So you have been invited to a wedding. You have never met the bride? You only know the groom through acquaintance with some guy named wang? No problem! Get ready for a great evening!
Guests should arrive at 6:30 (the actual ceremony will begin around 8:00), shake hands with the bride and groom and hand over a red packet. The amount depends on your relationship to the couple. These days it is customary for friends to give about 200 and family members to give at least 500. As a laowai you don’t give any money. You are free entertainment. The jester never pays the prince. This is the last time this evening that being laowai is a boon instead of a burden, so enjoy it.
Guests wait patiently as a looped video of the couple prancing around a park or local school play in background. It is considered extremely bad form to remark how gay this whole thing is, despite everybody being aware of it. There is usually one song looped as well, so you have heard it 25 times before the wedding begins.
Your table will consist of one guy you know from around, who speaks broken English, and 7 strangers who don’t. One of them will have a 9 year old son with snot hanging out of his nose, who you will be expected to sit next to, because as we all know English is mainly learned through osmosis. You will agree to “practice English” because you figure you are a 5% chance to bang his mum one day.
There will usually be a small box of chocolates in front of you. Consume these immediately because there will be very little edible food for the rest of the evening.
The table in front of you will be covered in food, some of which will look tasty, but god forbid you actually eat anything, no matter how long an afternoon you have had. Likewise the drinks. Even if you have just crossed the Gobi desert on bicycle, you had damn well better wait until the dinner proper begins before drinking anything. You can choose to drink baijiu, horrible wine (it is always horrible. I think that this is how Changyu get rid of the disaster batches – sell them to wedding planners) or sickly sweet fake orange drink. You can ask for a beer, and the waiter or waitress will give you a death stare which could pierce lead, then disappear for 10 minutes. He or she (often indeterminable) will return 10 minutes later with a single beer – somehow several degrees above room temperature, and less than 3% alcohol.
Lights dim and the couple enters. They walk up the runway, the MC speaks briefly, the couple do some symbolic act, like lighting candles together, pouring liquids into a large container where they mix and change colour, or flip a switch together to turn on a series of lights, a smoke machine or a bubble machine. This should be regarded as extremely romantic and moving, and not at all tacky.
Guests begin dinner. At this point it is the duty of the ugliest man on the table to order everyone to stand up and drink a glass. You will now notice that all the other men are drinking Orange sugar water. While ugly guy stares you down and tries forcefully to fill your cup with baijiu, you should ask the other fellows to drink a glass too. All of them will decline and make the steering wheel motion. I am now convinced that this is the single reason Chinese men want to buy cars. Cars can certainly not be called a convenience in any city in China, but that 30 mins spent looking for a car park every day is worth it to get out of the baijiu competitions at these events. As a laowai everyone must treat you as some kind of guest of honour, making sure you get your bit of chicken, your bit of beef and about three quarters of a turtle shell for some horrible reason. Eat what you can, throw the rest under the table. If you are offered a knife and a fork, try to remember that this is a compliment, not a total insult to your intelligence and basic motor skills.
After 3 or 4 dishes have been served, a singer will appear, usually the uncle of the groom, already drunk and determined to butcher a 70’s patriotic song for the crowd. At this point an army of waitresses appear and start removing the half empty dishes. This always happens. They take the best ones too, the fuking tofu soup will stay there for 2 hours, but god help you if you don’t get a shrimp or two within 10 minutes of it hitting the table.
Around this time the endless list of toasts begins. First the lucky couple and their inebriated parents will make the rounds. As a laowai you WILL be the focus of attention, despite being the only one on the table who has never met any of them. At this point, wine is no longer acceptable. 70’s song uncle will insist you drink baijiu with him and spill half of his glass on your shoes.
Next someone will ask you to sing a song as a personal favour. When you finally acquiesce and browse the music selection you find that they don’t actually want you to sing a song, they want you to sing A song. A specific song. It will be either Country road, Hotel California or My heart will go on. When you get halfway through and you start to enjoy yourself and think you are actually nailing it, druncle will appear with another microphone from nowhere and start singing over you, despite not knowing the words – “WEI KA TU DI HOU TUI KA LI FA NI YA!!!!”
When you get back to your table you find that the one guy there you liked snuck out while the groom’s back was turned. Don’t be angry at him. Learn from him. He is the smartest guy in the room. By this time you should have had enough baijiu that you won’t want to throttle snot face, even if he calls you laowai right to your face like seven fuking times. Just keep sneaking glances at his mother’s pretty eyelashes if you get too angry.
The chef is your friend at this event. He will ensure that the guests have some idea of how long they must endure this madness. His first subtle sign will be some kind of bland cakes or perhaps a dish of fruit. This is code for “not long now, keep smiling and nodding”. 10 minutes later a fish will appear. This is code for “make sure you have your keys and phone, get ready to bolt for the door”.
Next a waitress will appear with a tray of crabs, eliciting groans from almost every patron, as everyone thought that it was time to go. Luckily, these crabs are not for you. Look over your right shoulder. You will see the bride’s aunt with plastic bag in hand, eying the tray of crabs and staring down anyone who looks like they want to eat one. The best thing to do now is announce that you need to use the bathroom. Try to walk slowly as you exit the hall, so as not to incite a stampede. If others are onto your ruse there will be 300 drunk people behind you and that is never a good situation to be in. Once you are out of the hall, run. Just run for your life.
You have exactly 5 minutes to find a taxi. If you are still waiting when the party ends, you will be on that sidewalk for at least 45 minutes. If someone is standing to your left they just entered intercept position. You must get to the left of them immediately, but without being too obvious. If both parties are determined this game of intercept could take you several hundred metres away from the hotel.
Once you are home, you should try to purge your stomach immediately, especially if you were dumb enough to eat the crab. They bought 300 of them, do you really think the vendor checked the freshness? Forget tainted milk, wedding food is the second biggest killer in China. The first is, of course, druncles hitting people with their VW Santanas.
Congratulations! You just survived your first wedding in China! If you are more attractive than Quasimodo and more amiable than Hitler, you can expect to be invited to one every few months. You are now well on your way to becoming Chinese, and fuk what Mark Kitto says.