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Ah, well, it was fun.

Now we're back in the city, and that isn't so much fun.

But the unusual warmth continues. It was 15 degrees at 5:30 yesterday evening as we passed the Qinghe tollgate.

Monday was the day of the wedding. Not ours, but friends of ours. Of course, lzh wanted both of us to look our best for the wedding, and so I was ordered to wash my hair and shave on Monday morning. Sounds odd, right? But when you're in a house whose only running water comes from a tap in the courtyard and it's the middle of winter, then basic hygiene like that becomes a major pain in the arse. Summer's alright, when you can set up one of those 'camp shower' black plastic bag things that heat up in the sun in a corner of the courtyard and put up some partitions around it to get a bit of privacy, and when to shave I just prop a mirror up on the outside windowsill and rinse the razor under the tap in the courtyard, but winter is not so easy to deal with. A proper shower means a trip to the local bathhouse, and shaving means getting a basin of hot water, dropping the can of shaving cream into the hot water to warm it up (it seems the propellant liquifies in the cold), and shaving in front of a mirror inside. Not too much hassle, but definitely a lot more hassle than in the summer, and very cold.

So I washed my hair and brushed my teeth, and then started getting things ready to shave. I'd put the can of shaving cream in the hot water to warm it up, and was rummaging in the bag for my razor. lzh had packed and she remembered toothbrushes and toothpaste, the various creams and potions for her face, my shaving cream and aftershave, but..... No razor. So Ba was sent off to see if he could scrounge something suitable from the neighbours.

He brought a small electric shaver back. I tried that, but if I pressed it close enough to take more than the top nanometre off my stubble, it stopped. And then after thirty seconds of trying to remove my stubble one nanometre at a time, it stopped permanently. I guess Western beards were a bit much for this poor little thing. So Ba went off to try again.

He came back with a really old-fashioned style razor, the kind you put the old-style rectangular, double-edged blades in (I thought those were only used for slashing wrists), put that together, and gave it to me. Holy shit, did that hurt! I managed to take the first couple of millimetres off my stubble, but it was an amazingly painful experience and I wound up with the most uneven shave of my life. I guess either that blade had been in use for several years already or it, too, was not quite up to the challenge of a Western beard. Quite distressing, considering I'm not particularly hairy.

Shaving this morning, even with a blade that should have been replaced a week ago (I'm too lazy to go to the supermarket) was a breeze, by comparison.

By that stage lzh had already gone to the bride's house to take photos and hang out with her friend and her friends and family, so I got the rest of my clothes on and wandered around to join her. The atmosphere, of course, was happy and light and everybody was excited, but the real fun didn't start until the groom's convoy showed up.

These days wedding parties are often arranged by companies, and they provide a convoy of identical cars. The convoy was the first real, concrete sign that things were going to be different this time. The convoy had been cobbled together from friends and relatives, or so I overheard. There was a Mercedes for the bride and groom, but a mixture of vehicles for the rest of the party. The groom entered the house and hung out for a bit, and then, because everybody was yelling at him to carry the bride out, he picked up his bride and carried her out to the car. The other vehicles were loaded up, and half the people were left behind (lzh and I included), so they decided to transport everybody in shifts. Unfortunately that meant the fun was suspended for the time being.

The convoy returned and lzh and I found ourselves in the Merc with two other passengers and the driver. Slightly overloaded, but still very comfortable. I'd never ridden in a Merc before, and I have to say, at first I wasn't that impressed. It was roomy, sure, but so are Elantras and Sonatas. The finishing was very nice and smooth, but most cars are like that. It was when the engine was turned on and the car put in gear that I first started to think, hey, this is quite a nice car after all. You could really feel the power itching to get us moving as the car was put in gear, and as we were driving, it seemed the driver only had to lightly touch the accelerator for us to surge forward. It was like that comfortable power, when you know you could move really fast, but you feel totally safe and comfortable, not quite like a jet taking off, that always has a bit of an edge to it, but close. So off we went at the head of the convoy, with the film crew's miandi leading us about half the way, dropping back to film the rest of the convoy the rest of the time. It was cool 'cos the driver just had to honk and anybody ahead of us would see a wedding procession and get out of the way. We rode up the highway, further away from Beijing along that road than I had ever been, down a side road into villages further down on the basin floor (the highway skirts the mountains along the northern edge of the basin), out through fields, back up towards the highway a bit, finally into the groom's village and through that to the newly-built section at the back. The groom's family's house was so newly-built, in fact, that there wasn't even a real road. A dirt track, yes, but a dirt track that had still not quite been worn down into proper dirt road-hood.

And then I believe the convoy was sent back for the rest of the people. This was one hell of a party.

So we arrived at the groom's family's newly built house. It seemed, so far as I could see, to have been built in the usual traditional northern Chinese courtyard style, but the courtyard was much smaller than most similar houses I've seen. Still, Yanqing is getting kinda crowded by rural standards and land is at a premium, so no big deal. Things must change. Anyway, every room in the house had at least one table, if not more, ready for the meal, and a tarpaulin had been laid over a scaffolding frame in the courtyard to provide room for all the rest of the guests. Even so, people had to eat in shifts. But we're jumping the gun, here.

The ceremony itself was held in the courtyard, everybody jostling for whatever space they could find to stand, stretch over the people in front, and watch. Well, it was the usual Chinese ceremony, bowing to parents and each other, various other symbolic rituals, exchanging of vows, blushes, embarrassed giggles, the crowd making fun of them (in a very friendly way, of course), and so on. I'm no expert on such things and I won't attempt to describe this in any kind of detail. I tried to get photos, but with the crowd around me constantly moving, it wasn't easy.

And then, of course, came the meal. Like I said, there were so many people we had to eat in shifts. Our shift came up and we found ourselves in probably the only room that had only one table with some distant cousins of lzh's and their wives and some other hangers on. Baijiu was poured, food was served, the usual merriment followed. Various members of the groom's party came around to refill our glasses, more baijiu was consumed. More food was necessary to soak up the baijiu. The groom came by and I had no option but to skull what was in my glass (about two thirds of it, menggu koubei size glass, much more than I'm used to skulling) with the cameraman filming the event. More food was consumed, more baijiu washed it down.......

And then the noise, the closeness, and the cigarette smoke got to me and I had to run outside for some fresh air before I embarassed myself and made a mess of the room. I was standing there talking to the groom while some local kid watched. Curiosity got the better of him, but he couldn't figure out what kind of person I was. So a bizarre conversation followed in which various people, lzh and the groom included, tried to persuade him either that I was a foreigner, or that I was Chinese, or that I was born in China to foreign parents, or any number of other things. And each participant was constantly changing their own story until I myself was no longer entirely sure what I was.

Well, eventually it was time to leave and we hitched a ride in a miandi back to the bride's house then walked the all of 100 metres home. I got a beer and a piece of cake, and we put the photos on the computer to show Ma. Then, bugger it, it was time to walk up to the highway and find a ride into the county town and get the bus back to the city.

But it was a lot of fun, a traditional rural Chinese wedding with only a few modifications (cars instead of bicycles, donkey carts or just donkeys, or sedan chairs; the bride and groom wore sinicised Western clothes; there was the usual book of wedding photos), definitely more fun than the usual modern wedding in a restaurant.



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