My last missives told about our Christmas celebrations, and in early January 2015, Dave came to visit. Near the end of the month, the greater family were invited to attend the wedding of Dai Lo’s boss’s daughter.
The Boss runs what is now an inter-city coach company, and one that is highly respected. Dai Lo joined them just out of school, at sixteen I think, and worked his way up from apprentice ‘whatever’, to become the most important person
regards the daily running of the company. He did very well, through hard work, and learning appropriate skills. For instance, he learned mechanics, so he could fix the coaches himself; saving money, and time on waiting for others do it
for them. That was only one of many improvement he made. In return, the Boss paid for his driving examinations.
Before I get started, please bear in mind that my office, where I spend the bulk of my time, is the hottest room in summer, and the coldest in winter. It is the only room, so I discovered to my distress, that does not have a/c with heating:
The evening before the wedding, Mama arrived with Yee Lo and his daughter, ah-Yo'ung, and all had a jolly good time. The next day Siu Ying left out what I was to wear; jeans and a long-sleeved summer shirt, and my best body warmer jacket.
I wasn’t sure, because I had been very cold on previous days, so put on my full winter anorak instead. She said, "You are stupid."
Dai Lo, who lives in Hoipeng, arrived at our gaff about nine in the morning, and he took us to the bus station. Apparently, he had already driven a coach to Shenzhen that morning, and returned. I was informed he was collecting others
from farther afield. We waited for the bus to arrive, being joined by several ‘Aunties’ and a couple of spouses. On boarding, we were not charged a fare, and before departing, two more joined our party; our group half-filled the bus.
One thing of note, was that this was not one of their own coaches, but a regular city commuter bus, if it ran between the sister cities. That is the power and influence of Dai Lo, and his Boss.
Thirty minutes later we arrived in Hoipeng, but not the central bus station. We were at a new one set out near a recently built highway, miles from town. The foyer was long, modern, and impressive. To the far side of the central doors
was a KFC, whom appear to have cornered the franchise down here regards all bus and coach stations, and a good thing too ... I think?
Some went out this central exit, but we walked on towards the other end, over one hundred yards farther on. Nearing it, we were greeted by our good friend Fi, who also lives in Hoipeng. He guided us to retrace our steps, and circling
around, we caught up with the rest of our group, standing outside the other doors we had neared some minutes before. I wondered if this was destined to be 'one of those days'?
Some of our party were looking at taxis, whilst others had moved to the nearby road. We waited, I wondering what we were doing, but remained confident it was in some way related to a Chinese master plan for the massed transit of people;
well, there were one dozen of us.
After twenty minutes or so, a microbus pulled up, and people disappeared inside. The remainder bundled into Fi’s smaller version, and we set off in convoy, driving another thirty minutes southeast, before arriving in the outskirts of
Yeepeng (En Ping). We negotiated back streets, not wide enough for a car and bicycle to pass, before taking a short drive on a main road. We forked left, southeast, and headed for the wilds. The cart track we followed for several miles
had been concreted over, but that did not mean two vehicles could pass easily, especially if one was a truck. We encountered several trucks along the route, with us usually having to reverse and pull aside into an appropriate passing
point: There were not many recognisable passing places either, but we eventually got by.
We rocked-up in the middle of nowhere, and parked beside of a windowless outside wall of a house; the proud and recently refurbished gate of a typical Cantonese village, but a few yards away. As others got their belongings and bearings,
I was drawn across the road, amazed that in January, crops were flourishing in paddies, and locals working the fields. I also realised for the first time, that particular day was quite warm, so removed my padded winter jacket.
The gate photograph shows much of this tale, so please click this thumbnail image
which opens in a lightbox. Right-click the link in the lightbox image, and open in a new tab, so I can explain, and you have ready-reference.
- The first thing you may notice, is the gate is new. It was recently refurbished, just for this occasion. This relates to 'Chinese Face'; the Boss is now a very rich man, and in his own way, is paying back to his roots - but I
note, also to his future respect.
- Just outside the main right pillar, is the Jack Firework. I told you it was large.
- The tables were three rows across, by 'however many' long. Each table was set for ten people, and I never saw a vacant chair. You can look at the photograph and do the maths.
- The next in my story, is the woman in pink, mainly obscured by the main gate left support; it was her Apartment we went to.
- Also of note, all of Baba's five sisters, and all of his living brothers attended the day; but not all this meal.
- I know most of the people in this picture, but I did not know all until later. The guy to the right foreground with the blue top; he's the one from America I met later, and is taking a picture of the scene at the top of the Gate;
later he told me what it meant to Chinese people. His 'girlfriend' is just to the left of the main right-hand pillar, and she's a lovely, if big girl.
