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A laowai at a Xinglong wedding

6 May

I went to my first Chinese wedding reception today. My day started out as I woke up to visitors standing right outside my door weighing themselves on the scale that was sitting next to the water dispenser. It was two nieces of my Xīnglóng (兴隆) Māmā(妈妈). I dazzled them with my poor Chinese and my white face and we as a result had to take many pictures. We were able to see the arrival of the bride and the fireworks involved from the porch off Duan’s bedroom. The bride was carried on the back of the husband all the way from the car down the street to an apartment. I asked 兴隆 妈妈 whether she knew them and how old they were; little did I know I was later going to their wedding reception.

When we arrived at the wedding, the girls I met earlier in the morning waved their hands furiously to get us to come and sit by them. Although I thought I was not appropriately dressed for attending a wedding reception, according to western standards, I noticed that besides the wedding party not many people were dressed up.  Apparently we were to sit by the girls and as I walked through the large hotel dining hall everyone’s eyes were on me. It was like there wasn’t even a wedding taking place at that very moment.

Posing with the happy couple

Duan Laoshi and I sat down at a table with 10 other middle aged to older men who were all very welcoming. One of the little girls motioned that she wanted to pour me soda when Duan Laoshi said, “You drink, báijiǔ (白酒)!” then he conceded because he saw the girl so preciously holding out a new glass for me. At one point, the mother and father of the new husband came and gave their good wishes. She realized she had overlooked me in her address to the table and said, “Oh lǎowài (老外), you also drink well and eat well.” The table was of course filled with men who Mr. Duan knew if they weren’t his family already I thought they had some connection one way or another. Every time I was introduced to someone I had to take a sip of 白酒. When you don’t need to gānbēi (干杯), you call it “yīkǒu” (一口)… one mouthful.

Enjoying the wedding feast

The wedding reception itself (the performance part of it) only lasted a few minutes but we were a little late so I don’t know how long they really last. Of what I understood it was much like a western wedding, pledging to be a good husband and likewise a good wife to one another. Then they lit a bunch of candles on a candelabra shaped as a heart. It was all very tacky but I couldn’t help but get a little caught up in the adorableness of it. (Might be because I am a woman and prone to bouts of sentimentalism or the fact I had a bit of 白酒.)

 By the end of the wedding reception, and I mean THE END (we were the last table to leave), I had drank plenty and ate plenty, just as the mother of the groom had requested and was ready for a nap.

[This story was contributed by LtL Chengde Immersion student Hanna.]

Vocabulary explained:

Xīnglóng (兴隆): An area of Chengde, located in Hebei Province.

Māmā(妈妈): Mother

báijiǔ (白酒): Chinese liquor known for its unique flavor and potency.

lǎowài (老外): Foreigner

gānbēi (干杯): Cheers! It can also mean to empty your glass.


New friends and old traditions

7 Apr

After living in the expat community for some time I decided to move outside my comfort zone and move in with Chinese roommates. Even though we had met a few times before, I was still nervous that there would be a culture clash when I moved in. To my (delighted) surprise, they were not only nice enough to help me transport my things but also open enough to involve me in their Qing Ming Jie rituals soon after I settled in.

Qing Ming Jie (清明节) is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day because it is traditionally when people honor their deceased ancestors. You do this by bringing offerings to their graves, or if you are not in their hometown you burn an offering for them. The first thing that my new roommates taught me was how to fold 金元宝 jīn yuán bǎo, little “treasures” made from gold paper.

My handmade 金元宝

These would later be used as an offering along with fake yuan notes, paper gold bars and yellow sheets of tissue paper. After cooking a fantastic dinner of braised tofu and stir-fried seaweed we packed up the offerings in a bag and went outside. They explained to me that we had to find a 十字路口 shízìlù kǒu (crossroads) so that the spirits of their relatives would be able to find the offering from any direction. We walked a block from the apartment and found an area covered in little piles of ash where others had been before us.

They first used a rock to each draw a circle in the dust, then placed a piece of paper in the circle on which they had written their relative’s name and address in their hometown. Then, they placed the yellow tissue paper in the circle and set it on fire. Carefully watching the circle of fire they added the paper money, followed by the paper gold bars and lastly the 金元宝.

It was a very solemn and very peaceful ritual, and I think it not only brought me closer to my new roommates but also to the lesser-known traditions of China. Additionally, it cemented my belief that living with Chinese people is the best way to truly experience the local culture. I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn next!

This story was contributed by LtL staff member Natalie Litofsky.

Hello world!

24 Feb

Stay tuned for the debut of the Live the Language blog!