ne of the best things about getting married in China is that the legal marriage precedes the wedding, in my case by months. This removes the temptation to bolt the night before the wedding.
I’m already locked in.
My wife and I are having a Chinese wedding in her hometown Shenyang, to collect back all the red envelopes of money her family has given to others at weddings over the years. I thought this was a sarcastic quip, but it seems to actually be the primary motivation.
Her parents are paying for the ceremony, but they also keep the money. This seems mostly fair, since they gave money at all the previous weddings, and I did not. But I feel I should get a small commission for making the whole thing possible.
My in-laws sent us 10,000 yuan (US$1,403) and told me to buy a nice suit with it. This seems like a kind gesture but was not really – they are just trying to ensure I don’t humiliate them. Even though I live in the countryside and work as banjo player, it is important that I look like a banker.
My initial plan was to wear a suit from a Spanish fast-fashion chain. I’m tall and slim, so their clothes always look great on me. Also, you can get a suit there for less than 1,000 yuan (US$140). I tried one on, and my wife said, “You are tall and slim, so it looks great on you. But it still looks like a suit from a Spanish chain store.” In case I didn’t get the message, she paused and said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid this store.”
In the end, I got a charcoal gray suit from a tailor. It looks absolutely suitable for weddings, funerals, business meetings, loan applications interviews and court appearances. It will never go out of style, because it was never in style in the first place. It “suits” the function, and was obviously not purchased at a Spanish chain store. Since I am tall and slim and the material is real wool, her family won’t lose face if I show up in it.
At my request, we are having the wedding in a church. We are paying an extra 500 yuan (US$70) for a choir, which I am excited about. It is at a Protestant church, because I didn’t need a letter of permission from my priest, which the better-looking Catholic church required. We chose a church wedding because my wife thinks it’s romantic and I despise cheesy Chinese weddings where the highlight is a video featuring the bride and groom, led by a professional master of ceremonies who is a stranger to the family.
I recently discovered my in-laws are only inviting immediate family to the church ceremony. Afterward, 12 tables of friends, colleagues and people who they’ve given wedding money to in the past will come to a dinner at a banquet hall. There will be no dancing, and no opportunity for strangers to meet each other.
I have been asked to submit a series of photos of me at all ages for a small montage their professional photographer is assembling for a cheesy video presentation.
I love my in-laws, but I think they are not that different from most Chinese parents: The things they nominally do for their children are fundamentally for themselves. Piano lessons, the math Olympiad, studying overseas, a wedding with 12 tables – these are all checkmarks on a list. This list was not determined by talking to their daughter and trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. This list is determined by the expectations of her parents’ peer group. This upcoming wedding has nothing to do with what my wife wants. It would never cross their minds to ask her what she wants – like so many parents, they know already.
Ironically, all the money they get from the red envelopes will be required to cover the wedding.
I am planning a second wedding, in our hometown of Dali, and it’s going to be the way I want it. There will be dinner, drinking and music. People will talk to strangers and dance into the night. I’ll have the time of my life.
Unfortunately, this is still not the wedding my wife wants. I asked her, and she just wants to sneak away and spend a quiet time with me someplace romantic. Fortunately, in the West we have a name for that. It’s called a honeymoon, and ours can’t arrive too soon. In the meantime, my wife and I are about to step into a van with four other couples to have our photos taken in rented costumes at scenic spots around Dali – another dream come true for both of us.