- You may note the basketball nets, which are a common feature of all public spaces in China.
We were early, of course, so had an hour or more to kill; but it was much better Face than being late. This is most noticeable about all Chinese functions. We took seats at a round table, shaded by a large parasol, and got drinks from
the local shop. And we waited; time moved on. I put my jacked on the top of a nearby wall, my arm was getting seriously hot just holding it off the ground.
Eventually the host appeared, Dai Lo’s boss that is, but we were not introduced. He dallied for a moment with his close family near the centre of the village square; his focus was on the top table, and ensuring everything was perfect,
presumably. Dai Lo and his family, plus others, joined us some time later. They stayed with us, but he left to speak to the Boss. Time passed, and we got even more bored.
Some time later, several men rolled out a large Catherine Wheel, it was about three feet in diameter, and four inches wide. I had no idea why this firework is called by the name of ‘Catherine’, so I looked it up.
“The firework is named after Catherine of Alexandria [Born c. 282 AD, Martyred c. 305 AD] who, according to Christian legend, was condemned by Emperor
Maxentius, to be tortured to death by “breaking on the wheel”. When she touched the wheel
it miraculously flew to pieces.
The wheel in question, as a form of excessive torture device, the subjects limbs being broken by blows from heavy poles, and the results hoisted high into the air; most people being pecked to death, over a long time, by crows. This
always leading eventually to a most horrible death. It became most popular with Teutonic Europeans in the Middle Ages, and was used in Germany until the late nineteenth century.
Clicking the links provided are not for the squeamish, be warned.
But on a brighter note, every time you light a Catherine Wheel Firework, you are actually paying homage to Saint Catherine; who Maxentius eventually beheaded, by the way.
Meanwhile, we watched, as burly blokes and village VIP’s attended to the unravelling of the Wheel. This was adjusted several times, until it began in the centre of most importance, and ran through the main, and only gate to that village.
It finished in the paddy field, until some bright spark decided to move it onto the road.
In the interval, everyone had left their tables and made great strides to distance themselves from what was about to come; we were not excepted. Traffic came to a standstill, until the length was doubled back; and the event played out.
You see, the thing was, this was not an extremely big Catherine Wheel, because it was a mega-large Jumping Jack, all in one long continuous row, and over one hundred yards long. The fuse was lit, and after hearing the first bang, we all
ran for distance … it was never enough.
The idea is that this scares ‘ghosts’ away, something most Chinese believe in. Even as we hurried much further away, it sounded to me, to be enough noise to wake the dead. It went on forever, until the serpent was done. We had gone almost
farthest away of all, because Rhiannon really suffered with her ears, and I don’t mean simple crying, she was in tears and had deeply probed her ears to deafen the noise. It was loud, but not that loud. I wondered if she had extremely
good hearing, or a hearing defect, either would explain her unnatural reaction; or was it that she was frightened?
As it was, we were almost the last back to the village proper, and wouldn’t you know it, but others had taken over our table. We retrieved the few items left behind, a jacket and pack of almost empty cigarettes. There was only one table
left, and it was not big enough, to begin with. We added spare chairs from tables around, and eventually got our family seated, if space at table was limited.
Somehow, I ended up on the southeast; how do I know that? Well, it’s simple. The sun was almost directly overhead, but still waxing, and I was in the ‘hot seat’: No shade. In Blighty, we used to dream about having such a lovely summer’s
day. This was the twenty-ninth of January, and I was sweating my cobs off. My smartphone revealed the ambient temperature, in the shade, was touching thirty-two degrees, so it was hot. Neither was I physically, in the shade. I guess,
the ‘gods’ had smiled upon the forthcoming union.
However, we still waited for the Bride to arrive. The area cleansed of evil spirits, this did not take too long. Soon a stretched-limousine appeared, and being the only vehicle allowed within the village square that day, dropped off
the daughter. She was seemingly miles away from us, and I didn’t really get a look at her. The Groom, if you remember Chinese etiquette, would be attending his own version of the same family and village function, at that point in time.
I think back, and remember that meal for one most prominent reason, the food. Most of it was the usual fish, and many courses, served not in order, but as cooked. China is like this. The Lazy Susan was in big demand, and not large enough
to accommodate all the dishes, unless piled high. That was OK. One of them was exceptionally special for me.
