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Joe and Du Xue’s wedding took place yesterday morning. It was more of a modern celebration of Joe and Du Xue’s marriage (they got hitched in a courthouse a couple months ago) than a traditional wedding. Unlike every other wedding I’ve ever attended, this one started in the morning and finished before noon. At around 7 o’clock, Joe, his father, Craig, and I were all picked up from the hotel in Ganyu by Du Xue’s relatives and driven to her parent’s house in the country. Du Xue and her family (immediate and some extended family, probably 30 people in all) were all waiting at her house for Joe to arrive.

         

We were promptly welcomed in. The bride and groom, their fathers, and Craig and I all sat for tea on a lone sofa in the sparsely furnished upstairs living room. Like many houses in the Chinese countryside, the house was made almost entirely of concrete and had no heat (it was less than 40 degrees F that day). In another show of the family’s generosity, Du Xue’s father presented Tony, me, and Craig with a gift of tea and chopsticks.

There were many poignant moments during the day, but perhaps the most sentimental of all was at tea when Joe’ dad presented Du Xue with a necklace that had belonged to Joe’s mother.

   

We took pictures of the couple and various family members for just under an hour before we processed out of the house to a restaurant just up the street. Although it was less than a block away, the two black sedans which had picked us up from the hotel were waiting outside the house to carry the bride and groom to the restaurant. Before leaving, her family members set off a string of firecrackers in front of their car, signifying that their marriage was complete and that the bride would not be able to return to her parents’ house for 3 full days.

    

There was a brief wait at the restaurant while Du Xue changed out of the big white “western-style” wedding dress she had worn for pictures into a more comfortable, more traditional-style gown. At this time, Joe conversed with his new father-in-law and acted as translator for the two fathers as they discussed the possibilities awaiting the new couple in their future.

This was the first time that Joe’s father and Du Xue’s parents had ever met, and I felt privileged to witness their interaction through their newly shared son. Du Xue arrived some time later, and the couple, the parents, Craig and I all ate a humongous early lunch in a private room. There was way too much food.

    

After the meal, her extended family poured into the room in droves. Those who did speak any amount of English were eager to use it. Others talked animatedly amongst themselves or socialized with the new couple. As Du Xue’s father had told us during the meal, this was the first time this many Westerners had ever been in Ganyu.

We left the restaurant before noon, as was the custom, and headed back to the hotel. Du Xue and Joe checked into their private room at the hotel. Later that night, Joe busted out a Chinese language version of my favorite board game, Settlers of Catan. When I reflect on their wedding, I’m happy that they were able to bring their folks together and celebrate their wedding. It was a privilege to share in the celebration with their families.

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I hope everyone back home is doing well! Joe’s father, Tony, arrived in Shanghai a day late after an ice storm delayed flights in MSP and various Canadian airports.

There’s been tons of great food at every meal. Highlights from Shanghai include: peppers and chicken stomachs and diced lotus roots. We’ve also had some traditional Uigur food (muslim Chinese ethnic minority) and our fair share of street food: Chicken Kabobs, jiaozi (steamed dumplings), and jien bing (a traditional flatbread from Ganyu, see below). One of the more memorable dishes was a cold tofu and egg dish called Pidandofu.

This morning we arrived in Ganyu, the hometown of Joe’s fiance Du Xue. Craig and I met her for the first time today, but as she doesn’t speak much English, we didn’t have a whole lot to say past the standard greetings. Her family was kind enough to arrange a van to pick us all up from the nearby airport and get us to the hotel.

Du Xue’s father took the lot of us out to a massive lunch today, in a generous display of his hospitality. He also complimented me on my proper use of chopsticks…so that was legit.

We walked around the town a bit so Joe and Du Xue could purchase the final necessities for their nuptials. One boquet and a shirt and tie later, they were all set. They’ve already been legally married in China for several months now, and lived together for longer, which I suppose helps explain their fairly relaxed attitude towards finalizing the last little details.

Although it happened to a lesser extent in Shanghai, people are very unabashed at staring at westerners in Ganyu. Many younger people just giggle and say “hello,” but most people will stop in their tracks and stare openly. I had a woman at the market today come up to me and say “foreigner.” I’m not entirely sure about the sentiment behind that, but I think most of it is just plain curiousity. Right at this moment, Joe has a small entourage of Chinese teenagers animatedly talking with him.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now…the wedding ceremony is tomorrow morning (aparently it’s bad luck if the ceremony goes past noon), and we’ll have an additional two more days in Ganyu after that. The internet cafe is right across the  street from our hotel, so you’ll probably be hearing from me again in a day or so.

***Although I have since returned from my journeys abroad, I thought it might be nice to do a few posts on the experience for those of you I wasn’t able to keep in touch with over the past few weeks. These are loosely based on the emails I sent home at that time, except these will have pictures! That is all.***

Wanted to let you guys know how things have been going out East. China does their New Year in a big way. Our first night here, we watched fireworks explode all across the city from “The Bund,” a boulevard overlooking the river and much of the Shanghai skyline. Fireworks were lit off in the streets, off of balconies, and off of the roofs of the buildings. Craig and I left the Bund after about a half an hour and found quite another large fireworks display off the beaten path.
The past two days we’ve spent wandering around the city and taking in the sights. The metro here is very manageable and has been helpful in navigating the city. I won’t recount the entire trip minute by minute, but here are some of my impressions so far:
  • Many of the shops and restaurants here have been closed, as most people get a week off for New Year’s
  • There are a lot of people in Shanghai – but I think most of the crowds we’ve seen have been Chinese tourists
  • There’s a convenience store just about every block
  • People like to stare at westerners – I usually just give them a wave
  • The piece of advice that has served me best so far is: “If it looks good, eat it” (Soup dumplings and hotpot are my favorites so far)
  • I’m not so good at speaking Chinese…and I haven’t a clue how to read it
Fortunately for me and Craig, our friend Joe (the groom to be and reason we came to China) arrived in Shanghai last night. It’s been great to get to see him again and spend some time learning about the country he’s lived in for the past 2+ years. We’ve got dinner plans so I’ve got to run. I love you all!

As always, feel free to forward to anyone I may have missed.

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