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May 24, 2014

The Ides of May: A Village Wedding in Xiongxian

Xiongxian, China

“Local XiongXian Man Marries Beautiful Swedish Bride, an International Romance is Consummated”. I didn’t notice any reporters in the ravening fracas of 400 wedding guests, but there was the headline, writ large. And pictures of all fifteen of us, overdressed in the plaza.

The bride and groom live on our block in the next hutong over, and we’ve been tagging along with their crew of merry European misfits for a couple of years now. The papers were officially signed a couple of months ago, but as far as Zong Can’s parents were concerned, the marriage wasn’t real until the bride had been presented on the hometown green and bowed to the ancestral graves.

Zong Can and Susanna:

China Travel Blog: Bride and Groom Wedding in Hebei Near Beijing

Xizan Village in Xiongxian District, population 4,000, is three hours outside of Beijing, yet another one of Hebei’s many dust-blown agricultural outposts barely marked by highway signage. Xiongxian’s economy functions almost exclusively on wheat production and PVC pipe manufacturing. Those who don’t find work in local industries migrate further afield, taking jobs in Beijing or in Chinese-owned factories abroad. In the temporary lull between the morning and afternoon revels, we took an exploratory group walk, startling dogs as we went. Wide dirt roads, big gates, gaggles of marauding children, and little else:

Travel Blog China: Chinese Hebei Village Woman Tends to Her Baby

I always wonder if these kids know what their shirts say:

Travel China Blog: Beijing Province Chinglish

Indie Travel Blog China: Village Wedding near Beijing

“Plastic Factory looking for workers (men and women both OK). Age between 18 and 35, competitive compensation. Call now:”

Rural Travel Blog China: Wedding in Village near Beijing

Expat Blog Beijing: Traditional Chinese Village Wedding Pictures

“So what’s the ceremony going to be like?”

“No idea,” said Susanna, calm as a Hindu cow. “His family is arranging everything. All I have to do is show up in my dress.”

As it turns out, the ceremony was held in the house Zong Can’s parents built for the two of them, on the site of an old tofu factory. Four bedrooms, one living room, no kitchen, no bathroom, no plumbing. We stood under a black awning in the huge yard with a full 1/10th of the village population, listening to Guowei’s live translation of the wedding toast that Susanna’s father recorded for the occasion.

Expat Beijing Blog: Traditional Wedding Ceremony in Beijing Town

Carolina weaves a flower tiara for Susanna to wear:

Expat Blog China: Traditional Chinese Wedding Ceremony

Guests begin arriving:

China Expat Blog: Chinese Wedding Traditions

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Susanna waits inside with her bridesmaids for Zong Can to fight his way through the melee:

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Newlyweds pose on the bed near a pile of old comforters, hand-made by the groom’s mother. The Chinese word for “comforter” sounds similar to the Chinese word for “generation”, and so a pile of duvets symbolizes a long and fruitful marriage:

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The groom’s parents:

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The bride and groom toast tables of guests:

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The groom’s mother introduces the bride to friends and family:

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The amount of money that each guest gives is recorded on arrival:

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The eating started again.

I kept imagining what it must be like to never have traveled more than 20 miles from your front door, and then to be seated at a banquet table next to a live squadron of tattooed vikings who’d all been encouraged to start ceremonially drinking at 9am that morning. Like trying to hold down polite conversation with slightly tipsy moon people, I guess. Maybe moon people actually hear out of their buttholes and crap out of their ears. And maybe if you startle them, poo will fountain out of their heads and cascade all over your shirt. Because who the hell knows anything about alien biology except aliens. Then you make an apprehensive polite foray and you find out that yes, the moon-women would absolutely like another glass of beer, and everything’s back to normal and you have like, a million questions and you want to know all about the moon.

The groom’s family hired a team of cooks to keep the 400 guests in pork knuckles and sesame greens:

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A fried fish for every table:

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The wedding feast. Without enough room or cooking capacity to feed 400 in one sitting, guests are issued time slots with their invitation that determine when they can show up and eat:

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Cotton candy cart. This wedding has ev-er-y-thing:

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Build-your-own snowcone truck: 

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This is called “doing that grub some serious justice”: 

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The post-wedding downward spiral into shameless depravity was as it should have been. No one ended the day in the clothes they showed up in, which is what happens when you have seven hours in which to make your own fun. There was an impromptu 4pm square dance disco. There was Sunday jiaozi breakfast. There was an aborted moon-walk-off and a sing-a-long. Someone – and I’m not naming any names, here – kicked the soccer ball into the latrine hole.

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Susanna and Zongcan, 白头到老.

WTF IS A KENDRA SCHAEFER?
american tech writer living in beijing. chinese user interface consultant. crafter of pretty digital things. haver of nebulous ideas.
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