“’Siu Yuk’ and ‘Wu Tao’” is particular to this region of Canton (Guangdong). I had previously held the dish in highest esteem, but that midday, in the middle of nowhere, Canton, I was presented with the Cordon Bleu version. Wow! And
so simple. Slices of Chinese potato, alternated with very thick slices of what we would know of, as uncured, and unsalted, streaky bacon. The Danish and Dutch use this cut—Belly Pork, but otherwise, most westerner’s do not. It needs to
be slow cooked, and water added occasionally, to precipitate a great, natural gravy, within the dish as cooked.
This is now, one of my all-time, top ten (unusual) dishes, that I have ever had the pleasure to eat. Another is Irish fried bread, which I grew up with. Imagine my horror, in my early twenties, when I was confronted with British fried
bread = a solid lump of burnt fat; drop one and you’d crack a floor tile. Ghastly stuff. In comparison, Irish fried bread it light and tasty:
Dip one side of a fresh slice of bread in hot bacon fat, or any real form of dripping, and press down lightly on the centre to ensure one side is covered evenly. Toast the coated side under top heat only, medium-high—a minute or so
until crispy and light-golden, and serve. Magic!
However, back in Canton, and the hottest January for ages, time moved on, but we did not. We vacated table, and hunkered down near the main gate to get some shade; somebody offered water around, something we were greatly in need of.
An indeterminable time passed us by.
Rhiannon got out her iPad, and was soon the centre of kids’ attention. We had talked about it for some time, before buying one from Hong Kong, simply to know it was genuine. It had been given to her days earlier, and was her biggest
interest. Others, adults; appeared to be about as bored as I was, but we battled bravely on, me stone-cold sober, and overly hot. I guess the others were also. Oh. I forgot to mention us leaving the table, and this has relevance later.
Westerners will not understand the phenomena, but you can sit at a table for hours, and then, all of a sudden, everyone’s gone within seconds. Chinese peoples [there are far more than one of them] are like this. Picking up the clues
to immanent departure is a skilled art, and no one ever says, “We better get going in a minute,” or gives a head’s up. Oh no, they get their things together, and wonder why you are not ready to leave? “Well, you could have told me in
advance,” doesn’t work as response, if only because Chinese brains are not wired that way. But that is by-the-by.
Mama and one of the ‘Aunties’ battled over the left-over's, clearing serving dishes into plastic bags and Styrofoam boxes, similar meat dishes often ending up in the same bag. I reminded my wife I really loved the Siu Yuk, and Mama put
it in a separate bag. However, that did not mean I ever expected to see it again, delicious though it was. Mama also snaffled the unopened bottle of decent rice wine, presumably for Baba to enjoy later. He had not been with us, which
I found curious, but then, this was rice seedling production time back in their village. I presumed him busy, but would arrive for the evening meal.
For some strange, and Chinese logistical reason, we ended up going back to Hoipeng in a different vehicle driven by Dai Lo. All was fine until we came to the outskirts of Yeepeng, and I recognised the junction. “Go right,” I said in
Cantonese. Being a ‘Foreigner’ you become used to being ignored. So we spent an extra ten minutes, going through the town centre, whereas, if we had turned right, we would have missed the all of it. I consider that to be ‘stupid’, and
a waste of time. I also knew they thought me stupid for thinking I knew Chinese roads better than they did. Well, actually, on this occasion I did, so I put on my brave face and smiled.
When we eventually emerged onto the main road back to Hoipeng, I dozed; had they taken my directions, we would have missed the new road widening scheme. But as it was, the driver battled bravely forwards, in what resembled an automotive
mêlée, more than any comprehensible ‘road-sense’, trying to squeeze four abreast down a most definitely single carriageway.
In time, we parked outside the now familiar far door of Hoipeng new bus station, Dai Lo being waved through security as a privileged person and VIP. We were next to the pavement that ran around the building, and a ledge at just the right
height to sit upon backed this. I sat and enjoyed a cigarette; then much later, another. Time passed by. Meanwhile, Rhiannon had discovered the ledge was great for running upon, and it had steps up, near the entryway, which provided a
great thrill … to her at least. You will notice she is wearing Mummy's shoes, something she loves to do; Siu Ying had removed them as they were a bit tight. People got back in the car, but they wanted the a/c, I sat outside and smoked
another cigarette. Time passed.
The next highlight of the day (a trifle), was when a security guard rushed up belligerently to Dai Lo and demanded he move the car. With a large grin, Dai Lo spoke a few words, the guard saluted him, and apologised. As security departed,
a cab pulled up, and the driver started chatting to Dai Lo like long lost friends; I presumed they were. Time moved on, as did their conversation, but we did not.
