Wednesday, Apr 26, 2017, 5:44 PM CST – China

Essay

Wedding Crashers

Despite my swollen feet being several sizes too large, I managed to squeeze them into her dainty slippers

Illustration by Liu Xiaochao

“Your hot dog is so cute!”

I vacantly stared at the originator of this comment, confused. Having just arrived in China the night before, my body was still going through the jet lag adjustment process. After a few moments, I looked down at my phone case and at once, it all made sense. I’d clad my cell in a hot dog-shaped novelty cover.

I soon learned that the girl who made this comment was a Chinese postgraduate student named Cynthia. As is the usual custom in China, we exchanged numbers, and I bid her farewell, assuming it was the last I’d see of her.

A week later, however, I received a curious message.

 “Teacher Yi’s brother will hold a wedding on Saturday. We need a bridesmaid. I want to invite you to come with us.”

Despite the fact that I didn’t know who Teacher Yi was, my mind took very little making up. YES. I will take the job!

I went on to Skype and told my boyfriend about my new job. He was somewhat concerned that I was about to be abducted. I laughed this off, but then, that night I had a horrific nightmare and woke up terrified for my life, and wishing I’d never seen Taken. I was suddenly extremely apprehensive about this mysterious trip to the countryside where my tickets and hotel were being bought for me by people I didn’t know. The wedding group chat on my phone was my only source of reassurance.

On the day before the big one, I discovered that I had a serious problem. Apart from a pair of Doc Martens, I realized I had no shoes to wear to this wedding. My bridesmaid dress was being provided for me, but I had overlooked the matter of footwear. To solve the problem, I found myself frantically running in 28-degree heat all the way across campus to try on Cynthia’s shoes. Despite my swollen feet being several sizes too large, I managed to squeeze them into her dainty slippers.

On arriving at the venue, I discovered, to my relief, that a total of eight “international student bridesmaids” (including Cynthia), and eight “international groomsmen” had been procured for the occasion. The organizers were pretending that Cynthia was Korean just to keep up appearances. The 16 of us were whisked off to a bizarre wedding rehearsal. The decorations were fantastic, with a grand runway and stage in the middle of the room. The rehearsal featured the groomsmen entering to some hilarious ’90s rock while us ladies daintily glided down the runway to the soothing tones of Enya. After a bit of scripted commotion between the bride, groom and the father of the bride, us international students had to introduce ourselves in Chinese, and then deliver a blessing to the happy couple in our native languages.

At ridiculous o’clock on the big day, the bridesmaids assembled outside of the bride’s room. The bride herself was sitting serenely in the middle of the bed, her dress flowing around her in tumbling white waves. The task given to the bridesmaids was to stand outside the room to bar the groom from entering. Once he arrived, he presented red envelopes to “bribe” us, and then answered a set list of questions. Once the groom was admitted, the couple fed each other noodles and dumplings, representing longevity and fortune, respectively. Despite the endearing gestures, I tensely watched as the chopstick-suspended noodles swung menacingly. I was rather anxious as to what condition the bride’s dress might be in at the end of the ritual. I needn’t have worried – she had two other dresses to wear; a more flamboyant, jewel-encrusted gown for the ceremony and then a red, traditional-style wedding dress for the meal afterwards.

On the way to the ceremony that morning, there was a brass band, cannons, streamers: the works. It was all so fabulously extravagant. What wasn’t fabulous was the goat that was getting skinned at the side of the road – not part of the ceremony, just rural life going on as usual. The whole spectacle was over by about 11 AM, and I was on the train back to the city by the early afternoon.

Despite the early hour, however, we’d all managed to get as spectacularly wasted on local liquor as we might have done at any Western wedding banquet.

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