A wedding in the village

We were invited to the wedding of our landlord’s son-in-law’s fourth brother’s son. (Take your time..) It was quite the experience! The wedding was a two day affair which started early in the morning on both days and consisted mainly of food, food and more food! All the villagers came together to help out – the women was on food preparation duty. The first rush was to get lunch ready. There were about six different dishes for each table and each dish was the responsibility of one woman, who then had her own group of friends to help out. I was part of the “fried spicy potatoes” and “green vegetable with pork mince soup” group. I’ve never sliced so many potatoes and green vegetables in my life. I think my slices were the most uneven and thickest of the lot, but I’m sure no one noticed when they were thrown in to join the mountain of other slices. We went through barrels of oil and bottles of soy, it really is a skill to cook in such great quantities. I find it difficult enough when cooking for just a party of eight let alone thirty tables.

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In the meantime, the men were put on more labour intensive duties such building a fire pit for the large woks, lifting tables, hanging decorations and even a pig killing! The pig was 125kg, it took four men to carry it, and was pooping itself the whole time. I felt so sorry for the poor swine but at least the knife to the throat was swift and the squeals stopped in a matter of seconds. Arthur was right though, he said we should only be allowed to eat what we are able to kill ourselves. In that case, I’d probably have been a vegetarian for sure. Perhaps I would be able kill a fish, or a squid?? But not much else I am certain. The pig was then transported (on our electric tricycle!) from the home to the roadside where the men started a fire to burn of the hair and eventually crisp the skin. The crispy pig skin is a real treat, everyone made a bee-line to grab a piece. Grannies and babies with no teeth were also gnawing away! I personally felt like it needed a few more hours over the fire, but I felt bad to decline when the women kept offering me part of their share. I ended up accepting them but slipped it to Arthur on the down-low. Heehee.

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Once the food was served onto the tables, lunch was done in 15 minutes! The guests cleared out of the house as swiftly as they had arrived. Next, it was time for the groom to give offerings in a modest temple but a ten minute walk away. The pig’s head was part of the offering, along with baijiu (local white alcohol made from rice), rice cakes and other snacks. There was an old granny who was the master-of-ceremony. She told everyone what the say, when to bow, where to stand. The groom and his buddies obediently complied but seemed clueless about the rituals. We then proceeded to another temple further up the mountain for more offerings. When the last joss stick was lit and prayers had been said, everyone had to eat some part of the pig’s head. They believed that if you eat blessed food, you will be protected from everything in life. I really was not keen on more pig skin let alone pig head. I was even thinking it might not very clean and how ironic it would be if I got sick from this blessed food. But then I decided I shouldn’t be such a skeptical wuss. So I reached down, sliced me the last piece of pig skin I would eat for that day and probably for a very long time.

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Upon our return, the women were preparing gifts to bring over to the bride’s home which was just in the next village. The gifts consisted of huge sacks of sugar and flour, endless little bread buns and cakes, live chickens, fresh fish and vegetables, clothes and shoes for the bride, an assortment of other snacks and sweets and cold hard cash. I wanted a sneak a peek at the bride so I tagged along. At the bride’s home they were doing the whole crazy amount of food thing too. We placed all the gifts on a table and sat amonsgt ourselves, no mingling with the in-laws at all. After about fifteen minutes of eating sunflower seeds, a girl comes by and serves us sweet tea. One by one the women take the tea and give some money in return. I was reaching for my purse when my landlord’s daughter and friend who I was wedged in between insisted that I need not contribute. They were very adamant so I reluctantly obeyed as I sheepishly took the tea and avoided eye contact with the server. I felt like some cheapskate gatecrasher! To make matters worst, I found out later on that the server was actually the bride! Oh the shame..

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By this time it was 5pm – lo and behold it was dinner time! Food! Again! I was going to burst at the seams. But we sat down and ate yet again. Arthur got into the baijiu and just like how the pig killing photos would have been too gruesome to put up, I also refrain from posting the photos of Mr Gallice intoxicated. End of Day One.

Day Two, I joined the women back at the house at 8am for the same food preparation routine. This time apart from washing and cutting vegetables, I joined the factory line assembling appetiser platters. These platters were made up of slices of pork meat, slices of pork fat, slices of pork meat AND fat, Chinese sausages, duck wing tips, cucumber, pork liver and boiled eggs – eight pieces of each item. This was then topped off with dyed-red mushroom fungus and peanuts. I was on egg positioning, red fungus placement, peanut topping and cling-wrapping duty. I think we did this for 3 hours, no kidding. It made me thankful that I was not a factory worker. Repetition of any kind is such arduous work! After the platters, we moved onto another dish. More pork fat was made and this time it was mixed with flour. We then places eight double strips of pork in each bowl, skin side down.

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By this time I didn’t know if it was lunch or dinner. It was 4pm so apparently it was dinner. After a quick trip home to feed our kitties, we returned to the wedding ready (Not!) to eat again. The tables were filled with guests by the time we arrived and I noticed most of them were just packing up their food in plastic bags or containers, and not really eating. I think this is the usual practice though as the bags were provided by the host family on each table. I sat with my landlord’s wife and she started to pack food in bags as well. Little did I know that the bags were for me! She was so sweet and wanted to give us food for the coming days before everyone dug into dinner. She insisted that I bring these bags of food home to place in our refrigerator, so I did. During this time, the bride and groom arrived! But apparently they were whisked away so quickly to their rooms that the guests hardly caught a glimpse of the newlyweds. Bummed that I missed this moment, I didn’t go anywhere after, determined not to miss them again.

So we ate. Again. And after we couldn’t fit another morsel of rice into our stomachs, Arthur and I relaxed on a bench against a wall, waiting for the festivities to happen. We waited and we waited, people came, ate and left. After what must have been an hour or so, most of the guests had left and still no sign of the bride and groom. Just as we were about to leave, the couple finally came down with their friends, sat at a table and started to eat their dinner. There was no walk-in, no applause, no speeches or toasts. That was it. When they say a wedding is really not about the couple, it seems especially true in the village.

A newlywed myself, it would seem like a village wedding and a city wedding appear to be very different at first glance. If my husband offered me a live chook I’d probably pass out at his feet. But when you really think about it, a wedding is all about inviting your friends and relatives, perhaps taking part in a religious ceremony, eating loads of local delicacies and drinking even more. It’s festive and lively and a treat for everyone invited. The food and the religion might be different but the essence of celebration and well wishes remain the same.

So congratulations to Mr and Mrs Li. Thank you for inviting us to your wedding and we wish you all the best in your new life to come!

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