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A Chinese Wedding Story: Mark & Eliza

A Ten Minute Read

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When you meet that special person in your life there is nothing which can separate your worlds. Many years ago when I was working in Sanya, China I met the love of my life. Not long ago I returned from China with a small group of family and friends for our wedding. I am now married to my best friend and the girl who will help share the rest of my days. It is an incredible feeling as we embark on the new adventure in life together.

Only a few people I know were able to attend the wedding China, so I will share with you a little bit of what exactly it is like to get married in China. We wanted our wedding to be traditional Chinese, so many of the aspects may seem strange or foreign. The whole experience was a learning curve for me as well. Enjoy the beauty in the difference.

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I woke early on the day of my Chinese wedding. The last week had been a blur of meeting people, preparing for a wedding and getting to learn a little bit more about my new family. It was raining lightly outside. There I spent a quiet moment in my wedding room. Soon the wonderful chaos of the day would begin. It was a day I had been looking forward to for a long time. I knew it would not disappoint.

Not long after people started to arrive at my room. Family and friends from both sides. We shared a bit of a quick breakfast and tidied the room for the day. It had been decorated with nearly a hundred balloons, Chinese decorations and streamers. A new set of red silk sheets was put on my wedding bed, as is the tradition and I put on my special outfit for the day. Friends were given noise makers and we prepared to take the walk down to get Eliza.

As is the Chinese tradition, the groom must go pick up the bride at a separate location before the wedding day begins. Most weddings take place in hotels these days, so instead of picking her up at her parent’s house, I picked her up at room down the hall from me. However, it is not as easy as just knocking on the door and bringing her back. There was a laundry list of tasks laid before me.

With my cohort, I made my way down the hall at 9:30a.m. I arrive to a decorated door and a lot of noise on the other side. I brought with me a large amount of envelopes called ‘Hongbao’. These would serve essentially as bribes for the girls guarding the door to let me inside. I slipped a few under the door and then a few more and eventually had to push my way inside after being told to sing a Chinese song. When I came through the door I continued to be attacked for ‘Hongbao’ until I made my way to the centre of the room.

I stood at the foot of the bed before my beautiful fiancée. She looked gorgeous in her outfit wearing a variety of bright jewellery. In order to be allowed to take her from the room, I had to go through a few more challenges, that if I lost would cost me more Hongbao. First, I had to find two of her shoes hidden somewhere in the room. One was found by my brother in a pillow case and second was actually jammed inside the Majhong table. The next challenge was to eat a banana with the help of my friends. This was easily my most hated event, as the banana got closer and closer to the end. Then I was told to do twenty push-ups with one hand, which was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be in my insanely hot robe. Then I had three chances to find the correct end to a tangle of ribbons tied to her arm. The final challenge was to kneel on a bunch of Majhong playing pieces and put on her two shoes.

At the end of it all I picked her up and we bowed before her parents. I gave them my Hongbao, as is tradition, and Eliza got on my back in order for me to carry her back to my room. In Chinese tradition the bride is not allowed to touch the floor during this time as I took her from her bed to the bed in my room. As we left the room the hallway was filled with the loud sound of exploding noise makers bearing rose pedals and the bustle of getting back to my room. In my heavy robe, I was sweating like crazy as I carried her like a mule back to my room.

When we arrived it was time for pictures of multiple combinations. At one point I was launched into the air for a photo and nearly hit the ceiling. At this time Eliza was to change into another outfit, while myself along with family and friends were to head down to the wedding hall. It was my duty to greet the people attending the wedding.

As is typical of a Chinese wedding when people arrive at a wedding they give their hongbao to a central table. At our wedding they were returned a nice gift and each man received a cigar which I brought from Canada. Usually, all men receive a cigarette, but seeing is how I do not smoke, I thought this was a little better.

