Monday, December 05, 2005

China, part two...

Monday, November 27.Well, this was just a strange day. A wedding day for a brother. I could get overly sentimental here and start hearkening back to the playground sandpit days, the paddling pool in the garden, the makeshift tennis court made up of strategically-placed garden chairs and artful dodges around the rhubarb bushes.
And, well, why not?
Because such schoolboyish images did cross my mind, I must confess, when I saw my little bro hugging and a-kissing his new wife (wife!), expertly controlling his audience both in English and Chinese, then sashaying off into the sunset, so confidently, so composedly, so suddenly enviably.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. 'Twas the end of the day.
And as for the beginning. Well, it did begin early. I woke up at 4am, in fact, and for all my efforts to segue back into sleep, nothing was doing in these hard hotel beds and I only restrained myself from rising until about 8am, because Christy was snoring peacefully in the neighbouring bed.
Missing out breakfast, though (well, 98 RMB - almost seven quid - for a couple of slices of toast, I'd rather have stuck in the room and snaffled up a few Mao pages), the aim was to hit the lobby for 11am. Which we all, just about, seemed to do, to be greeted by a very harassed-looking Lyndon (no surprise there, then), albeit modelling a very natty, fetching Beatle-style collarless jacket - eliciting the instinctive welcome from fellow-Beatlenut Uncle Dave, "Shea Stadium?"
No sign of Jessie, I suppose understandably (for want of the odd British wedding ritual to go along so many Chinese marriage superstitions, even more than you'd find, say, in a Tottenham crowd on North London derby day...)
Then we suddenly caught a glimpse of a red-bouquet-bedecked white minibus flashing past the hotel entrance, and ingeniously guessed it might be related to our collective purpose. Thankfully it had been preceded by two sleek black cars, into which Lyndon, the bridesmaids, the best men and Mum and Dad quickly poured, albeit with a few hesitant shimmies and even more stops for photos of the cars and especially the red-and-green bouquets spelling out "L O V E" on the back bonnet.
Myself, Noel, Christian, Uncle Dave, Dan, Ros and Auntie Win piled into the white minibus, eventually crawling its way out of the taxi-strewn alleyway towards the home of Jessie's parents, where we were greeted by a surge of villagers, presided over by a red and yellow celebratory banner (perhaps related to wedding, perhaps not - it was in Chinese, so I had to apply the more selfishly-personal interpretation) and people either cramming around the cars, peeking (arf) over their precarious balconies or just lining the path between road and upstairs apartment where Mr and Mrs Jessie lived and were about to welcome us into. First off, though, came a barrage of explosions - us in the bus were still struggling to get out when they first starting firing, encouraging us all to speculate on what the hell was going on before anyone actually showed the chutzpah to struggle against the driver who ostentatiously slammed the door shut, and explore outdoors. Strangely enough, that was myself, but I only got out quickly enough to see the last of the actually-disappointing little spurts of orange fire from what were ultimately mere firecrackers, having then to break the explanatory news to those following me out.
But it was strangely exhilarating nevertheless, both for the ear-cracking sound (like venturing suddenly, somehow, into, Idunno, Apocalypse Now), and the fact these local kids had deliberately lined up this kind of a welcome where back home you'd probably expect them to be sulking under an Asbo safely, dully indoors.
Well, we all poured up the narrow staircases, only to abruptly bump into a halt to find Lyndon knocking on the front door, barking out demands to be let in, only to hear squeals from inside about, well, why he should be let in so, what he could offer, why he wanted Jessie and so on. I was expecting a slightly more structured script to enfold, but his incredulous muggings did eventually win him entrance - I think he had to slip in a note or several, but couldn't quite make out - before he was let in, and we all snaked in behind. The flat was very cramped, and even the family Chihuahua Beybeh had to be content with a cage just outside the window - actually, s/he didn't seem very content at all, judging by the constant yapping for the next three-quarters-of-an-hour - but as we all dived in, we could appreciate Jessie's sleek shiny red suit, and lacquer-ed-down hair, as the happy couple set eyes upon each other for the first time that day and proceeded to pose for photographs. Many of them, in fact. Seated together on the sofa. Standing up in front of the sofa. Sipping the special glasses of green tea offered around. Offering each those selfsame glasses. Supping the bowls of, well, I think I must use the word "soup", but I'm sort of at a loss as to how best to describe the passed-round dishes comprising a slaver of fried egg, floating in murky water alongside a few pockets of fruit. I politely accepted one, as a dubious-looking Dan took my cue to take his own, but one abortive attempt to spear the egg and numb out the too-sweet surroundings led me to finally accept the carping calls to take photos with the family camera, place down my dish as a pre-emptive, freeing-my-hands manouevre, and, er, look on happily as Lyndon scooped it up and away himself.
It was satisfying, though, to see the local faces dizzying into the door's crevice, peering in to see just how their local girl (so I imagine) was enjoying this day of days, being celebrated by a load of strangers, and more familiar family, and, just, taking part in a Monday which was just a little out of the ordinary.
We finally were herded back out and downstairs, to be greeted by another blast of firecrackers before strolling towards the waiting motors and rolling away again. This time Christy and I were granted places in the front car alongside Lyndon and Jessie, after a call-out which apparently barred anyone who had previously been married from intervening in the official wedding front-leading car.
Unfortunately, our driver seemed a little Knowledge-less, and had to sit for several minutes in a too-narrow alleyway, ardently hoping a decorators' van would either let him squeeze through or at least back out, front forward, and just get out of the damn way, but sadly no doing, and he had to put up with the workmen's stares and quizzical grins, before eventually backing his way out and veering an alternative route.
Eventually we parked up towards what I later discovered was the Yu Garden area (from the very handy hotel-gifted cards, which said "Please take me to" then listed various most popular tourist locations, to be handed to taxi driver. Not that that always guaranteed your reliable destination, but still...)
We piled out, to go for a photogenic stroll around the little town area which seemed initially dominated by Bull Ring-style stalls and shops, but eventually opened up towards the picturesque inlets of a little stream, overlooked by a couple of terracotta teahouses, and just simply crowded by groups of shoppers, yes, but soon transformed into adoring masses, entranced by the brightly-arrayed bride and groom suddenly in their midst and us guests trailing behind, cameras in hand and up in the air.
We got probably every permutation of pose, from Lyndon and Jessie themselves and themselves alone, but also with each and every family member, bridesmaid, and sudden intervening hangers-on, ie. a gang of rowdy lads who jumped into the frame and insisted on sharing the glory. In fact, I would look up from my double duties with the official family camera and my own shoddy little mobile phone, to find several strangers framing shots, just for the irresistible sake of it, I can only imagine.
Well, the spectacle was fairly interesting, I must admit. In fact, the feeling was such that this was the British royal family on a privileged visit to this district of Shanghai, and the crowd was latching swiftly onto the fact, and those who weren't aware were thinking they couldn't very well pass away this apparent bandwagon event either.

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