A Chinese celebration is a special thing. We’re grateful that we occasionally get to take part in them. The way they’re done — the ‘family style’ dining, the toasting, etc. — really is fun when done well.
And, of course, there’s the food. Weddings will have special dishes, fancy dishes, expensive dishes — and for Euro-Americans that often means eyebrow-raising dishes.
There are two kinds of adventure eating in China. It’s one thing to deliberately go out of your way to seek out some crazy-to-your-home-culture dish — like dog or máodàn or cányǒng or starfish — and share the photos on social media, regardless of how common those are to locals (Canadians eat bull testicles — did you know?). Sure it’s cliche but whatever, have fun. You’re not hurting anybody.
The other kind of adventure eating is the the kind that seeks you out. You’re just going about your business, accepting a neighbour’s dinner invitation or attending a friend’s wedding feast, and you’re served “cicada monkeys” 知了猴:
Both of those were last weekend for us, at a friend’s wedding banquet, which was lots of fun.
With only 409 syllables in the entire language, Chinese has too many homophones. That might sound judgmental but hear me out: Jessica’s Chinese name, for example, has 怡 in it. If I type “yi” on my phone, it’s the 90th (!!) yi in the list of yi characters to scroll through. It’s a good thing I love her so much, because inputting her name is serious 麻烦。
So the Chinese totally go to town on homophone wordplays. They don’t even need to be true homophones; drunk language student pronunciation is apparently good enough to get the meaning across. In fact they don’t even need words; numbers work just fine. Turns out that in Mandarin you can say a lot with numbers. Like on the inside of our friends’ wedding rings:
They inscribed “L.L. 14520” inside the bands. The “L”s are just for their last names: Liú and Lǐ. But the numbers when spoken are yī sì wǔ èr líng, which to them sounds like yī shì wǒ ài nǐ （一世我爱你），which means: “(For my) whole life I love you”. （“一世” is short for “一生一世”。）
I showed the picture to my preschool office coworkers and they all got it in under three seconds.
One of their friends has 201314 on her ring: èr líng yī sān yī sì, which sounds like ài nǐ yī shēng yī shì (爱你一生一世： “love you (for my) whole life”).
There’s more language learning fun to be had in the Learning Mandarin topic. See also:
There’s a long tradition of wedding games in China — many are designed to tease or embarrass the bride. In Lin Yutang‘s Moment in Peking, one bride is so well-educated and strong of character that she ends up embarrassing the people who were trying to tease her. Nowadays the games often have to do with trying to make the couple kiss. Not every wedding includes these kinds of games, but it can be fun when they do.
Friends took these photos (below) at a wedding we were part of last weekend. Chinese weddings involve a big banquet (婚宴). The couple goes around to each table, toasts everyone, and receives “red packets” (红包), which are fancy red envelopes with money inside from each guest. Our table decided they weren’t getting their hongbaos for free; they had to play a game first (pictured below). I think traditionally you’re supposed to tie an apple to the end of the string (“apple” sounds like “peace”), but we opted for a tiny candy instead. Captions are below each photo:
The bride uses a package of wedding candy (喜糖) to try and bribe the best man (I was the other groomsman) to give the hongbaos without making them play the game. He’s having none of it. The best man married an American girl last year.
bù mǎnyì, bù gěi qián
“(If we’re) not satisfied, (then we) won’t give the money!”
It took them a few tries, but they got it in the end (with a helpful shove in the back of the head from the best man’s wife).
After a full-on and packed-out Western-style church wedding with the white dress and suit and all that, James (the groom) and Jiā Xī (the bride) arrived at the banquet in Qing dynasty style traditional wedding clothes, complete with the giant red silk bow (大红绣球). I asked a couple Chinese friends what the bow was about and none of them could tell me, but they were emphatic that, “He has to wear that!” One of my co-workers later said it’s a word-play on “glorious future” (锦绣前程), since the name of the bow in Chinese and the idiom “glorious future” both have “绣“。