So there I stood, greeting the 150 guests in attendance while the final preparations were made for the ceremony. The people filed to their seats with rain drops on their shoulders from outside. In the corner of my eye I saw Eliza come down and remain hidden by the doorway as the ceremony was set to begin. The MC began the call for quiet and people to return to their seats.

The wedding started with two dancers along the catwalk of the stage. Eliza’s cousins, performing a beautiful dance as we approached the steps to the stage. It was my job to guide her for the first part of the wedding ceremony, as her head was covered in a traditional veil, which she could not see through. We climbed the stage and began to walk holding the red silk ribbon, a symbol of our bond. Over a wooden saddle I guided her, which would keep us safe year after year. Then finally we stepped over a fire pan as we walked to the centre stage of the catwalk.

Our parents came to the stage. We bowed three times and then once to our parents. At this time, I was able to remove the veil with a stick, in a three part fashion. The crowd applauded for the beautiful bride. Our parents were seated and we poured them tea in the traditional fashion. They accepted the tea and returned our Hongbao and went back to their seats.

I put a strand of Eliza’s hair in a box, to ensure we loved each other until our hair turns grey and exchanged a small gift. One of the final acts was to drink a traditional fermented beverage in a lover’s fashion with arms linked. After all was complete we bowed for our friends on the left, in the middle and our friends from Canada. The wedding ceremony was complete and we headed for our seats.

There was then a speech from my father, Eliza’s father, myself and Eliza. The speeches were translated into Chinese and English so everyone would understand how important this day was to all. Eliza’s speech moved the crowd and brought most to tears. It was a very emotional time as I could feel the words she spoke and a sense of pride at all of the planning coming together in the end of the day. We had done it and now we were together.

After the wonderful and moving speeches my brother on guitar, my mother on vocals, a talented neighbour also named Mark on piano and myself on the djembe played Ed Sheeran’s – Thinking Out Loud. The cameras went up and we played through to the crowd. The second song was done by my brother and our neighbour Mark. The amazing difference was that the song was in Chinese. A famous song entitled, ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’ by Escape Plan. I was so proud of how hard they worked on this song and their dedication to learn a song in a completely new language.

They were followed by a very cool breakdance by the MC, where he did a backflip. The final performance was Eliza’s mother who sang a beautiful Chinese song in a captivating tone. By this time all of the food was on the table and the MC gave the cue to have all the chopsticks brought out. Dinner and drinks were served to all 150 guests. It was my duty to go with Eliza and cheers all of the tables at the wedding.

Not long after people started to pay their respects and say goodbye. By the time the wedding lunch was all over it was around 3pm. We returned to our rooms to rest and prepare for the small dinner with around 50 guests that night and the karaoke afterwards. A Chinese wedding is a full day event. I cannot thank everyone for all of the work that went into making our celebration a beautiful memory. It is one of those days that will live in my memory forever. Thank you to all of the friends near and far that made our day so special. Though a wedding may only be single day, it represents a beautiful union that my wife and I will share forever.

A Glimpse Into Our Wedding Day by Video (Photos Below)

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*Please stay tuned as I prepare to release a new series in the coming days. As I made my way around the world I got to meet a good number of amazing people along the way. Some I only spent a few minutes with, others a few days and weeks. It is here I would like to share their stories. For me, meeting the people along the way was the most inspiring part of the journey. The people that welcomed me into their homes or just stopped to have a chat will forever be etched in my mind. For that past few years, you have heard of my love for travel and the spinning world. Now, please welcome their love for life and peer into what makes them so special. I look forward to reading as much as you.

**I apologize that posts have been sparse recently. It has been quite busy since I returned from China. I started a new job, I moved and my father was ill. However, I have never settled into a different pace of life and a new exciting adventure. I still plan to continue on with my book and will be launching a new website in the coming weeks. Back on track towards new and exciting goals.

***To check out one of my current side projects, look up www.tinysbest.com for more information on how you can place on order or check out products for delicious and healthy Chicken Jerky.

