Tuesday, 20 January, 2015
I went to a wedding at the weekend, and it’s all done so differently over here – let’s start with the gift. In the UK, you get a cheap toaster, whack a fancy ribbon on it, and put it on the table of presents – wonderfully simple. You can then nonchalantly get stuck into their food, wine, and listen to a few speeches, all before watching your pissed up aunty have a go at dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ with your youngest cousins.
Gifts are not as simple at a traditional Taiwanese wedding. Every guest is expected to show up with a money-filled, red envelope, and the amount inside is based on how highly they value their friendship with the bride and groom – essentially, you’re completely ranking your buddies. A toaster gives you a little leeway, but the content within a red envelope is so precise.
Days before the wedding you find yourself subconsciously building up a pros and cons list in your head – ‘we went for drinks on Thursday, and he helped himself to some of my chips without asking. So, we can probably trim off a tenner from his total for that’.
After I had weighed up everything, and concluded that £22 was the rightful value of our friendship – I made my way to the reception area to hand over my red envelope. At which point, I discovered that they open the content in front of you, count your money, and then write the exact amount down on a piece of paper.
If I would have known they were that brutal, I would have put a note inside explaining that I took a tenner out because of the chip theft. Birthday parties must be fun here; you’re probably required to staple the receipt to the cake.
As I’ve previously mentioned, reputation is everything in Taiwan, so I reckon you get some pretty generous offerings – especially when the cheeky gits count it out note by note in front of everyone and then pencil in your ranking on the stingy-graph. The richest man in Taiwan got there simply through continuously getting married – his persistence has gifted him with more envelopes than a postman, three helicopters and a pet dinosaur. Not to mention, the lad is treated like royalty down at Big Bob’s Catering Service.
In preparation for a wedding, it’s also common for the happy couple to do a day-long photo shoot – going from location to location across the city in wedding gear, while doing ‘silly’, ‘cute’ poses. If you visit one of the nation’s favourite landmarks, it’s pretty usual to see a couple pouting their lips and pushing their index fingers gently into their cheeks for a camera.
I often think about proposing to people in Taiwan for the envelopes, but I quickly remind myself that I’d have to do a day’s worth of that, all while wearing a bow tie. I always conclude that marriage is not for me.
The photos are for the huge projector screens scattered around the wedding hall, and are displayed in a slideshow format during the quiet sections of the ceremony.
My friend, the groom, wasn’t short of poses, either. He rocked the peace sign, the double peace sign (a bit of variety), the thumbs up, and the finger gun, just to name a few – the bride and groom definitely got their money’s worth on photo day, that’s for sure.
Although, they weren’t the only people getting value for their money – I definitely drank more than £22 worth of wine on the night. The lady to my left was drinking water, so I reckon if you put our red envelope money together, it probably just about balances out. There’s not really a rule book, therefore, I’ve decided that’s a pretty fair way of doing it.
I didn’t quite pig out on the food the way I would have desired though – we were on a round table, with waiters frequently placing new dishes into the middle. It tasted great. Unfortunately, everybody else on my table may as well have been using a teaspoon when adding the grub to their plates – they were treating chicken like it was a side dish, man!
I felt like I couldn’t pile my plate to the standard four or five times a buffet requires, after all, I needed to consider my ‘face’ points – so, I had to make do with three helpings.
After food, I decided to get some fresh air. It was here that I met, Will, a chain-smoking cousin of the groom. Will decided to voice his concerns to me, explaining that he doesn’t actually like the woman that his relative had chosen to marry, claiming that she was only interested in his money.
That’s quite a strong opinion to just offload on a stranger, isn’t it? I hadn’t actually shared my reasons for being there yet – for all he knew, I could have been the wife’s dad. It was unlikely as we look around the same age, but still, you may want to be more careful when sharing those kinds of opinions, buddy.
I had actually not met the wife before this day, so I didn’t really know what to say. I smiled and nodded, which just seemed to be the best way to react in the moment.
Once finished burying his cousin’s other half, he asked me how I knew Tony.
Who in the heck is Tony?!
I then looked at the sign on the door, which read, “Victor & Sherry: Floor 1. / Tony & Rita: Floor 2”.
Oh, there were two weddings taking place in this building today. I felt a little bit better knowing that I was nodding along to the sentiment that Rita was a money-grabbing cow, rather than my friend’s wife.
He asked if I was going back up to the party. The guy had just been pouring his heart out to me, it wasn’t the right time for the truth – I followed him up to the wrong wedding.
I took a seat at his table, and he suggested I got stuck in to the leftovers sitting in the middle – well, I don’t mind if I do, Will, thanks. For the next twenty minutes, I listened to him complaining about a woman I had never met, while I ate half a fish and rammed as much cabbage into my mouth as would fit.
Once he got everything out of his system, and I couldn’t possible eat anymore, I headed back to the correct wedding. It was important that I didn’t overstay my welcome, after all, neither the bride nor the groom knew who I was, and I’d just been scoffing down all their food. I also felt it was important to hide my true identity from Will, he never needed to know that his passionate rant was completely wasted.