Baba appeared late afternoon, he was all smiles and great in welcome, but famished. He attacked the leavings Mama had garnered with great relish, eating on his haunches with a pair of the cheap, wooden chopsticks every outlet gives away.
He set about the Siu Yuk, and demolished most of it. There was not enough left for a meal, but I was genuinely pleased and happy, that he had also enjoyed it as much as I had. My next task, still not accomplished to this very day, is
to ask my wife or mother in law to cook it for me. They appear disinterested, so maybe one day I’ll have a go myself. Baba and I also share a lot of things likings the family do not. For instance, we both love to eat chicken livers, and
kidneys, none other does. They prefer to eat the tripe, and fight over any gut: Yuck!
The sun’s ferocity was diminishing, if only slightly, when Dai Lo received a call, and we all bundled into his car. At last, we were on the move again, but where to? He delivered us to the gates of ‘Auntie’s Garden’, a new private estate.
It took a while, and several phonecalls, before we were allowed through, then ‘somebody’ had to work out where we were headed = more phonecalls. We followed the road as we went straight, then right a bit, before we came to a mini-roundabout;
There was nowhere to park, so Dai Lo dropped us off, and went to find a parking space. He was gone a long time.
Dao Lo’s wife took over making phone calls, and instructions were received. We headed one block north (twenty yards), and then east. We came into a street cleansing, with large fireworks being detonated, and smaller ones held in hands.
The Bride emerged arm in arm with the Groom, and was ushered to the waiting limo, that had not been there moments before. Everybody sort of gaggled around, until the limo reversed and was gone.
I realised we had arrived at the end of the event of the Groom collecting the Bride from the family residence. This usually involves the Groom and his team paying many forfeits before being allowed entrance. However, I already knew this
was not where the Boss lived; somebody had already mentioned to me he lived in a large, detached house on an exclusive estate: strange.
Uncertain what to do next; people were pleased to have witnessed the event, if only the last bit. I’m pretty sure we were at the Bride’s, Mother’s new home. Directions received, Dai Lo’s wife—I do not know her name, and it would probably
not be acceptable in Chinese society for me to ever use it, even if I knew it. The family custom is outlined in Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, a must read for anybody wishing to understand Chinese culture, and the extant enmity
between close Oriental neighbours. I digress.
Back on the street, we got into the building, and rode the lift up to the eighth floor; Eight is the Chinese lucky number, so the apartment would cost double that of the same, on any other floor. The door to the apartment was open, and
we entered a strange place. My wife marvelled at the two-storey apartment, but it felt like an exhibition home, not somewhere real people, a family, actually lived. My view of the place may have been jaundiced, because despite the ample
seating, I was offered tea in a small paper cup, immediately left alone, and had nowhere to sit. I joined the soon to be dispatched ducks and geese caged outside on the balcony, and briefly considered swapping places. I noted there were
no Drakes or Ganders amongst their number.
Strange how most modern Britons accept eating the female of the species, except the Welsh. In Wales, they fatten several cockerels for Christmas fodder, and they do taste sweeter, juicier than the female. Mama also does similar on special
occasions. Wales reminds me of another culinary treat, although one just hovering below my top ten: Cheese fruitcake.
The best would be a large slice of Cheddar, added to an even larger slice of Christmas cake, or pudding. Savour! The cake needs to be rich, dark, and fruity: slow cooked. The cheese: unforgiving.
Returning to my present of that time, my wife disappeared off, as did Rhiannon, and I felt out of it. I returned inside, and wandered aimlessly around, but never did discover my own family. I ended up standing in the middle of the main
downstairs room, wondering to do next; I did not appear to have many options. The room was mainly inhabited by youngish mother’s, thirty-something’s and their brats, who were all agog with the potential of festivity. Several spoke ‘adult’
Toisanwah at me, then tried Mandarin, in complicated and correct grammar. Durrr? None spoke either English, or proper Cantonese, so this was going nowhere fast. Then a woman noticed my predicament, and ushered her daughter, who was taking
up two seats, out of the way; beckoning me to join her.
After sitting down, I felt much more comfortable, but was plagued by people being nice and offering me treats. I am unusual, I admit it, live with it, and love it. I eat only once per day, twice if doing heavy, manual labour. I was in
for two meals that day, so bowls of fruit, nuts, Chinese delicacies, sweets, snacks, whatever, held zero fascination for me. They never do actually, unless they are the right produce offered at the right time.
