Letter home from China September 22,2004

Richard and I have had an eventful week since we last wrote everyone. I guess the most exciting thing is that we went to a Chinese wedding on Sunday. We were invited to attend the wedding by our friend Nick, who is a close friend of the bride and groom. We thought it would be a neat experience and appropriate for Sunday. Well, we did have a neat experience, but it turned out to be the wildest Sunday we ever had.

Let me first give you some background on the traditional weddings in China. The night before a wedding, all the bride’s close friends stay with her and all the groom’s close friends stay with him. There are several games that take place the night before the wedding. One that we are aware of is a game where the girls hide the bride’s shoes in the house the boys are staying in. The boys have to find the bride’s shoes. Also, the groom is not supposed to see the bride the night before the wedding. Several other games are played between the boys and the girls. Each game has traditional significance. We were not involved in this part of the wedding, so everything we know about it is just what we were told.

On Sunday morning, Richard and I were picked up in a taxi by Nick and some of his friends, and raced to the apartment complex of the groom’s family. There were four weddings on Sunday in this complex. Apparently nine is a lucky number in China, and 9/19 is historically an especially lucky day. By the time we got to the apartment complex the groom had already picked up the bride and left, so we watched another groom pick up his bride. When the groom came out of the building holding his bride, cannon shots were fired releasing confetti everywhere. There were only three cannons, so we thought there would only be three shots, but there were at least twenty extremely loud blasts. Our ears were ringing afterwards.

The bride and groom get into their car, which is typically a Limo, a BMW, or an Audi. I don’t know where everyone gets these nice cars; they must rent them or something. There is a long procession of matching cars that follow the bride and groom back to the groom’s home. The bride and groom in our wedding lived in the same apartment complex, so they just drove around town for a while and came back.

Up until this point, the bride has a white western style wedding dress on. When they get back to the groom’s house the bride changes into a red dress. Red is a very important color in China because it symbolizes good luck. After the bride is dressed, there is a ceremony in the apartment where the bride “meets the parents” of the groom. At this ceremony the bride calls the groom’s parents “Mama” and “Papa” for the first time and bows to them.

The funniest part about the wedding to me was how excited everyone was that we came to the wedding, and they didn’t even know us. The wedding photographers made sure we were in several of the wedding photos and on the wedding video. I felt a little silly because we had never even met the bride and we were in several parts of her wedding video, hopefully that’s okay with her. Everyone wanted to talk to us, and the people who were previously sitting on the couch were cleared so we would have a place to sit. You could tell the groom’s parents were especially proud to have Americans at their son’s wedding. Sometimes I feel like a celebrity here. [In fact, sometimes Richard stays after his classes and signs autographs for the older children, really!]

After the ceremonies are done at the house, the car procession takes the bride and groom and their families to the restaurant where the actual wedding ceremony takes place. All those who were not family hopped on a bus to go to the restaurant. Some kind of ceremony was performed at the front of the restaurant where the parents and bride and groom toast to each other, and the bride and groom bow to each other and touch foreheads. One interesting thing is that a religious leader is not the one who performs the marriages here in China. At this wedding, the ceremony was actually directed by some of the band members who had been hired to play at the wedding. The band was so loud that everyone near the front (which included us since we were at the close friend table) was deafened. Many of them had their hands over their ears.

The food at the restaurant was wonderful. We tried several dishes. Richard and I had Nick tell us what most things were before we ate them just to be sure there was nothing bizarre. The one thing that grossed us out too much to even try was chicken feet. I don’t care to acquire a taste for that.

The thing that really made this wedding a wild activity was all the drinking and smoking that took place at the restaurant. We were not prepared for that. All men in China smoke, but in the central region of China where we live, women do not smoke. If a woman does smoke, she is looked down on and considered a bad girl. The alcohol they had at the wedding was 57% alcohol. It smelled like finger nail polish remover. At the end of the dinner, the bride and groom go to every table and have a toast with their guests. The bride carried around a bottle of Sprite to toast with, but the groom was toasting with hard liquor. Richard and I felt bad for him. Halfway though the restaurant he looked like he was going to lose it. He kept patting the sweat off his forehead and scrunching his face up as if he was going to throw up. We thought there was no way he would make it through to all of the tables, but somehow he did.

Every couple or guest that comes to the wedding signs a guest book and gives the traditional gift of one hundred Yuan. Every name in the book was written with Chinese characters except ours. Beside each name is recorded the amount they contributed. I am sure the bride and groom will remember the Americans at their wedding. I have already talked way too much about the wedding, but I wanted to share some of the traditions of Chinese weddings since they are so different that ours.

