Monday, March 16, 2009

The Chinese Wedding Bonanza

We're officially Hong Kongers. I mean, you get invited to a Chinese wedding and really, what's left to do on the immersion list? While this wedding was a Chinese/Western fusion wedding (the groom is from the States), I was definitely exposed to some interesting new customs.

Here's a quick snapshot of the various elements, which I've categorized into familiar Western elements and decidedly unfamiliar Hong Kong elements.

Familiar (e.g. Western) Elements:

We received an invitation that looked like it could've come from Anywhere, U.S.A. apart from it being in Cantonese.

However, when you flipped up the first page, you found the English version. (Thank God.)

Unfamiliar (e.g. Hong Kong) elements:

In addition to the invitation itself, the envelope contained $20HKD (~$2.50 USD) and a coupon to a bakery in Hong Kong. I like this custom -- getting paid to come to a wedding!

Weeks before receiving this invitation, we got a save-the-date email from the groom that featured a picture of the bride and groom in full wedding couture regalia (see below). Clearly there was to be no epic bridal gown reveal moment. Yes, they were also posing with their pet bunnies. Another strange choice, but who am I to pass judgment on people including their pets in their wedding?!

A week after getting the hard invite, we also got another card that featured yet a second picture of the bride and groom in traditional costume; this one with directions to the church. So before the big day arrived, I already knew what the happy couple would be wearing...or did I?

Familiar (e.g. Western) Elements:

The ceremony was held at a Christian church by a pastor named Greg Anderson. As the programs denoted, there were readings and songs, the exchanging of vows and rings. There was a flower girl and ring bearer. The bride wore white (although this I find interesting since I've read that white is only appropriate for funerals in Chinese culture.) The procession of the wedding party was pretty standard and the whole thing was capped off by the big "you may kiss the bride" moment.

Unfamiliar (e.g. Hong Kong) elements:

The bride and groom greeted guests as they walked up to the to yet another photo of them in full regalia. And yes, they are holding toy bunnies.

There were 3 photographers and 1 videographer -- okay maybe a tad overkill, but still relatively normal. Well, they all stood right next to the couple throughout the entire ceremony; so close that none of us could even see the bride and groom. It was like a wall of paparazzi between the guests and the couple. I still can't figure out why you wouldn't want your 3 photogs spaced out around the church to capture different angles, but what do I know? Actually, what I do know is that I would not want to be the one who has to sort through the millions of pictures that 3 photogs produce. I had a hard enough time with the thousand or so that my one photographer got.

After the "now I pronounce you" declaration and the marching down the aisle to applause, the happy couple came strolling back in the church, up the aisle and to the front of the church. Then they proceeded to invite various groups of people up to take photos while the rest of the crowd stayed seated and watched. When I say "groups" I mean every group you could ever imagine -- the groom's work friends; the bride's work friends (editor's note: the bride and groom work together); the bride's cooking class friends; the groom and his father; now the groom, his father and his brother; now the groom, his father, his brother and his uncle. We were there for an extra hour watching photos be taken. Why wasn't I drinking a glass of wine and eating a canape at happy hour?

Familiar (e.g. Western) Elements:

The day = ceremony + cocktail hour + reception. Pretty standard stuff.

Unfamiliar (e.g. Hong Kong) elements:

The ceremony was at 2pm and lasted two hours (including picture time at the end.) Not so bad; try an Italian Catholic mass. However, cocktail hour didn't start until 6pm and the reception didn't start until 9:30pm. So you had 2 hours between the ceremony ending and cocktail hour and then cocktail "hour" lasted 3 and a half hours!!! The whole shebang became a 10-hour affair when the reception ended at midnight. I nearly died when the groom came up to us after the reception and asked if we wanted to go out for drinks. Um, didn't he have more important matters at hand (e.g. consummating the marriage?!)

Familiar (e.g. Western) Elements:

Nothing out of the ordinary here. It was held at the W in Kowloon, which was super sexy. Assigned seating, an 11-course meal, entertainment, a slide show, speeches, etc.

Unfamiliar (e.g. Hong Kong) elements:

A bridesmaid and groomsman emceed the event. They introduced various speakers, explained what was being served, etc. Embarrasing confession: when the emcee came over to ask Vin to come up on stage (more about that in a sec), I mistook him for the waiter and asked if I could get another glass of wine. Oops.

There was bird's nest and shark's fin soup on the menu. I guess I should've expected this. We kept being served orange juice -- just straight up orange juice, throughout the cocktail hour and reception. I guess oranges hold some special signifcance in Chinese culture. Who knew?!

And now onto the good stuff...

Brothers and Sisters
A few weeks before the wedding, the groom asked Vin to be a "brother." A common Chinese custom is to have brothers and sisters in addition to bridesmaids and groomsmen. Completely honored, Vin immediately said yes. Then the groom informed Vin that the main responsibility of the brother was getting hazed by the bride, bridesmaids and sisters the morning of the wedding. He gave Vin an example he had seen at a wedding where some of the brothers put lollipops between their toes while other brothers sucked on them. Um, what?!

Well, the big day came and hours before the ceremony, in a suite at the W, the bride and her gaggle of gals made Vin brush his teeth with wasabi.

It could've been worse; the groom and other brothers had to don spandex unitards and pose in embarrassing cheerleader-like pyramids on top of each other.

I wish I could provide some insight as to why this custom exists, but I really don't understand it myself. I shared this with my friend Erin, an Aussie, and she said that she attended a Chinese wedding in Australia where they did these same things only at the reception!! At that wedding some of the men had to attach balloons to their crotches and put whipped cream on them...then the other brothers had to lick the whipped cream off the balloons! At the reception. In front of people. Like grandparents and bosses. I guess Vin got off easy.

Costume Changes
The bride had five (!) costume changes throughout the night. She donned 2 different white wedding gowns, a few pink prom-like gowns and then a short cocktail dress number. The groom also had a few outfit changes -- his mostly were in the tie and cummerbund department (from gray to pink). Chinese Cultural Insight: Because of the many outfit changes, Chinese brides don't buy their wedding dresses (even the ones they walk down the aisle in), but instead rent them. It makes economical sense. It was really fun to see what she would come out in next!

Dress #2
Dress #3 (which may be the same as Dress #1, a.k.a. the ceremony dress):

Dress #4

Also, the cocktail hour featured a slideshow of all these gorgeous photos of the bride and groom, including the ones from the save-the-date. These had various backdrops and outfit changes (at the beach, on a busy Hong Kong trolley, up at The Peak overlooking the city) -- it was as if they were from a magazine spread. We later found out that the couple had a 2-day photo shoot for these photos.

So that's it -- our first Chinese wedding in the bag. Lessons learned: wear comfortable clothes and shoes, ones that you'll be happy wearing for 10 straight hours (Jess) and don't agree to be a brother (Vin). All sarcasm aside, it was a beautiful, well-planned affair. I have a new found respect for Chinese brides because they have a lot more on their plate than American ones, which I didn't think was possible.


  1. Holy moly, that is a lot of dresses, that probably cost as much as our dinner reception alone! And go VIN, that is SO FUNNY about him getting hazed, love it.

  2. That is hiliarous. I love the play by play.

  3. Can I ask how much something like this costs? Okay so some of the dresses are rentals, but a two-day photo shoot prior and three photogs, 11 courses and drum roll...OJ? Ha!

  4. I cracked up through this whole post...hilarious.

  5. Kier, I was thinking the same thing! This had to be an INSANELY expensive wedding. Especially since this W was super swank and had just opened.