Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Layers of a Taiwanese Wedding

The Bride and Groom in Taiwan 
Weddings are a pretty serious matter in Taiwan… Actually, it seems weddings are much more complicated here than in the USA, especially if the families involved are more traditional. Going through the courtship, family approval process, bride's engagement ceremony, groom's engagement ceremony, wedding photography, groom's wedding reception, and bride's wedding reception makes the process seem more layered than the largest of wedding cakes. Living in Southern Taiwan, families are still fairly traditional, so I have already had a few opportunities to witness the ceremonious complexities of Taiwanese weddings.

From what I have been told, many engagements never make it to an engagement ceremony, as traditional families have great influence on whether or not wedding plans are approved. Politics between families, or even family members can sabotage even the best intentions between a man and woman in love.

In November 2009, I was invited to the engagement reception of a cousin of my wife, Shu-min, in Sigang, Taiwan. The bride invited close relatives to the intimate affair, which included about 80 people. The groom's immediate family, which already had their own engagement ceremony, traveled 3 hours from Hsinchu, Taiwan to attend the event. It was an elaborate feast set up on the courtyard of the family homestead under a white and red tent. The local catering company, which was quite efficient and adept at setting up and breaking down such events, was a well-honed machine, with chefs cooking furiously under an adjacent tent, and a small army of attendants serving food and drink.

When I arrived, most of the guests were already seated, enjoying their first rounds of fruit juices. No one had yet opened the bottles of wine and beer at their tables. The father of the bride, who was paying for the event, seemed a little stressed. I was told such catered events in this area of Taiwan can cost about US $30 per person. The bride and groom spent much of their time greeting their guests and thanking them for the "red envelopes," which contained gifts of money for good luck and prosperity. These gifts typically US $60 – US $100 per person.

The meal was an incredible delight to the senses. It was a 9-course meal, consisting of local delicacies, heavy on the seafood. I knew I was in for a treat when the first appetizers that appeared on my table included fried honeybees. They weren't too bad. I satiated myself with crab, lobster, scallops, huge, salted prawns, shark fin soup, and abalone. One of the last courses before dessert included braised rooster testicles. I wasn't going to try that dish, until I was told it was "fake," and made of tofu stuffed in intestine casings. I was told real rooster testicles used to be traditional, but it was just too expensive and impractical these days. I am sure the roosters are happy about that. 

Before the dessert was even served, I was surprised to see an entire table of the groom's family quickly depart to their cars. I was told that traditionally, the groom's party left early, and only the bride's relatives were served dessert. The desserts included flan and different fruit. By the end of the meal, I had given about a dozen toasts of Taiwan beer, and was feeling pretty full and sleepy.
The bride and groom at the party

On January 10, 2010, I was invited to attend and take photos at the Wedding Party of the groom at a seafood restaurant in Hsinchu, Taiwan. You can view some of these photos by selecting the link above. When it comes to Taiwanese weddings, this is the main event. The bride and groom officially married by filing the paperwork with the court, and the biggest celebration was at this reception.

I arrived with my brother-in-law, Jen-wen, at 8 am at the rendezvous point in Sigang. All of the bride's relatives were waiting for us, while the large tour bus idled on the road. I was taken by surprise, as I didn't realize I was going to Hsinchu on a chartered tour bus, with everyone else from the bride's party. The bride's father paid about US $300 to charter the bus and driver for the day. It was a very comfortable 3-hour ride to the technology-oriented city of Hsinchu. I caught a quick nap and enjoyed the changing scenery outside. Most of the passengers enjoyed catching up with one another, and singing karaoke on the bus.

We arrived at the seafood restaurant in Hsinchu just in time for lunch. The wedding party included about 30 tables of 10 people each. The meal was almost as good as the one at the engagement party in Sigang, but I was told the seafood wasn't as fresh in Hsinchu as it was in Southern Taiwan, where most of it came from. We had the standard seafood fare, like crab, lobster, salted, steamed prawns. There was plenty of beer and wine, as well as cognac and brandy. There was a stage set up for karaoke singing.

The family of the groom ate quickly, so they could make their rounds and share toasts with their guests. The event lasted about 3 hours. At the end, the bride and groom waited at the exit, handing out candy and cigarettes, as is customary. Some guests posed with them for photos.
The Bride and a little guest

The bride's party embarked on the bus back to Sigang with full bellies and cheerful spirits. It was evident by the fact that the karaoke and conversation during the ride home was much livelier. The bride and groom left together, perhaps embarking on their honeymoon, and to begin the rest of their lives together. But like many Taiwanese newlyweds, they will first live apart in separate cities because of their careers. 

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