Richard and I always find it funny how we are treated here. For one thing, parents bring their children to us and just leave them their to talk to us. Most children learn at least some English in school, so parents see us as the opportunity for their children to show what they have spent years learning. While we were at the wedding, a woman (not involved with the large wedding party we were with) brought her niece to our table, got her a chair for her, and sat her down to speak a little English with the white folks. The girl didn’t have an English name, so we named her “Savannah.” She stayed at our table for more than half an hour asking us what our favorite color is, whether we have any pets, how do we like the weather, what’s our favorite food, and other questions. There are many people here (beginning English students mostly) who now have names of people we know. We always get asked random questions like what our favorite food or color is. Children love to ask, “How old are you?” because it is one of the first things they learn to ask in English.

There are some weird things in China that are hard to get used to. Young children here wear pants that look more like chaps. There is nothing covering their bottoms so whenever they need to, they can just pick a spot on the sidewalk and get to business. We read about this in our guidebook, but until I actually saw it I thought it was just a myth.

We finally saw our first wreck the other day. A car hit a guy on a moped. In China, the crowd around an accident determines whose fault it is. What actually happened in the accident is not a determining factor. Fault is given to the least polite person, or the person of lower class. Cops rarely get involved. We did not have time to stop and see exactly what was going on, but we passed the accident several times over the course of an hour and the guy on the moped never got up.

Richard and I ate dinner on Sunday with some people Richard met on the street. People who know a little English always want to talk to us to help them improve their English, so we get invited a lot of places. The apartment we visited was very humble. The people were very nice, but the room was dark and very dirty. I was afraid to eat the food but we did anyway, and we regretted it. Our stomachs started churning as soon as we got home. We have decided not to have any more random people cook for us. Our new friends gave us their “photo number” and asked us to call them again so we can get together. If we do call them again, it will not be during mealtime.

Now, to answer a few questions we have been asked. There are equal numbers of boys and girls in our school. Nick told us that a while back China started to realize there were not enough girls in the country. Families still only have one child, but many of them have girls. When women get married here they keep their maiden names, so to some degree the family name is still carried on. Only in some rural areas are women still treated poorly. It looks like many of the social practices in China have come a long way. Richard and I teach school for about twenty hours during the week. We each have four classes a day. Richard also has an extra class Sunday morning, which is somewhat like Primary, especially since he teaches the kids songs from the Children’s Songbook. “Once There was a Snowman” is a huge hit here. What we basically do is teach the students new English words and phrases, and we play games and sing songs with them. It is pretty neat.

All the kids love our football. I am really glad we brought it to China. The kids come to our office between classes and play with it. They especially love it when Richard comes outside and throws with them. When we first give the ball to the kids, they try to dribble it like a basketball. They quickly get tired of that, so we teach them how it is to be used. You can see how impressed they are with football by watching the video. Whenever Richard goes out to throw the football, it attracts all the kids in the school, and they go crazy when he throws the ball high. You can hear how excited they get in the video.

Whenever we come outside to play with the kids, huge crowds of children gather around us. The students in my class grab my hands and say hi. When I respond they smile at all the other children around them as if to brag, “She’s my teacher. She knows me.” They love us here.

We went to a barbeque last night. A Canadian couple just arrived (one of whom reminds us of Coach Z from HomeStarRunner.com), so everyone at the school went to celebrate. The environment was reminiscent of a Chinese A&W. The waiters and waitresses kept bringing us shish kabobs with various pre-cooked meats (we didn’t ask what they were) and vegetables. All of it was heavily seasoned. There were miniature grills in front of us, in which the waiters put hot coals. We warmed the food over the grills, then gnawed it off the little poker things. They fed us way too much. It was the most expensive dinner we have had at 52 Yuan (or $6.27) for both of us.

Richard has been busy looking at all possible business opportunities. For only a week in China, he has accomplished a lot. We have some connections he is looking into. Hopefully by the end of October we will already be shipping product samples back to the U.S. Nick, our friend, has some good connections, and Richard has gotten him excited about doing business. Richard, of course, is always excited about business. Things are looking great.

I will go ahead and end this long letter. I just want everyone to know that we miss y’all. We are having a great time here in China, but nothing can make up for being away from your family. We have several pictures and videos posted on our website.  Thank you to those who have written to us, we love hearing about what is going on back in America.

Love,

Richard and Lisa

About richard

Richard and Lisa are certified entrepreneurs and thrill seekers.
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