****Look for an update from Free the Children (WE Charity) in the very near future on all five of our school projects. Thank you to everyone that has donated over the past few years. Together we have achieved a beautiful change. 🙂

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Escape Plan ~ The Brightest Star in the Sky (Wedding Song)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzuy63eCUKc

Ed Sheeran ~ Thinking Out Loud (Wedding Song)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp-EO5I60KA

The Thunder Behind My Eye: Racing Into South Africa

An Eleven Minute Readimage

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician

There comes a time when we must make decisions in our lives. Crossroads present themselves in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes decisions are quick and without thought. Others linger for weeks and plague mental patterns day and night. If we value change or growth, these moments come with some frequency. These decisions mould us, shape our present reality and the roads which bring us to the next junction. We are never the same person twice. The goals which we once had years, months and even weeks back, may seem like frivolous bothers in the present. They look like minor deviations from the whirlwind of our daily lives. However, everything culminates during daily micro-decisions to bring us to new avenues of opportunity.

Letting worry take over and cloud your modern reality is a needless distraction to the bigger picture. I’m sure we would find it hard to look back and remember with fondness on our most recent worries. It is much easier and positive to look back on moments of nostalgia, even if they weren’t that great at the time. On a bicycle journey, there is a surplus of time to think. I’ve put in a great deal of time contemplating and arrived at a few conclusions. They are apparent in my present state. If you want something bad enough, you’ll chase after it, I know I have. The end is not reached with the rabbit, but only leads to another series of holes. Enjoy the hunt.

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“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” ~ Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country

It was an early morning entrance to Botswana. Another country with new sets of rules and geography. For the first time in months it was flat. I entered from the Plum Tree border station and rode on fumes to Francistown. Relaxing in the shade I made a forward plan towards South Africa. With the wide shoulder and a relatively uninteresting section of road ahead, I decided to make my break. Putting in my longest day in Africa of 176 kilometres from Francistown to Palapye I arrived after dark. Setting up my tent on some crusty ground, I cooked some tasteless pasta and it was lights out. The next day, it was up early again as I skidded off towards the South African border. There was no service stations until I reached the border over a hundred kilometres away. Drinking orange Fanta out of coolers from the side of the road, I spent my last bit of money on a fly covered bun with warm cream inside.

If you are wondering, why all the hurry? It was because I was running behind schedule for an important meeting on the horizon. My girlfriend and family were coming to visit. They were due to arrive in Johannesburg in just a matter of days. Every moment counted to get me there on time. I returned the bottle of Fanta and slugged my way to the border. Crossing into South Africa felt like I was returning to civilization. There were functioning stores in each town with a wide selection foods and affordable delights. South Africa is the most developed country, given most respects, in Africa. I quickly felt at home and the welcoming nature of the people. I saw the first McDonalds since Egypt and to say I didn’t order up the ubiquitous ‘Big Mac’ meal would be a lie. Sometimes on trips like this, that little bit of familiarity can go a long way to make you feel at ease. When everything is always new and unknown, those little pieces of the known go a long way.

Rolling into Lephalale, I was searching for a local campsite when a man almost backed his truck into me. After he saw me and we chatted a moment, he asked where I was headed. I explained my plan of action and he invited me to stay in one of his guesthouses for free. It ended up being my own apartment with hot water, kitchen and laundry. Cycling dreams are made of this magic. My new friend, Victor, introduced me to the welcoming nature of South African people. After I was rested up he invited me for a breakfast before I was off riding again. We had an instant connection and some inspiring chats. The local newspaper showed up and an impromptu interview took place. They sent me sailing with a happy first impression and a bag full of food. That night I slept on the soft green grass of the local golf course amid warthogs and skittish little monkeys.

