Greg's Occasional News & Views

18 October 2015

ChinaOMG! Was that a lot of fun or what!!?

In short, we had an absolute blast at Adam and Ava’s various wedding celebrations – there is much too much to tell in one sitting so I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with some instalments. This week, our trip out to China and the first wedding celebration in Ava’s home town, Liuzhou.

As you know, if you’ve been keeping up, we spent the last ten days in China helping Adam and Ava celebrate their wedding. This wasn’t perhaps the best time for us to visit having just moved house and feeling decidedly unsettled but it was more than worth the disruption and now, with hindsight, we wish we’d gone for a month. It was so much fun.

We flew out from Heathrow to Hong Kong and then on to Guilin which is the closest airport to where Adam and Ava live. The flight into Hong Kong was one of the more exciting we’ve made in a while – we didn’t know it at the time but there was a typhoon passing some little ways to the south of Hong Kong and the rain and wind, apparently, were pretty significant. So significant in fact that landings were suspended for a while – a previous plane attempting to land had had to perform a fly-by as the gusts were blowing it off line. We were put into a holding pattern and circled for a half hour or so until landings resumed. The rollercoaster came to a conclusion when the pilot nailed the landing (the plane had one of those forward-looking cameras and we could watch as he brought the plane down precisely on the central yellow line on the runway) and we arrived shaken, perhaps, if not stirred.

We had about an hour before our connecting flight which turned into a three hour delay, firstly due to the exciting weather conditions and secondly due to a fault which revealed itself after we had boarded the plane. An initial estimate of a 30 minute delay turned into a three hour delay as the fault could not be rectified and we had to await the arrival of the sister plane shuttling between Hong Kong and Guilin. Unfortunately, Adam had to leave Yangshuo to meet us before our flight was originally due to depart Hong Kong and so he got to spend a very “happy” three hours hanging around Guilin airport – very little to see and very little to do.

Eventually we emerged through customs and immigration, tired and bedraggled, and Adam shepherded us straight onto the bus to Ava’s home town, the site of wedding celebration number one. A quick two and a half hour joltingly-shuddering bus ride later and we arrived in Liuzhou and a short taxi ride brought us to the appropriately named Grand Hotel where we were able, finally, to put our heads down for a few moments. After a shower and a quick nap it was time for dinner in the revolving restaurant on the 30th floor of the hotel. It was excellent as was the deep, deep sleep we both fell into some fourteen seconds after our heads hit the pillows.

The next morning Adam came to collect us and we made our way through the rain to Ava’s home and met for the first time her mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew as well as her grandmother and grandmother’s sister. Not surprisingly, there were lots of smiles and gesticulations as we tried to communicate with one another.

The first wedding celebration took place later that afternoon at a nearby hotel. This celebration was the equivalent of the groom arriving at the bride’s home to claim her and take her away to his village. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth the bride’s family finally allow the groom to steal the bride away but only after a suitable feast and copious quantities of alcohol have been consumed.

We set off with Adam to help prepare the room in which the reception would be held and found Ava’s sister and brother-in-law already there busily inflating red and gold balloons with which to decorate the room. Naturally, I stayed out of the way as much as possible not wishing to be a hindrance to any of the preparations but I was allowed to blow up several hundred balloons and tie them off. I was not, however, trusted in any way to participate in the creation of a large balloon arch which adorned the entrance to the room. Penny, on the other hand, was trusted to use the electric pump which inflated two balloons at a time! (An aside which Penny and I found interesting – the room, and virtually every room, had a large flat-screen television which was blaring constantly. When the ceremony started someone did turn the sound down but for most of the celebration, the television was on, proudly broadcasting away).

As the time for the celebration drew near we changed into our wedding finery and observed the guests arriving and the greetings they received. Traditionally, the father of the bride greets the guests as they arrive and introduces them to Adam. The guest then hands Adam a red envelope containing a sum of money – hongbao – which Adam then hands to the father of the bride who places it in a satchel he has draped over his shoulder. The maid of honour is next in the receiving line and she distributes sweets, candy and biscuits to the guests. Then, the guests proceed to the next stop in the receiving line where the best man offers them a cigarette. Most of the men accepted and he (the best man) then strikes his lighter to provide a light for the cigarette and the guests move on, ultimately into the celebration venue itself. Interestingly, while most of the men took and smoked the cigarettes, they are not offered to the women – although many women smoke it is still considered poor form for women to smoke in public. (And, as an aside, while China is still a population where there are a lot of smokers, it seemed to us that there were a smaller proportion of people smoking than when we visited in 2004. There are, as you might guess, almost no restrictions on smoking).

After the wedding guests had assembled, the bride and groom made their entrance and I have to say (even though I might be accused of bias), Ava was absolutely stunning in a traditional red dress with an elaborate gold headdress and Adam looked half decent as well. There are a number of traditional toasts made at this time, all with shot glasses of baijiu, a Chinese rice wine of lethal alcohol content (40% to 60%) which tasted surprisingly similar to paint stripper. As well as the traditional toasts to the bride’s family and ancestors, to the bride and groom themselves, baijiu features large throughout the celebration. The bride and groom are required to visit each table at the reception in turn to toast the guests. Having already had four or five shots to begin with, they then had to consume eight or nine additional shots, one for each table. Fortunately, the groom’s “best men” are on hand to take the shots for them, if necessary. (And, believe me, it was). At one table, one of Ava’s aunts insisted not only on having a shot with Adam and Ava, but also with each of the “best men” one after the other. Later on she came to our table and insisted on shots with Penny and me – how she was able to stand at the end of the afternoon is a mystery to me!

The food was excellent and plentiful and afterwards (as the party became more and more inebriated, I guess), people began to stand and sing a song or two. One fellow, a friend of Ava’s father, had an excellent voice and entertained the accumulated guests with several very moving renditions.

Then, of course, it was our turn. Penny and my collective memories went blank and we couldn’t think of a single tune worth performing until Pen had the brilliant idea of singing “In a Tiny House.” The beauty of this suggestion is that it’s an echo song where each line is repeated by the gathered congregation. Even though the majority of wedding guests had not the slightest clue about what they were singing, they nevertheless entered into the spirit of the occasion in a rousing manner.

And so, the first wedding celebration was concluded and we dragged our weary souls back to the Grand Hotel for a bit more rest and recuperation. The following day we were off bright and early to catch the bus to Yangshuo where Adam and Ava live and where wedding celebration number two was to be held in five days’ time. For that and the rest of our adventures, however, you’ll have to wait until next time.

All that remains for today’s edition is to wish our favourite granddaughter a very happy fourth birthday – we’ve been invited to go bowling with her (and her parents) this afternoon and we’ve also been invited to her birthday party next weekend. I’ll have to look out my Frozen costume.

Much love to you all,

Greg

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