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To wed: For yourself or your parents?
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Situation III: Have it their way

Case 1: Chen Tian

Chen got married last year with no firecrackers, no banquet, nothing. The 36-year-old accountant and her husband simply took a honeymoon trip to Singapore after getting a marriage certificate at the Bureau of Civil Affairs.

Born into a traditional Chinese family, Chen admits that it was not easy to achieve simplicity.

"I spent quite some time negotiating with my parents. They of course wanted a wedding banquet like others did," Chen recalls.

It was like a tug-of-war, but she managed to persuade her parents, as she told them, "We are too busy to prepare for the ceremony - it's too time- and energy-consuming. And we think it's not necessary and worthwhile."

Victory often favors the strong-minded, so Chen smiled to the end.

Case 2: Vivian To and Hans Leung

To and Leung plan to marry late this year. To, born in a traditional Chinese family in Hong Kong, loves Indian culture and is fascinated by the country's religious rituals.

Her ideal wedding ceremony will be a typical Indian affair. "I want Indian decorations in the hotel ballroom. All the guests will take pictures with us in front of a big backdrop of the Taj Mahal."

The food will be Indian, "and we will perform a short Indian dance for the guests," says To.

But achieving this has been a struggle. To's parents cannot accept her idea because they are Chinese. They just can't understand why the daughter wants to try a foreign culture, especially on this important occasion.

More important, they are concerned about their mianzi (face). "We have many friends who are highly educated and well-mannered. They will definitely wonder why two Chinese are holding an Indian wedding. We do not want to lose face in front of them," admits To's mother.

"We are worried that our friends may laugh at Vivian if she wears Indian dress, and will always remember this as a joke for the rest of their lives."

However, To insists that it is "her wedding," and she should have the final say. "I do not want to waste US$600,000 on a wedding party that is fun (maybe) for the guests but boring to me," she says. "I'm not a monkey in the circus to amuse others. I want to make it memorable and special.

"Wedding is an once-in-a-lifetime day and I don't want to waste it and regret it for the rest of my life," she adds.

After prolonged negotiation and struggle, To has decided to have two parties: a very traditional Chinese wedding for her parents and an Indian party for her own engagement.

"We have already started taking Indian dance classes," she smiles.

Role of the bride and bridegroom

1. Barricade the door

The bridegroom must pick up the bride at her home around noon. The banquet itself starts in the evening.

Upon arriving, the bridegroom's party will be barred by the bride's friends, who will not open the door and "surrender" the bride until they are given hong bao (red envelop of money). This is the occasion of much good-natured haggling before the two parties agree.

2. Serving tea

After the bridegroom enters the bride's house, the newlyweds together will kneel down to serve tea to the bride's parents.

The bride expresses her appreciation for her parents' care, and the bridegroom promises to take good care of their daughter.

3. Sweet soup

Then the couple will eat sweet soup made of lotus seeds (lianzi) and jujubes (hongzao). In Chinese, the combination of lotus seeds and jujubes means "having a son soon."

4. Leave the wealth

When the bride is about to leave her home, she will be carried on the back of her brother, cousin or uncle (a male relative, not her father). This signifies that by joining another family the bride will not take luck and wealth away from her parents' home.

5. Three bows

During the very important wedding ceremony, usually at the banquet, the couple bows three times: first to Heaven and Earth, then to their parents, finally to each other. Then they are really married.

6. Jiao bei jiu (union of wine cups)

The bridegroom and the bride each take a glass of wine and stand facing each other. Then, with their arms intertwined, they drink. This means the marriage has bonded the two tightly together.

7. Toasting and cigarette lighting

Everybody agrees this is the most tiring part of the wedding. The newlyweds must go to each table (of at least 10 people) and toast everyone to thank them for coming. More than one tipsy bride has toppled.

The bride must light cigarettes for all men present, because the word for "light" (yang) in Chinese sounds like the word for "luck." The idea is making it difficult to light, so the bride must keep trying and the guests must repeatedly use the word.

8. Nao dongfang (tease in the bridal chamber)

After the wedding banquet, which usually takes around three hours, the newlywed's relatives and friends crowd into the bridal chamber to tease the couple.

For guests, it is often the most fun, but can be difficult for the bride and bridegroom, especially since they have been drinking. The guests will come up with funny - and sometimes embarrassing - tricks, games or skits that the couple will perform in front of everyone.

(Shanghai Daily June 29, 2008)

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