In gingham and tassels and the bright morning sun, I stood around a trio of Anshan locals dressed in denim with cigarettes propped behind their ears. We waited in front of my apartment building, and scanned ahead for the bridal caravan to come around the corner. The arrival was to be our cue to light the firecrackers and fireworks that we hovered around. There was a pair of long roped firecrackers laid in the symbol of a heart, and eight boxes of bundled Roman candles sat closely behind them. I observed my fellow part-time pyrotechnists, family of the bride- Dina- linger anxiously and spark and release and spark again their lighters.
Across the city, the groom -Don- lugged a heavy bag of noodles, matches, leeks, and pork ribs up six flights of steps to the door of the bride’s parents’ apartment. There, he needed to persuasively flatter the family in hopes they’d allow him entrance. ‘My beautiful mother, my clever father,’ Don crooned, ‘please let me in so I can propose to your wonderful daughter’. A translator repeated his request in Anshanese, losing a bit of the dramatic tone and, fortunately for Don, the subtle sarcasm as well. The parents played along, opening the door for their daughter’s suitor and his three best men, all foreigners, one of which was a woman. Then Don, dressed in a black suit and tie, needed to re-propose to Dina, who was dressed in a white, billowing wedding gown. Initially, as is custom, she declined the marriage, stating she could never leave her loving family, but after a persuasive argument by Don, she agreed on the condition that he find her shoes, which had been hidden somewhere within the apartment. Once the patent red leather heels were found, the couple shared a noodle a la Lady and the Tramp, and headed to the groom’s apartment for the bride’s family to inspect the premises.
Back at the university’s apartments for foreign teachers, the sewer lids were covered in red paper to ward of unlucky spirits. In a flash of fire, the lighters flamed, cigarettes burned and fuses flared, as the bridal convoy pulled into the building’s roundabout. Six camouflaged bikers led the procession. They wore thick vests and SWAT team kneepads; some of their bikes had imitation missiles tacked above the rear fender. Following them, twenty rented black Audi A6’s snaked around the entrance, stopping in the haze of the blasted pyrotechnics. The bride and groom walked arm in arm in a colorful snow of confetti as filmers, photographers, and family filed in behind. About forty of Dina’s closest family members lined the hall to Don’s small apartment, each one being formally introduced to their new international family member. Inside the apartment, a child hung a wooden clock on the wall to ensure a happy future for the couple, and everyone was required to eat something to show respect for the couples’ new home. Don, now with a shimmer of sweat on his forehead, watched as Dina’s friends placed ceremonial red blankets on his bed then sprinkled these blankets with peanuts, candies, and coins. Through the doorway, he, with his old friends and new family behind him, watched his bride stand on their bridal bed and make two careful spins before sitting down upon the cloud of her gown. This custom was to ensure her fertility, a moot point since Dina is already pregnant. The couple then shared an apple hung from a red string and dangled between them by a young girl. They were each supposed to take a bite, the person with the biggest bite is said to be the controller of the relationship; Dina’s bite was impressive, Don’s teeth bounced the apple away so that he missed completely. Two portraits hung above the bed watching over the ceremony: a large color print of Don and Dina in a gilded frame, and a small faded, sepia photo of Don’s grandparents.
Since no objections were made to Don’s dwelling, the crowd continued to the bridal lunch. At a two-story building across town, its entrance double rainbowed by two inflatable arches, nearly fifty Audi’s lined the street. Another wedding lunch was being held on the bottom floor, and we watched the young newlyweds strut through their party. Upstairs, the party was partitioned into smaller rooms without doors. I sat around a circular table with nine foreigners from around the world, and we jokingly wondered whether this was the room for Don’s friends or the room for non-Chinese. The newlyweds made their rounds to each room, offering cheers and thanks to the guests. In a particularly interesting custom, Don had to offer a cigarette that Dina would light for each of the adult guests. Having been forewarned, I took the cigarette and puffed enough to get it lit, sitting back and thinking about how this custom could never survive in smoke-scar(r)ed America. Food was shared, beers (room temperature – the norm in China) were swilled, and congratulations were given, as the party continued into the warm summer night.