The sky has dropped more than two feet of snow on Virginia this weekend, so I'm trapped inside for the time being. As such, I don't have any excuse to keep putting off writing this blog post. I last wrote about my brief 1-day stay in Hong Kong a few months ago. This is the account of my friend Jianhua's wedding in Shenzhen just over the border in China the next day.
I crossed the border from Hong Kong into China at the Lo Wu/Luo Hu crossing. The process was quick and uneventful, and after withdrawing some Chinese RMB from an ATM, I found a cab that could take me the 15 miles to the Sheraton in Dameisha, a scenic beach area of the city. I had read that Shenzhen has a population of over ten million, but nevertheless, I was impressed at its size and modern infrastructure. We passed through several lengthy tunnels on our way there, and there were new buildings under construction in all directions.
My cab driver was one of the few people in China whose Chinese I could actually understand a bit. He was a young guy about my age, and we chatted during the trip about two topics in particular, the NBA and Obama. This was the first of many signs that basketball and Obama are both immensely popular in China.
When we arrived at the hotel, I was blown away. The lobby, the view, the rooms, everything was top-notch. Because of the smog, I wasn't treated to a panorama quite as nice as the image above, but the view from my room was still plenty good.
As my eyes wandered down the beach, I saw what looked like a bunch of winged giants attacking some beachgoers. There was still time to kill before the wedding, so I went to investigate, discarding the possibility that I might be eaten or sent back in time.
I made it out alive, and because there were so many people around, I didn't even have to worry about needing to blink. I tried to research the sculptures, but the English-speaking Internet didn't have much to say about them. There was consensus, however, that the statues are a bit of an eyesore.
I visited some shops at an outlet mall on my walk back and came upon a Chinese wishing tree. Each ribbon tied to the tree had several Chinese characters on it, where someone had laid out his/her wish. It struck me as much classier than tossing some pennies in a fountain!
When I got back to my room, the beach was being set up for the wedding, so I quickly showered, put on my suit, and headed downstairs.
The wedding was not all that different than an American one. There were a few exceptions, however. First, the whole ceremony was announced as if it were a game show. Of course I could only understand one word in ten that the host was saying, but the tone of voice he was using to introduce the wedding party had me convinced that he was bellowing the Chinese equivalent of "Come on down!"
Second, the entire wedding was filmed via drone. It zipped around, controlled by one of an entire team of photographers, a team that, as I realized later, was probably already in the process of cutting their shots together. The standard elements of a Western wedding were present.
Raina's father handed her off to Jianhua:
A bouquet was thrown to the single guests:
Raina and Jianhua said their vows:
And as a nice touch, everyone released balloons into the air when the wedding was over:
I had an hour until the reception, which was, as expected, quite fancy. I snapped a picture with Jianhua at the photo booth and dropped off my red envelope (hong bao), filled with a lucky amount of money, as is customary. I then entered the ballroom to find my seat.
Jianhua kindly sat me with other young folk, all of whom spoke good English.
To my left in the flowery dress was even another vegetarian, a Buddhist! Everyone was hungry and thought dinner was about to arrive, but we were in for a surprise. It's my understanding that at most weddings, the photos and videos are captured to look back on AFTER your wedding day, but the video team I mentioned earlier had already pruned the footage from the wedding and proceeded to present the finished product. Almost nothing was left out! Suffice to say, I was more than ready for dinner by the time the montage ended.
Just like the wedding, the reception traditions were more or less recognizable. There was wine. There was tea. There were seafood contortionists.
And of course no wedding would be complete minus a roast piglet WITH GLOWING RED EYES as each table's centerpiece.
My new friends at the table used chopsticks to peel the squares of skin off the pig. Both the revolting smell and repulsive sight of these Chinese pork rinds had me a bit off-kilter, and my fellow dinner guests took notice. From the way Jianhua describes it, one of them took a picture of me and sent it to all of her friends on WeChat, the popular Chinese social networking app. It was captioned with something to the effect of "Look how this white guy can't handle the pig at Jianhua's wedding." Despite all the options laid out in front of me, I managed to restrain myself and stick to the family-style tofu.
Once everyone was finished eating, Jianhua and Raina made their way from table to table having a drink with the guests at each one. Knowing Jianhua to not be much of a drinker, I had no idea how he was still walking by the time he made it over to me. Afterwards, he let me in on the secret. The staff trailing the bride and groom were refilling their glasses with non-alcoholic wine as they went!
The main thing I don't like about traveling to a friend's wedding is that you hardly get to spend any time with her/him there. That wasn't the case this time. Jianhua and Raina enjoyed a lengthy breakfast with me the next morning at the hotel, where I recounted several of the dumb things I had already said and done on my trip and at the wedding the day before. We shared a lot of laughs, mostly at my expense, and then they drove me to the train station, where I caught a bullet train north to Guilin. I'll recount my adventures there next time I'm stranded in a snowstorm!