“Travel is more than a seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard, Author

On route to Johannesburg a friend I had met in South Korea named Dene, had arranged for family members of her husbands to host me. They picked me up and took me off to their farm. Jaco and Jessie gave me the first taste of true South African ‘Braai’. You can read more on the process and style HERE. It is basically barbecue, but treated with a sport like seriousness. They even have a ‘Braai Day’, which I will get into on a following post. In any case, my first experience was a beautiful appreciation for food, as I slowly began to put on weight. One of the most amazing things they did for me while I stayed with them was returning my shoes, that were nearly headed for the garbage bin, looking brand new. At this point I only had one day to make it to the airport in time to meet my girlfriend. Jessie offered to take me most of the way into Johannesburg. I left feeling like I was part of the family and a warm energy bubbled inside. I made it to the airport with 20 minutes to spare. Cutting it close to say the least. I rubbed my burley face wishing I had time to shave.

Seeing a familiar person on a trip such as this can do more than you know. I didn’t need to introduce myself or be that guy on the bike. I was simply able to be me. With my family and girlfriend, Eliza, it was just like old times, only we were in South Africa. After a day of rest we went out on safari. Something I had only done by the seat of my bike all through Africa. Now I was the person that rolled past people in the big vehicle as hundreds of white kneed tourists had done to me throughout Africa. Only this safari was more than about just seeing herds of zebras and spotting lions. All down Africa I had thought about it carefully. On the top of a mountain just after sunrise I asked the love of my life to marry me. Slipping the ring onto her smooth trembling finger I felt all the world coming together. Looking up to see the tears in her eyes what I saw was my soulmate. The woman I would spend the rest of my days with. I am not sure what I said as the morning sun swallowed us up on that rocky outcrop. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Without the careful planning and help of my parents I couldn’t have pulled off the proposal. I am so glad we were able to share in it together.

“You must regard this deviation from plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place…Absence of certainty is its essence. People…who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises.” ~ Adam Yamey, Aliwal

After a few days of wonderful wildlife, relaxation and full stomachs, a tearful goodbye was on the horizon as I prepared to get back on the bike. I knew saying goodbye to my parents would be tough, but seeing my new fiancée off was going to be even more difficult. I wanted to quit. I said that I had come far enough. That the end of Africa was achievement enough. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I should pack it all in and call it a day, when I reached the southern edge of Africa in Cape Town. Eliza said that there was no way I was quitting. As hard as that may have been for her to say, it wasn’t what I wanted hear, but what I needed. She could have been selfish and let me take the easy way out. I could have quit right there at the airport and boarded a plane anywhere else. But I returned to my bike knowing I wouldn’t see her until I reached the finish line back in Canada, thousands of kilometres away.

Knowing everything I already do about life on the road, it would have been the easy way out. Returning to a life of comfort with vegetables in the crisper and 600 TV channels, would be ideal for a time. But, that route would have haunted me in years to come. Like a puzzle missing the final piece, I would only see that hole. The rest of the picture would be forgotten. Eliza could see this. As much as she may have wanted me to quit, she supported my dream without a doubt. This is what every man wants. To feel the support and understanding of his mindless plight. To be there for him when the future he presents is a bit hazy. She looked into my eyes and beyond the shadowy thunder that is my mind, she saw something more. On first day I ever met Eliza, I told her that I would ride a bicycle (which I didn’t even own at the time) around the world. She never thought I was joking and she stuck by me through all of those distant nights. If I were to quit now, it would be breaking the very first promise ever I made to her. Now, that is something I could never live with.

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*The rest of the South Africa story will continue in the next post along with adventures through ruggedly beautiful Lesotho and eventually to the stunning coast of the Garden Route towards the end of Africa in Cape Town.

**Please continue to help support funding for the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. We are less than $1,600 away from reaching our goal. Which is so amazing! Thank you for the surprise early donations from some of our supporting schools back in Eastern Ontario. You guys rock! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

***To follow along with daily photo updates from my phone through the South American section of the journey link to my Instagram by CLICKING HERE.

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