Time passed, and I tried to doze on their weird sort of extended couch thingymagig. It was cream leather, and smelled new-ish. The seat cushions were wide enough for two Cantonese adolescents to enjoy not being squashed together, and
there were seven cushions, so I make that length around twenty feet. That would be the bottom of the ‘U’ shaped sofa, the upper extending outwards by one seat, and the lower by two seats. I hope you get the idea. Before you go, “Ooh!”
know it was strange, and I’m pretty sure it was custom made. The thing for me was, the individual seats were twice as deep as they should have been, so imaging they are four feet or more in depth; the backrest rising from the other end.
This was also odd, as it was only two feet high, being neither one thing, nor the other.
Time dragged by, as only Chinese chronological arts have perfected, and inflicted upon ordinary people. Yours truly was a lot less than impressed, but worse was to come. My wife reappeared, as if out of nowhere, and asked if I was alright;
she left before I answered. Then I looked up to childish squeals, and saw Rhiannon taunting us from the balcony, the room was the height of two floors, but felt cramped to me.
The ordeal was soon over, as we made our escape outside, except once there, nobody appeared to be certain where we were going. I exaggerate of course, as many people made numerous phonecalls, before a plan coalesced. I noticed the main
drag into this area, was now sparsely populated with vehicles; Dai Lo brought the car down, and they stood in the middle of the road, planning what to do next.
The thing was, only Dai Lo’s wife, whatever her name is, and Siu Ying plus Rhiannon got into the car, I was told to enjoy myself … as if, and ever. To tie up that bit, I was later informed they went to Dai Lo’s wife’s place of work,
and I think she is the boss, where they were conscripted into putting fabric together, and packaging it for an order that had to go out that day. I gather the place is a shop as well, so a backroom industry no doubt.
Meanwhile, the people I was told to follow, wandered aimlessly around, talking into their mobile phones. I was sure we were headed somewhere, once somebody got directions. They were forthcoming, but by no means precise; you need to remember,
Chinese is a conceptual language, in all its forms. For instance, as in the heart of our predicament, “Follow the sun until setting,” would mean, walk right, or ‘left’: west.
We walked for a long way, and my daily Anaemia came back to haunt me. I stopped, pretending, and actually taking photos; not because I wanted to, but because I needed to recover my breath. I needed the rest. I managed to bluff it off.
The others, by that time, were seemingly miles ahead of me, I the last of the group. I exchanged pleasantries with a native of the Garden, in ‘In-ger-wishy’, and I continued, placing one foot before the other. It was a very long way for
me to go.
For the peace of mind if those readers that know me personally, let me explain my Anaemia. For SG-3 (Star Gazer Book Three) I needed to research sickle cell anaemia, so I looked it up; what I read, the symptoms, 'indications',
whatever; were exactly and specifically what I suffer with every single day.
Except, I do not have that version; mine is caused by yeast, including everything I eat or imbibe that has been fermented in some way. You can tick off things like bread and beer~: Guilty; then take it farther to vinegar and wine;
there are a lot of them, mostly being staples of my daily diet. The gout I also suffer from, but not this year, is directly related: Oh the joys of 'the disease of kings', and I do not mean the gout, but the anaemia and shortness of
breath it leads to. Cheers!
Following the crowd, if from a distance, I neared a building, one I hated. I knew exactly where I was going, and did not wish to be there, ever again. Walking closer, I spotted one of our group, one who arrived separately; a man of my
‘outlaws’ parental village, and a relation of some sort. He was usually outgoing, but that day he was squatted down, hunkered to the kerb. I said, “Hello”: No reply; strange for such a normally outgoing person. He seemed lost within his
personal demons, as I knew I would soon be. The blocks towered above me, seven in a row, to each side of a kiddies play park and garden.
Obscurely, people of our group were still waiting for the lift when I entered the building. Moments later, we disembarked on Floor Seventeen. Even stepping out of the lift, I wanted to go, as in get the hell out of the place. People
are strange, and from before, I seriously did not want to be on this specific floor, of this building. Don’t ask, as I’m not saying; except I think EVIL lives there. I cannot explain it any other way, nothing about it makes any sense,
except, I do not want to be there, ever again. I thought about the guy below, the one I mentioned above, and wondered if his gut feeling was the same as mine. I don’t know, but it would explain a lot of what I don’t know about.
Weird eh? Well only a little. It was OK, as I sat where I could, and used the small balcony for smoking. The balcony was also host to ducks and one goose caged in bamboo pods, awaiting despatch; and I wondered ... Time passed.
I stared out over the scenery for ages, wishing to be somewhere, anywhere else; when a young couple arrived; I gathered the boy was a relation, and the girl, the homeowners daughter. I think they were in a relationship, and knew they
were paying a visit back to their Chinese roots. They are noted above regards the picture, and both spoke very good English, if American. They had both attended University in the States, and lived in New York after they graduated. However,
she was now in her second year in Blighty, working somewhere in Cheshire.
