped at some point in its journey. The chassis is warped, the DVD writer snapped and the keyboard wonkey. It works, to an extent, I can actually do some, though not a great deal of work on it, though of course transferring all my files onto it which are currently on rewritable DVDs (unreadable by the computers around here) holding all my data isn't possible.

Anyway, the insurance division at Parcelforce says that this may take 60 days to clear up which is not impressive so tomorrow I have to go and fork out for an external DVD drive just to be able to function in the mean time. Fume.

OK, fuming over, I had a lovely if rushed weekend down in Shanghai. This time, unlike Wuhan I did at least spend more time there than travelling and got to experience my first Chinese wedding. This is an interesting insight into some of the differences between Chinese and Western culture which made for a fascinating, sometimes bemusing, but always enjoyable day.

There is an official legal ceremony though this is a completely private affair where the bride and groom go to an office on their own to sign a document. This is usually done on a date far removed from the actual wedding and is rather casual from what I understand. As one of my colleagues said, they just go in, sign the documents and then cycle home again.

The day itself however is a big do and is all about family, friends, food and drink.

I arrived an hour before things kicked off at my friend's (the bride's) house where I was immediately given a feast to replenish me after the flight. With everyone walking around organising, every time they walked past me they would urge me on with 'chi, chi' (eat, eat) and so I did, until I could eat no more, having made my way through less than half what had been provided.

So, the first part of the day begins with the groom turning up at the bride's family's house, coming into the house and knocking on the bedroom door where the bride is residing. This act has been explained to me in retrospect and it seems that the girl then asks for money, at which point the groom puts an envelope under the door. If she is satisfied with this she opens the door and goes in where they whisper sweet nothings to each other.

Incidentally at every single moment of the day a photographer and cameraman are capturing every possible angle of the events.

Having been accepted by the bride, the bride and groom then give cups of tea to the parents and, sitting down, the groom feeds the bride with a sweet bean soup.

Not only is all of this accompanied by cameramen but at short intervals firecrackers and bangers are let off in the street to tell everyone that there's a wedding in progress (possibly, as is the case at New Year, also to dispell the evil spirits).

We then leave the bride's house and head to the new flat where the married couple will soon move to. A rather nice apartment with a room for mum and dad. At this point the groom's parents also turn up and the photographs and tea giving are reperformed with them.

An entire album worth of photos are taken in the flat, including in the bedroom, where everyone but the camercrew seemed to be steering clear of so I don't know quite what was going on in there.

Onto the park where there's an artificial beach with Shanghaiers playing and catching some of the very powerful sun which was roasting the groom in his rather fine suit. We spent an hour or so here, finding shady locations and romantic spots to get just the right angle for more photos. The Chinese really go in for well planned, framed and setup photos and there's a lot more deliberate posing (not in a derogatory sense) than one would normally see in the West.

From the beach and park we headed to the hotel where the evening's entertainments were planned in perfect, military coordination. At this point we had a couple of hours to rest up, so I went and found a cafe serving a decent coffee to perk myself up after just a few hours sleep the previous night.

One of the main differences between a Western and Chinese wedding is the sanctity of the bedroom. Most of the time spent resting, people mingled and played around in the marriage suite where the groom got some rest on the bed while the bride had her makeup retouched by the makeup artist who followed us around throughout the day.

One thing that I was rather disappointed by was a strange ritual which I was told about some time in the middle of the afternoon by one of the groom's friends. It seems that often at the end of a Chinese wedding when most of the guests have left, the couple and a rabble of drunk friends all go up to the bedroom where they dare the couple to perform acts in front of them. It was never quite explained to me exactly what this entailed but it was always mentioned with a slightly sheepish giggle which left me wandering. Sadly at the end of the night there were not enough people either willing or standing to make this worthwhile so I never did find out what this was all about. Before it was discovered that this particular event wouldn't be happening, I heard people making phonecalls to organise the most evil dares possible. I'm left intrigued, if a little disturbed.

So, anyway, the reception started and people arrived for the main event, everyone being photographed with the bride and groom under the floral arch. Though it looks like I'm exceedingly underdressed for a wedding, I'd been told to go casual and indeed most of the other guests were similarly atired. Only the bride and groom and their maid and best man were seriously dressed-up.

