My Special Day

Most brides want to be in control of every aspect of their dream wedding, but in China the parents have more say in the planning process.

I was more practical and did something that would make Chinese and Western brides pale.

My cousin swayed my opinion on marriage. She simply told me that my parents were looking forward to officially “giving” me away. A phone call from my mother sealed the deal.

“I will take care of everything. You and John only need to attend on time,” she said.

John and I cheerfully accepted the invitation to our wedding. In China, it is common for the parents to plan a wedding for their son or daughter.

To show my respect and appreciation for my parents’ hard work, I invested 2,000 RMB on a beautiful wedding gown which had a traditional Chinese-style top and a smart modern hemline. I also got a pair of high heels to go with my dress.

Three years and four months after being married in the court of law, we were finally having the traditional ceremony. On our wedding day everyone arrived including my soon to be mother-in-law and her friends from Canada.

Traditionally Chinese people will host two weddings. One in the groom’s hometown consisting of necessary rituals, welcoming the bride, a tea serving ceremony for the groom’s parents and teasing the new couple on their wedding night. The other, in the bride’s hometown, is much simpler. The new husband and wife need to welcome guests to the wedding at the entrance hall.

The temperature dropped to almost zero degrees in Sichuan, where I am from, on the big day. Usually, a Chinese bride prepares two outfits: a red qipao and, often, a white wedding gown. However, I was more practical and did something that would make Chinese and Western brides pale. I soon changed into my second outfit, which was more suitable for the bitterly cold winter: a sweater, jeans and sneakers. When I showed up in my second outfit, John was upset we had not taken a picture of me in my wedding dress. For a moment I was invisible to my friends and family, who were looking for the bride.

I briefly found peace in this, which was quickly broken when I got a message from my translator saying she could not make it due to a family emergency. I did not need a translator, being fluent in English, Mandarin and the local dialect, but it was my wedding day, and the less work the better.

I coped with the situation calmly and took up the role. The first person to speak was my husband John.

“I am so lucky to get married to Charlene. I love her, and she is such a wonderful woman.”

In the beginning, I translated “Charlene” to first person, but as he continued, I naturally shifted to the third person to refer to myself. I might be an absent-minded bride, but I was a rather devoted interpreter.

For the after-party, we went to a tea house with a few close family members, instead of the normal ritual of guests playing pranks on the bride and groom. I sipped the rose tea and felt it was a perfect day; however, John is still holding onto an obsession that he does not have a nice photo with his bride.