I learned they were taking a two-month break in the Orient, before going back. They were chatty for a while, before getting about their business, and leaving twenty minutes later. We put them both up for a night two weeks later, when
they returned from Taiwan. They were stopping with us overnight, and would leave for Guangzhou airport early the next day. They gave us many treats by way of thanks, which Mama (who was staying with us), took charge of, and were later
shared around the greater family.
Back in the apartment, I was looking for a place to take a nap, when the clock turned five. Within moments, everyone was rushing to leave. I was concerned; Chinese wedding receptions are usually held in a big hotel, and the invitation
normally reads, “Seven for seven-thirty.” Perhaps they all knew something I did not. Unfortunately for yours truly, they did not.
With undue haste bordering upon panic, we were herded out of the apartment, and back onto the streets below. We headed for a side gate quite near the other apartment, collecting the guy on the street as we passed. He still did not look
happy, but seeing me, nodded in recognition.
Exiting the side gate, which was set back from a rural dual carriageway, we turned to the right of a ‘U-shaped' entry, complete with waiting cars parked in typical Chinese abandon. I asked what was happening, and I was told we were being
picked up by somebody.
“I don’t know.”
I had a very bad feeling about the all of it, and looked for a place to sit down. There wasn’t one. I checked out the nearby bus stop, but it didn’t have seats either. The pull-in was blocked by a large workers truck, men were laying
a cable or similar in the bushes behind. Time passed.
I noticed that when the frequent buses stopped, they did so on the main road, but the driver always pulled up to a break in the hedge, so passengers could reach the pavement. More time passed, I started to change my weight around from
foot to foot as often as possible.
I had just returned from a short walk, about one-hour into the waiting, when Baba came up to me; he was most concerned. He was explaining to me in his broad Toisanwah, how I needed to stand, and take many short walks to avoid distress.
He insisted I walk around the entrance with him, and I did so, if only to keep him happy. I was by then, seriously suffering.
I had asked on several occasions, that somebody call to find out what was happening, but was shushed every time. However, at ten past six, the ringleader, and woman whose apartment we had not so recently vacated, called somebody. I gathered
she had been told to wait. I did wonder if she should have made the call before we left her apartment?
I was also stupid enough to mention we should take a taxi to a bar near the hotel; I desperately needed to sit down:
“Impossible, that would be disgraceful, an insult to the Boss, a deep insult to his FACE.”
“What about our Face? We're stood here waiting, like forever?”
“That does not matter. The car will be here soon.”
“You said that over an hour ago...”
The leader's phone rang twenty-minutes later, and everyone stood expectantly, most had by then sat on the grass or kerb, but neither was a nice place to sit. The upshot was, a vehicle was coming to collect us. I asked, “When?” and was
Everybody eagerly watched the roads, including a side road just across and down the way. They all waited expectantly. Time passed. I smoked another cigarette.
Eventually, two cars arrived to collect us, the time was by then, six-fifty two; ideal for arriving at the reception for seven, which we did. I’ll leave you to work out what should have happened in between, but as we say: “Here is China!”
The reception was one of three wedding banquets being hosted by the very large and impressive hotel that evening. There were hundreds of parking spaces, and even by that time, few were available. We were dropped off by the entrance,
and the vehicles disappeared off to collect other guests. The large foyer had escalators across from the entrance, but we asked for directions before proceeding upwards. We found the correct hall, and were greeted magnanimously by the
Boss, he sharing a word, if briefly, with every guest. Baba went first and was treated with deferential respect. I was next, knowing foreigners are always welcome at weddings, it gives them added face. I exchanged a few pleasantries with
the host in proper Cantonese, which also buffed my credentials.
The hall we entered was massive, and I have been in some big places, but never a dining hall anywhere near as big. Later I managed to guesstimate the number of tables, which came to eighty at least. Each had twelve place settings, and
Siu Ying told me, the meal for each table cost ¥5, 000 [£500]. I’ll let you do the maths.
Places were allotted for each guest, and our greater family group had several tables near the head table. We took seats before most people got up and went to speak to others. Some time later, I was asked to move to another table, my
wife had arrived, and was telling me she would sit with somebody at the other table. This caused problems with Rhiannon, who was told to stay with me, but wanted to be with her mother. A compromise was reached, Mama sat next to me, with
Rhiannon sandwiched between her and Siu Ying. Later, others of the group arrived and Baba was asked to move. After discussion, he moved to a table of men, I being the only man at our table. I was the only smoker as well, but noticed one
of the women take the free packet of cigarettes that is always provided on such occasions, and put them in her bag. I thought that highly rude, considering I was already smoking. Chinese can be like this. In due course, Mama asked if
I had received the fags, and I told her, “No, the girl over there took them.” Mama was not impressed, but said nothing.
