Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Wedding

Chinese weddings, I'm told, can be incredibly elaborate affairs, so I was very excited and honored to be invited to a blended Chinese/Irish wedding within just a few days of arriving in KL. The people who run the school where I teach, Ronan and Kiera, have legally been married for about four years now, and together for almost ten, but in the eyes of the bride's family, were not really married, because they hadn't yet held the traditional Chinese wedding. Over 300 guests were invited, and the groom's family flew in from Ireland and Scotland for the occasion. It was, quite literally, an all-day (and night) affair. (Click on the pictures to see a larger version.)

The bride and groom first have a ring ceremony in which they exchange rings in the presence of friends and family. This is followed by the traditional Chinese tea ceremony in which the Creator of the Universe is paid respect by serving tea. The elders of both the bride's and groom's families are served tea to gain their approval and acceptance. Then the "yum sing" ceremony takes place, a Cantonese phrase that means "bottoms up!" The event has to be as noisy and raucous as possible to ensure a long life of happiness. A lot of alcohol can be consumed here because every guest tries to have a drink with the new couple... after the first few toasts, the groom has to appoint a number of "brothers" to drink with the guests on his behalf. From my program: "This ceremony suits both the Westerners and the Chinese, as the Westerners can't live without the alcohol, and the Chinese will have an excuse to get drunk, too!"

Guests mingle for awhile, in anticipation of the traditional Chinese wedding dinner. As I was wandering around, completely overdressed, I might add (everyone else was in trousers and shirt sleeves; I had on long sleeves and a tie), I was spotted by some of the other (very few) Caucasians in the crowd and asked if I wanted to go up to the bar and have some drinks. It was the groom's Gaelic football team, a number of Irish guys who live here in KL now. Some wives and girlfriends joined in, too... some Dutch, some Malaysian, even a Canadian... and we had a few pitchers of beers before heading down to the dinner.

Nearly thirty tables were set out in the ballroom, plus the head table for the bride and groom and their immediate family. I was lucky enough to be at a table quite close to the head table, so I was able to better see all the goings-on, but by the third course of the eleven-course (!!) meal, no one cared! We were all laughing and drinking and eating and socializing... the dinner went on for hours. Toasts were made, the bride and groom paid a visit to each table, shared a dance, and cut the cake. It was a wonderful blend of Chinese and Western marriage traditions (complete with speeches in English and Cantonese) and it sure seemed that everyone had a great time. The free flow of beer, wine, and Irish whiskey may have contributed some, but I can't say for sure. :)

I've included some pictures from the evening, but not many. I hope Ronan and Wai Fun don't mind their likenesses appearing on my blog. Wai Fun is the bride's Chinese name; she has taken "Kiera" as her Western name, so that's what she goes by at school.

One menu item, the shark fin soup, caused a bit of a stir at my table, simply because I was with other Westerners. In Chinese culture, shark fin soup is a delicacy, a rare and expensive dish usually only served at important events. To Westerners, however, it represents a cruel practice: cutting the fins off live sharks, then throwing them back into the ocean, where, unable to swim, they die. So there was a bit of discussion about the ethical implications of tasting the soup, but as one woman from Scotland put it, not trying the soup wouldn't bring the shark back to life, nor would it make a statement or put a dent in the practice of shark finning. So I tried it. It had chunks of crab meat as well, so to be honest, it was like eating a thickened version of egg drop soup with crab meat. To avoid any possible religious complications, no beef or pork was on the menu... only chicken and seafood, which seems to largely be accepted by all religions. It was a wonderful, HUGE dinner and we ate and drank long into the night.

I'm told that after about the tenth or eleventh Chinese wedding you've been to, they start to get a bit mundane... so I've got a ways to go yet!

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