One of my best girlfriends married this summer. She is Chinese and her new husband is British. Like many cross-cultural marriages, they had the luxury of hosting the wedding twice. (Although I know while some people might say “luxury,” others might say “curse.”) As her bridesmaid, I flew to the groom’s hometown, a lovely village in the Peaks District of England for the big day.
The bride’s parents also traveled to the UK for the wedding. I loved spending time with them because they remind me of my parents: the mom is super loving and talkative, and dad never talks but always seems to be smiling. As one of the bridesmaids, my responsibility was to follow them around and be the translator. After only a couple of hours, the parents had already invited me for dumplings when were all back in Beijing. I agreed.
After all, nobody turns down homemade dumplings.
The morning after my friend got married, I saw the parents at breakfast. They were still quite excited about the wedding. The mom’s first sentence was: “Wasn’t yesterday’s wedding wonderful? Everyone danced and stayed quite late. It seems everyone had a good time.” Yes, definitely. Even the father, a life-long PLA officer. Even he bopped along to the DJ and danced with us.
While we were waiting for the full English breakfast (which became the parents’ favorite) the mom was eager to share her observation of a British wedding. “The ceremony was so romantic…the dessert was very tasty…people were so respectful and stayed late…At the Chinese wedding, the first table’s guests would have been gone by the time the new couple toasts the last table.”
Listening to them, I had to ask what kind of wedding they had had when they were young.
The bride’s family had a long tradition of serving in the military. Her grandparents followed Mao and survived the major wars and political campaigns. When her father joined the army as a young soldier, the living conditions were still harsh. Their breakfast didn’t include bacon and sausages. The rice they had was mixed with millet, and the rations had been stored in the national treasury for five or six years before it was ever served. After it is cooked, the rice was mushy and the millet rock hard. For nutrition, they had a few leaves of boiled Chinese cabbage with a spoon of oil poured on top to add a little flavor.
The first time my friend’s father went to visit her mom’s family, he devoured over 40 dumplings. The mother still remembers.
Nobody turns down homemade dumplings.
Compared with their daughter’s gala, their wedding was nothing.
Back then, the father was based in a Shandong military camp, but his family was in Yunnan. Following the Chinese tradition to have the wedding ceremony with the groom’s family, the couple had to travel across half of China all the way down to Yunnan in one of those ancient slow trains.
Like many couples back then, the couple had been introduced through friends and families. They didn’t know each other that well. Traveling alone with this man who she didn’t know much about but who was about to become her husband, must have made her nervous, concerned and anxious about what will come in the future.
Their wedding was as modest: A family meal and a simple revolutionary-style toast by the grandpa, which include phrases like “comrades supporting each other.” The wedding gift was Mao’s red book and a ring that the mother told me that she couldn’t wear because the size was too small.
Three decades later, her daughter took also traveled a long way for her wedding, but she had been deeply in love with the man for over a year and was accompanied by parents, cousins and six girlfriends. They traveled by jet plane. The wedding was everything a girl could dream. The bride started the preparation a year in advance. The wedding gown was tailor-made by a boutique brand. She tried on at least 50 dresses before making her decision. The shoes were sparkling Jimmy Choos.
The ceremony was in Haddon Hall, an old country estate originally built in 1199 where the final scenes of the movie Princess Bride had been filmed.
The reception was held in a gorgeous British country club with a big lawn and lovely country estate decor.
Never mind the beautiful and touching (and very) British secular ceremony attended by over 90 guests from 12 separate countries. The party didn’t end until 4:30 am because the family over-ordered on the wine. You know Brits will never leave bottles full. It was as close to perfect as you can get.
There are always generation gaps. Parents can’t always know what children want to do with their lives. Children often don’t know what their parents experienced when they were younger. In China, these gaps are made larger because the society is changing so rapidly. But I could see in the mother’s eyes how happy she was that her daughter had the perfect wedding. It didn’t dim the memory of her own wedding in humbler times, but she could appreciate how far her daughter had come and how lucky she was to have such a beautiful future.