So at 7:20 dressed up for a wedding in suits and ties (and overcoats because it was very cold) we waited outside our apartment. Jill arrived on time in a taxi and we took a short ride to the bride's apartment. By 7:40 we were being served bowls of steaming hot pork noodles. The tradition is that the groom comes to the bride's apartment with his friends and bearing gifts but that the bride's family and friends will not let him in until he has shown that he is sufficiently eager. It was quite funny to watch as they barricaded the door to the apartment. The women were shouting and only allowing to open a crack while the men outside tossed in handfuls of sweets as a distraction. It went on for at least fifteen minutes and then there was the second obstacle of the bedroom door to be overcome. Inside the bride was waiting with yet more people preventing him entering. Another ten minute struggle ensued after which he still had to persuade the bride to leave with him to go to the wedding.
Eventually that was all dome and we followed them down to the street where a convoy of black limousines was waiting to take us on the forty-five minute trip to the grooms home.
Unlike the venue on Saturday, the groom's home was in relatively prosperous farming country and his family seemed to have a substantial size farm with both open fields and a number of poly-tunnels. The fields were barren at this time of year but his father showed us around the tunnels. These had a construction that I have seen much of in the province. A long wall, maybe thirty metres is constructed of earth to a height of about six feet. Two smaller walls are constructed at the ends. A framework of canes is then erected to support the polythene that acts as a greenhouse. These were full of winter vegetables all merrily growing in spite of the cold conditions outside.
And, of course, back outside people were merrily enjoying the wedding in spite of those selfsame cold conditions. We were seated at a table and given more bowls of noodles while in a kitchen in the corner half a dozen women were busy preparing the main feast. I ate a bowl and pretended to eat a second bowl that was poured in to refill it and as soon as I could I stood up and poked my head briefly into the room where most of the men were sitting but the smoky haze was like a thick fog and two seconds were enough to drive me back out.
For a while I wandered around taking pictures. The people in the kitchen happily posed for me and no one seemed to object to the intrusion of my camera, though some guests seemed completely bemused by my presence there at all.
As I walked about they were busy clearing away some tables while a man with a microphone was getting set up. They rolled out a carpet and the bride and groom came out. They stood on the carpet and the ceremony proceeded. I, of course, understood almost nothing. The man with the microphone said a lot of things in Chinese. From time to time the happy couple answered him, sometimes with words and sometimes with bows. Rings were exchanged. Certificates were presented. Someone that I took to be the best man kept running out and trying to force the groom to bow lower by jumping on his back. (Best man seems to be the traditional post for acting the fool the world over.)
At the end the bride and groom retreated to hold court in separate rooms. Knowing that there would be less smoke there I chose to visit the bride.
The room was crowded with people offering best wishes but as soon as we entered Mike and I were seated – the present occupiers of the chairs being incredible eager to see us comfortable. I had been told by Jane that we would be honoured guests but hadn't really realised just how true that would be. The bride took a full half an hour talking to just us. We were in comfortable armchairs while a few other guests sat elsewhere and others filled the room standing. The bride sat on the edge of a large bed on which another world-wide wedding icon – "the drunk uncle" had passed out.
In a moment when she was talking to Michael I looked around the room. It was that curious Chinese mixture of living room and bedroom – furnished with a bed, a lot of armchairs and a heating stove. The walls were decorated with posters that seemed to be advertising baby shampoo and the ceiling with an elaborate pattern of Dr Pepper wrappers.
Soon it was time to eat again. By now it was becoming routine. An hour passes and then there's another meal. And another. They had set the tables back up and started loading them with the usual random pile of two dozen different dishes. I keep trying to explain that in the UK any one of those dishes, perhaps accompanied by a few vegetables, would be a complete meal but I always get the impression that no one actually believes me. They think that such a system would be too crazy to be true.
When we had ploughed our way through enough food to keep a small army going for a month (including the pause for the double cup baijo toast with our hosts) it was almost time for us to leave.
The party would clearly continue on without us but we had something else.
You've guessed it.
There was another meal to go to.