It seems from speaking to others that one of the purposes of the bride's maid (of which there's only one) is to help the bride with the drinking, as she goes round every table toasting each one in turn, if she begins to falter the maid takes over. The bride and groom getting drunk at a Chinese wedding, it seems, is all par for the course.

Before, during and after the meal were speeches and ceremonies of varying intricacy, involving, at various points, knives, fire, rings, alcohol, swords, bubbles and confetti. Nothing, as far as I could tell was lacking.

This is a flaming sword entwined with roses that was used to light a candle on each table.

The dinner itself was marvelous with an array of delicacies from lobster to pidgeon to tripe. All good stuff in my books. Finally, with everyone sated there were some final photos before the farewells.

Though it was a long day in all, the whole thing was officially over by a little past eight and by eight thirty just about everyone had left, so I did the same, heading back to my hotel nearby to ponder this strang but delightful day.

Everyone was extremely hospitable to me, as I've always found when it comes to friends in china, though there were some things that I'm still left bemused by in terms of the day's activities. Perhaps if I'm lucky enough to go to another Chinese wedding some of these things will become a little clearer but as it was it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.


Anonymous said...

I really shouldn't laugh that your laptop is still broken but why do these things only happen to you biscuit?

Unknown said...

Yeah, thought that might make you chuckle. Understandable, not sure why these things happen to me but it's all good experience for making me a patient and better person, either that or bringing on an early breakdown.



Benjamin said...

I don't much like weddings but that was enjoyable to read. Sorry to hear about the PC x

Unknown said...

Hi Ben,

Yeah, it was a fun if frequently bemusing day. Some interesting insights into cultural differences which you wouldn't normally get.

The PC will eventually be sorted even if it does take the full two months that Parcelforce are claiming.

All the best,


Shelley said...

My sister got married in China last summer, and the wedding you describe was very similar to hers, except even more traditional. My sister (and the whole wedding party, me included) wore the traditional chinese garb which involved a crazy metal dragon hat for her and funny hats for all of us too. She was carried in a covered chair by 4 chinese men to the temple, and we all had to follow in a procession. Very surreal, but a lot of fun too. And those Chinese know how to drink for their size. Kampai!!

Also, had to chuckle at the condition your computer arrived it. Itsn't that a nice metaphor for everything in China? A lot of trouble, looks good on the inside, but usually only works long enough for you to pay for it and get it home. :)


Unknown said...

Hi Shelley,

Your sister's wedding sounds a lot of fun and I find that surreal is regularly a good way to describe things out here.

I have to admit, though I can usually drink reasonably stronger liquers I couldn't manage more than a cup of the white spirit which the guests (both male and female) were happily quaffing.

In fact the computer's condition appears not to be the fault of the Chinese but Parcelforce who's hands it was supposed to be safely in until I got it.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathon,
That was a very good account of the wedding and I enjoyed reading it.

I was searching the other day for blogs by people in china and some other countries and I came across yours through the 'expat-blog' site.

Can I ask what it was that made you choose to go to China, rather than another country to do your research?


Unknown said...

Hi Malcolm,

There were a number of factors for coming to China. I'd lived with a few Chinese students while doing my PhD in Southampton and I found chatting with them about China and their attitudes in general very interesting. I'm now 27 and I figured that now was the time to make a leap of faith and have an adventure. I applied for many positions around the world for my postdoc and when this prestigious institute in China accepted me I jumped at the chance. It's certainly been an amazing experience and with one year down and one to go I'm thoroughly looking forward to seeing what other delights China has to offer.

Have you been to China or are you planning to live abroad?

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan,
I've not been to china but I'd really like to one day. I'm not sure where I would start, though - my knowledge of china is limited to what I've seen in a few kung-fu films, food I've bought from the chinese supermarket and my copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War with historical notes.

I'd like to live abroad. At the moment I'm planning an an online advertising/content business. If it takes off, so will I. I did an Erasmus year in Germany while I was at university but that didn't quite quench my wanderlust.

Enjoy the rest of your time in China,
All the best,