Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Shanghai Groom

Throughout this trip I've had some stick from proper travellers about my use of soft-sleeper trains (i.e. first class) rather than "going hard", and in some cases the difference between the classes is hardly noticeable, but on sleepers, as the name suggests, it's far more comfy in the soft bunks. I've taken my fair share of hard sleepers in China - squeezing into the middle-height bunk in a rack of three, with luggage, at night is like blindfolded human tetris - and on one occasion I was rudely awoken by the train guard bashing her head against my feet poking out into the corridor - how inconsiderate! Ross and I decided to go soft-sleeper to Shanghai, with the advantage of larger beds, cabins with doors and those wonderful complimentary slippers.

We headed straight for the Majesty Plaza hotel, venue for Guru and Lihua's wedding celebrations a few days later. We needed an extra night as our reservations were for the following day and asked the price at reception. An obscene amount was quoted, with "no discounts available". Ross used the complimentary wifi in the lobby to book the exact same room for a fraction of the price and, just as we were about to be shepherded away by increasingly agitated staff for loitering in their lobby, we presented them with an internet booking confirmation. Mild bewilderment and amusement to them and us respectively. It begs the question why hotels don't block access to Expedia in their lobbies.

That evening we met up with the wedding party and hit the town. The area of Xintiandi is expat heaven with fantastic restaurants and nightlife, although with drinks at London prices it's quite out of reach to the ordinary Chinese budget. After many drinks, some pretty awful Coyote Ugly-esque dancing on the bar, and badly burning both thumbs (and a large part of the floor) on a flaming cocktail, I awoke at midday with cleaners banging on the hotel room door. I'd love to write more about that evening but I honestly don't remember it. At some point Ross and I were in a park in broad daylight and thought it would be a good idea to climb into a huge bronze pot - no memory of the event, only grazes and photographic evidence to prove it.

The following day was a write-off but we managed to make it out for a great meal at a Sichuan-themed restaurant. The place had won awards in the spice category and it showed - every plate was bright red with chillies once we had eaten the less potent parts - a perfect detox in my opinion. After some more respectable drinks in Xintiandi we hit the sack in preparation for the wedding the next day.

Guru kindly asked Ross and me to be the Chinese wedding equivalent of best men - fortunately no last-minute speeches required but we had a few tasks throughout the day. We accompanied him to pick up the bride from her mum's place. Traditionally the groom heads to his bride's parents' place to bribe or steal her away, and we acted this out in her mum's apartment, with Guru pushing small red envelopes of cash under the door and professing his undying love for Lihua. Ross and I flanked him to make sure the bridesmaids gave him no trouble, handing out the occasional red envelope to pacify the hoards, and eventually he was let through the door. Next was her bedroom, where he had to repeat the process. The place was buzzing with excited shouting and people dashing between rooms to watch the action unfold, but finally Guru was let in to see his bride:

After Guru served Lihua's mum tea, a traditional mark of respect, we went to lunch and then to the waterfront for photos.

We returned to the hotel for another tea ceremony, this time traditionally held at the groom's parents' (in this case a room at the hotel, decorated for the occasion). I'm told this is where the 
compulsory food fight should begin but everyone was on best behaviour that day.

The evening celebration was a huge affair, an extravagaza not unlike a Royal Variety Performance, complete with professional host, an interpreter and more dress changes than a Lady Gaga concert, which included:
- the happy couple appearing, as if by magic, from an inflatable ball on stage
- embarassing audience participation karaoke and weird dancing with props
- Guru and Lihua lighting a candle with a lightsabre
- a rendition of "Lao shu ai da mi" by all the groom's mates - arguably the greatest Chinese pop song ever written: "I love you (like a mouse loves rice)". (Mice eat rice in China, not cheese... so now you know...)
- Lihua being carried onto the stage in a sedan chair by Matt, Oli, Ross and me in traditional costume - heavy work (I mean the wooden chair was heavy, not the bride of course!). [Any photos would be appreciated!]

A fantastic event and so proud to be a part of it. Congratulations to Guru and Lihua!

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