I have described Chinese wedding receptions before, and this was no exception, so briefly: The official wedding album is shown on the large screen, the lights dimmed just after eight, and the happy couple were ushered in; she wearing
a white, western wedding gown, he a suit. An MC entertains, and calls for speeches, we all toast in response. They do the Georgie Best champagne trick with a pyramid of glasses, drink with interlinked arms, and cut the five-tiered wedding
cake with interlinked hands; a few more speeches, and the dinner begins.
Otherwise the meal was delicious, and the company excellent. I got chatting to the eldest of three sisters, in Cantonese, and got stuck into the food. Although soft drinks and rice wine were provided, there was no beer as usual. Red
wine was provided for toasting, which we all did a lot of. There was a staff station near to where I was sitting, and I asked our dedicated waitress for a beer in Cantonese. She gave me a strange look, and replied in Mandarin. I remembered
the Toisanwah, and she understood my spoken words at once. Phew! Thereafter, my glass of beer was always topped up before empty.
The food was exceptional, and the normal eight courses had been extended to twelve. Suckling pig, a rare delicacy, was served first, and it was delicious. We also had suckling pig at our wedding banquet, now more than seven years ago.
This was followed by a brilliant soup, although whatever it was, was remarkable. Small chunks of mushroom and water lillie tuber, were served in a herbal sauce that had a slight lemon flavour. It was as extraordinary, as it was delicious.
Large prawns and ample soy sauce for dipping followed this course, as did an assortment of the best pork delicacies. Pork stew, beef on the bone in special sauce, and abalone followed in quick succession.
The star dish was the last main dish to arrive, fish as usual. However, this was “Doh Bo,” or flat fish with good taste, and no bones. I know it is difficult to buy in these parts, and very expensive. It’s a type of Dover Sole, and was
presented with the usual garnish of chopped grass that tastes of lemon, and soy sauce as sauce. Later came three types of “Choi,” or cooked salad leaves of various kinds, and iced buns with a choice of dipping sauces. The finale was a
platter of fruit. Well, that makes twelve, but I’m sure there were other dishes, so maybe we had fifteen all told. Whatever, each was delicious, and we were stuffed.
After the first few minutes, few remained at the top table, the Boss and his wife visiting every table, and we got the wife, who was not the same person as back in the two-storey apartment. The plot thickens. Afterwards, I went to the
little boy’s room, where I relieved myself, and was given an excellent back, neck, and shoulder massage by a male attendant. It was free, but the going rate is ¥10, which I paid. I stood there for about ten minutes, as he detected all
my tense points, and applied suitable pressure and rubs. His touch was extremely good, and I was by then well used to having a massage and a wazz at the same time, enjoyed the moment after zipping-up. These guys will also offer you a
paper towel, once you have washed your hands; have you had that kind of service recently?
Returning to festivities, I became concerned; there were few of us left at table, but my automatically replenishing beer glass was still functioning perfectly, even when staff changed. My focus was on Rhiannon, who was running riot with
other kids on the small stage to the front. The MC had called children forward to participate in games come dances, and singing along to a song. Good stuff, and giving parents a breather.
My problem was that Rhiannon had returned to table briefly, and was showing off her iPad, later an older boy taking it and showing the group what to do. I was not happy, and when she returned to table, mentioned it to my wife. She told
me not to worry, but that didn’t ease my fears much. Some time later, kids started leaving the stage, the boy already having taken the iPad to show his parents; I was watching him like a hawk, especially as Rhiannon had returned to table.
I was standing ready to take action, when the boy returned to the stage, and I learned he had asked his parents for one the same. Nevertheless, I did have to remind Rhiannon to go and get it back, which proved no problem.
I also learned during the evening, the first being a phrase delivered by the Cantonese MC; "Choi yut hei!", meaning 'together'. We said the words and offered a round of applause. The second was how to address Baba's eldest
living brother; "Dai So." Baba is the youngest of many sons. The man was elderly and gentlemanly when he visited our table. He was immediately likeable, if frail, and I'm sorry to report, he passed on some months later. I watched
him walk proudly back to his table, noticing nearby, a young mother breast feeding her babe in arms at table. I like everyone else, paid them no mind. Babies are a fact of life, and need feeding.
The moment, for me, encapsulated the three main characteristics of our lives: Birth, marriage, and death.
