Originally the entire reason for our trip to China was to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding, but the wedding date changed after we booked the tickets due to some sort of astrological mismatch with the wedding date. This was unfortunate so my sister had an engagement party during our stay instead.
I don’t know if an engagement party is usual custom in China, but the whole affair greatly resembled a small wedding reception.
This morning our house was suddenly full of boxes and people as we sorted out the wedding mantou (馒头 being the main staple in Shandong) and 双喜 double happiness candy. Then all of the guests moved to my uncle’s restaurant where about 50-60 people were seated in the wedding banquet room under a giant double happiness. It was certainly not a small gathering by any means. Each table was served the usual local wedding foods including pricy abalone. The soon-to-be bride and groom poured tea for all the guests and later toasted with every table.
My loving, caring husband even ensured there were least two dishes I could eat (dietary restrictions) so I was able to actually eat food at a Chinese “wedding” for the first time ever! Even better, one of those dishes was a spicy Sichuan dish which is almost impossible to get in non-spicy Shandong. I certainly enjoyed myself!
I spent most of the time as the self-appointed photographer. This was my best effort to socialize since conversation is such a challenge. My mother-in-law greatly appreciated the pictures I uploaded to her computer.
Once most of the guests were well intoxicated, people started initiating conversation with me. It was hard because I was never great with the local dialect and now I am definitely out of practice. So I called my husband over to translate into Mandarin. He listened to the first question and then turned to me and said “I can’t translate ‘drunk speak’; I don’t understand either.” Glad to know it’s not just me!
After everything was finished we went back home where we presented my sister with our red envelope that we won’t be able to give her on her wedding day. I really wanted to give a gift, but that is not the custom. The dollar amount in the envelope was decided by my in-laws and was certainly more than I spent on my brother’s wedding in America. There is great transparency in Chinese wedding gift book-keeping so we had to give more than anyone else might give or we would lose face. They are using the money we gave towards buying a car so I guess it still comes out to a gift.
My sister seems happy. We are going to see their new house later this week.