To help speed up the construction process, we gave the team here a 'hard' deadline: that on May 5th, we would hold a wedding in our new home in Wuyuan. Taking a leaf straight from the university student's playbook, early confidence and cups of tea increasingly gave way to frenzied panic, all nighters and pleas for deadline extensions. Having sat on the other side of the table a few times before, I knew a blagger when I saw one. 'Just get it done'.
and they did.
The result is staggering - but a story for another day. Rather, this is the story of our intimate, 20 guest, friends-and-family-only intimate ceremony in our garden, whiling away the sundown with a dozy nap. Or so we thought.
Our previous pleas to the local government to get our electric and plumbing put in on time leant heavily on our fabulous 'wedding-carnivale' narrative, complete with international press, senior members of the British Government, Mary Berry and 2 members of One Direction in attendance. Local dignitaries and villagers alike took this very much to heart, and helpfully smoothed over our utilities quandries, whilst also giving us helpful recommendations for wedding planners.
As is often the way in China, at an 11pm strategy meeting the night before, the veil was lifted on tomorrow's proceedings to the Gawne family. Dowries were to be presented, there would be 'some' spectators and firecrackers, and I would collect Selina in a traditional Sedan chair from the house of Teacher Jin, a local village elder and bring her back to our home. As is tradition, Selina's mother was to cry, as one only would when a hairy, scary foreigner steals away your daughter.
What followed did technically follow this outline, but I feel I had been somewhat undersold the magnitude of the event.
A Chinese village wedding
To begin, I was given a traditional outfit, complete with multi-feathered hat, and began the long process of standing in the street as barrages of firecrackers were let off around me. If you've never experienced Chinese firecrackers, they are simply strings of explosives laid out to create as much noise and smoke as possible (and they fulfil this brief to perfection), to ward of evil spirits and announce your happiness to the community.
From there, replete with my sedan chair, musicians, and dancing troupe, I made my way through the village's winding alleys to Teacher Jin's house to collect my prize. Fighting my way through throngs of onlookers and explosives, I found Selina, veiled and shoeless deep inside. My role, as her new husband, was to ensure her feet didn't touch the ground until she reached our marital bed. With this in mind, I carried her on my back to the waiting Sedan outside, with which we paraded her around the village, back to The Skywells, and up into our new bed. Here I was allowed to finally see what was hiding under the veil; I can only assume in times gone by, a few of the young men of Yancun may have been stung at this juncture. Our marriage, however, was decidedly unnarranged, so I knew what I had signed up for and was delighted. 'As is tradition', a child urinated in an urn behind us. Again, I can only assume someone's nuptials were thoroughly interrupted once in years gone by, only for a quick-off-the-mark relative to cry: 'thats good luck you know, they'll all want it at their own weddings soon!' And thus a tradition was born.
Standing On Ceremony
Up next, came a ceremony in our main hall. we made promises to each other, and our families, with a healthy dollop of bowing and candles. A Hui Opera performance in the garden followed under the sweltering sunshine, to be followed, as these things tend to be, by mountains of food and spicy baijiu.
At a quieter moment, I asked some of the families who had sold us the house about their own weddings. They took place in the same main hall as ours, and involved copious amounts of food and baijiu and the whole village turned up to watch. Their marriages were in leaner times, 40 years ago, but they told me the crowds of people turning up in the house, and feelings of warmth felt familiar, as did all the customs. I suspect the press corps and circling drones perhaps didn't, but none of us dwelt on it.
And as quickly as they appeared, they were gone again. We were left standing in an empty hall, surveying the typical carnage that follows any party. Sad looking half drunk cups of beer, juxtaposed by a pleasing sense of control and calm that had been sorely lacking beforehand. The village now feels like home: we know people by name, and they stop us to give us bits of extra food they have, no longer viewing us with suspicion but cheery smiles. We have a lifetime left to return them.