A short time later, Mama somehow managed to knock over my recently topped up glass of wine for toasting, which doused the tasty morsels in my bowl I had been saving for my second wind. The table attendants were busy elsewhere, and by
that time the happy couple had returned, the Bride had changed into a traditional Chinese red wedding dress, it was full length, made of silk, and finely embroidered with gold thread. It also had splits to each side, and the bosom part
was buttoned from the neck, to the right side, as traditional dresses and tops always are.
The Groom was also wearing traditional Chinese costume, and something similar to a Tang suit I once had hand-tailored for me, although it was in essence, a gift. They visited tables in turn, as is the ritual, but there were far too many,
so we enjoyed the toast on their behalf, offered by the Bridesmaid. Fortunately, I managed to get my glass topped up just in time. In return, she chatted briefly, and we all gave her our “Lai Xi,” or red envelope containing Lucky Money.
Ours contained ¥300 in unused notes, which was passed with thanks, to an aide.
A few minutes later things closed quickly, and by a quarter past nine, Mama was filling her doggy bags; having again secured the unopened bottle of rice wine for Baba. The meal had been the best I had ever been fortunate to consume at
a Chinese wedding, and probably in all my time in China; except … my star dish of the day remained probably the cheapest, barring the salad, the Siu Yuk at lunchtime—That was Boy Food at it’s ultimate best.
When our group gathered their stuff, we made our way outside, and hung around waiting for something to happen. Other people we were depending upon, were busy elsewhere it seemed. I perched my behind on a step, smoked a cigarette, and
An Auntie came to wait with us, and she’s a lovely thing, chubby, and always happy with it. Her face is badly disfigured by maroon birthmarks, (Perhaps a childhood scalding?), but I had seen them many times before, and looked way passed
them, into the glittering eyes and ready smile behind. Sometimes, you need people like this, if only to ease the passage of time. Her daughter’s son was trying to use the adjacent stone slope of the balustrade as a slide, and with practice,
he became largely successful. Rhiannon and other kids joined the fun, but my daughter was a little too young for the exercise, although she coped admirably; if running instead of sliding.
I had seen little of Dai Lo that evening, he being one of the special few included at the second top table. In time he appeared, and we followed to his car … we followed a very long way to his car actually, diagonally across a car park
that was by then, virtually empty. I glanced up, waiting for the doors to unlock, and noticed a typical Chinese mêlée of cars swamping the main exit with total disorder.
Once aboard, Dai Lo drove in the opposite direction to everyone else, to avoid the queue of cars leaving no doubt. He toured around to the rear of the hotel, where there appeared to be a service entrance. Dai Lo took seconds to blag
our way through, and he returned our small group to Toisan—the same people as in the morning, plus Baba. 'Big Brother' stayed only long enough to help Mama carry all her doggy bags upstairs, and left immediately. Apparently, he was again
driving an early coach from Toisan to Shenzhen the next morning. I sometimes wonder why he chooses to live in the sister city, Hoipeng, thirty minutes drive away from his daily work; but I have the idea, the answer may be political.
I entitled this missive, Hanging Around, because that is what most of the day consisted of. We were away from home for about fourteen hours, three of those spent travelling, and two more actually eating. So, I make that nine hours waiting.
Chinese people do tend to accept waiting as being an integral part of daily life. I do not. This would perhaps be a major reason why, I no longer attend most all-day functions. Nearly all involve two meals, and a lot of hanging around.
Often, in Mama’s home, they often include late breakfast the next day, after trying to sleep in a bed that is shorter than I physically am, with both wife and daughter for company. I now use the couch downstairs.
By way of contrast, I intimate Brooks Hatlin, the librarian from Stephen King’s excellent Shawshank Redemption. I also wonder why “The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry … I’ve decided not to stay;” if I remember his words
after release, correctly?
I felt the same, last time I was in Blighty, and since with communication with many Westerners. Many appear to be far too preoccupied with the minutia of their ordinary lives, to have time to waste, say writing a proper email, or even
writing a reply at all. Well, unless they want something in return, and usually for free. I receive first contact emails, some of which have no 'Hello', no 'regards', and zero politeness. They contain a short line only, "I want you
to do this for me." Nowadays, I just delete them for being ignorant of others.The key; don't be self-centred, be respectful.
I faced similar physically; meeting old friends back home. Many seemed bemired within a time constraint, one that was invariably work or routine related. The majority of people appeared to be racing against time to complete their day.
Why? Why are their lives so driven, controlled by the clock?
The contrast is above, where the Chinese will write off nine hours of one day, waiting for something to happen.