Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Unfamiliar Wedding

Like Auntie and Uncle Wang, we'll start the day with a bit of housekeeping.
If you've written a comment (or tried to), I apologize. The comment section of the blog was temporarily screwy. Thanks to my tinkering father and copy-pasting mum, it is back online. You can post freely, and I can respond personally to each one. Responses to prior comments can be found in the comment section for "Stubbed Toe Wisdom". After this, they'll appear in whichever comment section they are responding to. And I'd be happy to hear your responses to...

Pig's feet. I ate them this weekend. Also: Cow's tongue. The veins of something I cannot describe, along with its roasted skin. A turtle.

Yup, you guessed it - I went to a wedding! It was as atypical a wedding as I might be able to imagine. No church (not a big surprise), no procession, no rows of dressed-up relatives and friends holding hankies. No vows, no ring exchange, no "I do's". No. This wedding - like many modern chinese weddings - took place in a restaurant.

To get there, the Wangs and I walked a sweaty mile, took a bus through the city, and dodged some rick-shaws as we crossed the road to the restaurant. We were forcefully escorted towards the bride and groom. The couple smiled at us, yelled at us, pushed candy into our hands and hurriedly pulled us towards them for an over-rehearsed photography session. Upstairs, a large reception room was full of un-dressed up people talking loudly, drinking, spitting sunflower husks this way and that, and taking occasional breaks to toast the bride and groom and eat enormous piles of food. Enter, stage right: Pig's feet soup. "Good for your skin," the pimpled girl next to me explained, ladling more into her rice bowl.

In-between the eating, toasting, and cigarettes came Ma-Jiang. As I stood next to one of the dozens of green playing tables scattered throughout the room, I asked "Jing, what is Ma-Jiang like?". What had been intended as an innocent question turned into a 4 hour tutorial by all the Wang women. Here is what I learned:

This Domino-esque game consists of one green felt-covered table, 100-some tiles, and 3 suits. Through an elaborate shuffling process in which tiles are stacked, re-stacked, moved and divied, you get 13 tiles. (Except sometimes when you get 14). Each turn you pick up a mystery tile and throw out a less useful tile. The object of the game is to get all of your tiles into triplets and runs before anyone else does, sort of like Rummy. A few catches: you can only have two suits by the end of the game, you must watch the suits others are discarding in order to play defensively, and if you discard something that someone else can use to complete a triplet or quadruple of a tile, you'll owe them money when the game is over (in this friendlier case, we traded playing cards and "tsk's" rather than yuan).

You can witness Ma-Jiang veterans in their natural element - huddled around their green tables on sidewalks and under trees - on any given afternoon in Chengdu. Though known by foreign visitors, perhaps, as the old ladies' sport, I beg to differ. It is rough, it is fast, and it leaves little room for slow-judgement or error. The rest of the guests at the party emphasized this point by watching my moves closely over my shoulder, then correcting me loudly, explaining with fast Sichuan accents exactly what I had done wrong. Thankfully the tiles provided a visual reference, so I was able to follow along with most of these verbal assaults. By chance, I won a few rounds, but mainly I did fair-to-poor. That fact not-withstanding, I earned major points for grasping (barely) the rules of the game by the end of our marathon session.

Whew! 6 hours, two exotic meals, dozens of toasts (at the young women's table, we used orange soda rather than the hard alcohol at the men's tables), and 20 rounds of Ma-Jiang later, the wedding began to die down. We said our further congratulations to the exhausted bride and groom (both of whom had paused during the festivities to intervene in my Me-Jiang games when i made particularly bad moves), and walked towards the bus, then home.
Today Auntie Wang and Uncle Wang were reunited after his trip to Tibet. No big hugs or kisses, but when he saw she was folding laundry, he silently left the room where we were watching his vacation slideshow and held the hangers for her while she hung sheets. Ceremonies aside, unions can cross cultures fluidly.

p.s. Jackie - pictures coming soon. sadly, the camera forgot to come to the wedding.