Sunday, October 25, 2015

My Cousin's Wedding

Without further ado, here are some pictures of the Taiwanese wedding experience!

Turns out October 18 was a very auspicious day for weddings in Taiwan (brides and grooms pick out the wedding date months in advance based on calculations of whether it is a lucky or good day for the couple), and we awoke to find our hotel awash in weddings.  There was a line of cars adorned with red ribbons and bows outside:
 This one was my favorite.
 We did not participate in the morning festivities for my cousin's wedding, but typically on the morning of, the groom's family goes to pick up the bride at her house, along with a bevy of family members and groomsmen, and fruit is delivered, firecrackers are set off, and a lot of various rituals or games are played.  In our hotel we glimpsed this boy delivering apples for another wedding:

and we also saw a group of bridesmaids refusing the groom entry to the room (containing the bride) because he couldn't answer correctly the (impossible) questions.

Unlike in the west, weddings here are usually a lunch time affair.  We departed at 11:30 with a family friend to the restaurant/hall where the wedding was being held.  

That sign says "Taichung Fish Market" so I was a little bit anxious as to what we would find inside.
 There were so many weddings being held in the same venue on the same day that we had to drive forever to find parking, and then walk a long way back.
 Once inside, we realized it was essentially a catering hall for weddings.  Each wedding had their own room on one of the three floors.

 We were in room Ec.  In addition to the three weddings on this floor, there were six other weddings happening on the floor below.  As you can see, in Chinese cultures acknowledging the families is very important -- the names of the grooms's and bride's parents are listed below those of the bride and groom.
 As soon as you walk in, you are greeted with a big picture of the couple, a seating chart, and the sign in table.

Chinese weddings are typically pretty big affairs - I think this one was about 300 to 350 people.

The first thing you do is hand over your red packet of cash, to the many women who are sitting there for the very purpose of receiving it.  The red packet is instantly labeled with a number, which corresponds to a register, and they immediately count the money and record the number.  I imagine to westerners this seems incredibly crass, but here this is de rigeur to ensure that everything gets recorded right away so that nothing gets confused or lost.  Here the woman is counting our stack of bills.  
 Here is the banquet hall itself:

 Here, my aunt and uncle coming down the aisle.  They were so happy and radiant that day!
 Here, the groom and bride coming down the aisle in her first outfit.  Typically the bride buys a "package" consisting of a certain number of dresses and accessories, which she will wear on the day of the wedding.  The dresses are all for rent for the day.  Her veil was very long!
 Then we got down to business - food and entertainment!  It was a 10-course Chinese style banquet:

 The caterers were actually also performers - after they served our food they did a dance at the front of the room.

Here, the first course:
 The wedding had a professional master of ceremonies, and also a violinist.  She rocked.
During the meal, there were also slideshows showing pictures of the bride and groom from infancy, and  pictures of all of their family members throughout the years.  I was pleasantly surprised to find me and my sister in quite a few of them!

After the first appetizer platter, our courses began coming out in pretty smooth, quick succession.  Here are some of the things we ate:

Shark fin soup (I know, I know.  But I had never had it before and I really wanted to try it…)
 Steamed crab (this particular type being a Taiwan specialty) in vermicelli noodles and garlic:
Abalone salad:
 Steamed fish:

Lamp chops in red wine:
 Glutinous rice in lotus leaf:

 Dessert (red date soup):
 After the party ended at around 3, the family members of the groom sit down in a row for the tea ceremony, whereby the bride offers each family member a cup of tea, from the most senior members of the family to the most junior, and then finally to the parents of the groom in the middle.  After each person finishes the tea, they stuff a red envelope (with money of course!) into their empty cup and give it back to the bride, offering their congratulations and wishes and welcoming her into the family.  I thought the ceremony was very sweet, and having seen it in its entirety here I kind of wish Michael and I had done this for our wedding.
Overall I loved being able to attend my cousin's wedding and to see all of the customs and rituals of a traditional Taiwanese wedding.  It was particularly interesting to see the contrast between my wedding and his - truly worlds apart!

Everyone also loved Michael and really welcomed him into the family, talking to him in Mandarin and pouring him copious amounts of red wine and asking him if he liked the food.  It was such an enlightening and fun experience for both of us, though Michael had the additional bonus of being the only Caucasian person in the entire room of nearly 400 people, which may have been a slightly more overwhelming feeling than he expected.  However, he was charming and engaging and did a wonderful job of being a part of everything, which made me very proud.  This is a pretty big cultural gap to maneuver, much less in a difficult foreign language, and during many parts of the weekend I felt a swell of emotion that he was trying so hard and putting in so much effort, for me and my family.

And actually, Michael was the only white person that we saw for the entire duration of our trip!  Crazy.

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