|I could not let the event of my best friend’s wedding
go without a mention, although regular readers of this
column may already know that Eason and Siu Geue got
officially married (Register Office) on Christmas day
Therefore it came to pass that on 8th March 2011
Eason was having his formal wedding – and a grand
occasion it was in true Chinese style and pageantry.
I was determined to attend and eventually talked Siu
Ying into going also. Then arrangements got more complex
as my wife hummed and haha’d over whether she was
actually going or not; whilst our old friend Stephanie
was talking daily on the phone and trying to arrange
a lift for us.
The wedding was set for the 8th March, but I had
to be there the day before as I was part of the Groom’s
personal party. You may recall that Eason was my Best
Man for our own wedding, but sadly the roles are very
different in China, and to the point where the main
duty appears to be to get the Groom as drunk as possible
whilst still keeping him standing. You may also be
interested to know that only single people can act
as Best Man in China, therefore I could not be considered
I had planned to catch the bus and meet Eason in
Foshan before 5 pm, but developments and phone calls
meant plans had changed and we were to meet Step in
Long gong (Long Jiang in Mandarin) at around 7 pm.
She would then drive us in her car.
We were late because Siu Ying decided to get ready
when I thought we should be leaving, and then Granma
decided she would also go and take Nonni with us.
So eventually we catch the charabanc and hurtle along
the main road as fast as the thing will go. It is
very exciting and far cheaper than paying for entrance
to an amusement park, plus you get to arrive somewhere
else as a bonus.
We arrive at the main coach centre in Long gong,
which all towns have. Like others of its kind it consists
of the busiest road junction you can imagine, and
coaches stop two and three deep at both collection
and drop-off points. The road here normally has eight
lanes in each direction, and is unusual in that several
proper bus stops are actually part of the plan.
However, they have a new plan these days, which appears
to be to build and underpass for the main G321, and
an overpass for the road that crosses it. The reason
for this would be that right on the junction is one
of the busiest exhibition centres south of Foshan.
Therefore the existing road is about the right size
to cater for local traffic plus acting as an intersection
for the other new roads.
However, to accommodate all the building works +
extra traffic jams, the bus stops have been removed
and there is a temporary arrangement set half a mile
up the road. Step is ringing us to ask where we are,
and so we tell her we have arrived … somewhere. Then
she looks up and sees us, and so we get in her car
and head-off to Eason’s wedding.
Step doesn’t know where we are going, so calls Eason
often to ask for directions, and eventually we get
on Foshan Number 1 Ring Road and go in the direction
of Samsoi (San Shui in Mandarin). The night is dark
and rain-swept, and they have turned off all the motorway
lights, including those for the signs for each junction.
This makes things a lot more interesting. Step battles
bravely on and I give her great credit for finding
the correct junction, which is a great wonder to us
We then follow a minor A road as it twists and turns
through the local countryside, and it is quite typical
of rural roads in this area. Having made one or two
false stops we finally arrive at the ornamental gate
of a small village. We are told to go to the ferry,
but fail to find it from the directions, so instead
sit and wait in the car just by the gateway. Some
thirty minutes pass before two lads arrive and we
follow their car out onto the main road, and then
turn left half a mile further on and into a secure
area consisting of factory units, with an old country
hamlet nestled behind.
We pull up at a house and are informed we have arrived.
Eason and Siu Geue have a modern apartment in Foshan,
so this is a bit confusing, but I eventually work
out the place belongs to his father’s brother. We
are given seats and water bottles, and sit around
for a couple of hours with loads of people we do not
Eason arrives about eleven o’clock in company with
some of the lads, and we head out for something to
eat – as we are all starving not having eaten yet
today. We had been under the impression we would arrive
in time for a meal, but apparently that train had
sailed. There are some wedding things to attend too
first, but these only take a few minutes and then
we are off.
We head into the main town (No idea what it was called)
and rock-up at a street full of late night street
bars. The weather is cold, wet and miserable, but
we choose a nice sheltered area and order many dishes.
Time passes and surprisingly the beers are not particularly
flowing. Then dribs and drabs of our order arrive,
with the main dish appearing some thirty minutes later.
This is wolfed down as we are apparently in a hurry
to get somewhere.
We then head down the road and pull into a decent
looking hotel. Apparently Eason has orders two rooms
for us, and so we check in. The details are actually
conducted in Cantonese which I follow well and make
suitable replies or ask questions as appropriate.
One of the staff tries to practice her English on
me, but we soon default back to Cantonese. The girls
decide to have an early night so we check them into
their room and ensure everything is good for them.
I leave them to it and get back in the car, being
driven across the road to a KTV place. It is actually
quite good, although I am not sure I actually get
on all that well with one of Eason’s best friends
from their childhood – he’s a bit too uncouth and
ignorant for my taste, although probably a very nice
lad once he drops his alpha-male bravado and you get
to know him.
I am delighted to report that Step stays with us
as she loves karaoke, even though she doesn’t drink
and is the only girl present. We get a good drink
in and I even sing one of my favourite Cantonese songs
– Annie by Dave Wong. It is a bit old but a very clever
song, mainly because Annie is sung almost the same
as ‘I love you’ in Cantonese (I nei). Step then tells
me it is a very old song, before putting on an even
older one by Beyond – a band we all love.
The night winds up about three o’clock and Step is
driving home as she has to work tomorrow. However
she will return for the main reception. I know what
comes next and in the car park am asked if I am staying
or going? I say I am up for it, whilst the guy I still
don’t like very much talks about who will take me
back to the hotel. Then we get in several cars and
head back to the hamlet, and Eason’s wedding house.
On the way back we call in at another late night
street-bar, but only to order a take-away and a couple
of crates of beer. Soon we are on the road and Eason
points out his old school, then begins reminiscing
about old times. It is very interesting actually.
Upon arrival everyone in the house is asleep so we
sneak up to the top floor and take over a room that
has not been used since … I don’t know when. Cards
are dealt, bottles opened, and the take-away unwrapped.
It is some sort of sticky-rice thingymagig with black
beans and meat essence. It is fantastic and totally
local food. Still hungry I eat quite a lot of it.
They are playing some version of Chinese cards to
pass the time, and I game I watch for several hours
without gaining the slightest insight into what the
rules may be. For those that are new to my missives,
then please know that traditionally the Cantonese
Groom is not allowed to sleep this night, so his closest
friends stay up all night with him to make sure he
does not go to sleep. I feel slightly proud to be
in that number.
The next morning begins at 6 am as people below surface
and so we go to join them. The womenfolk are attending
to the bridal suite, as Eason dresses in a proper
Tuxedo that has been made especially for him to wear
on this day. He looks very dapper and a most handsome
We then hang around for a while as some of the lads
slide off and Eason has duties to perform. We are
joined by a local boss who is a great chap and we
get on very well. It seems he is a very close family
friend and mentor to some. He is also a heavy smoker,
which suits me just fine. An hour passes as he entertains
us, before everybody arrives once more and we head
off for the town at around 8.30 am.
Our destination is ‘Chinese Tea’, which is a loose
phrase meaning eating and drinking in a traditional
Chinese tea house. The food is excellent, and washed
down with quality beer, I declining to have the rice
wine except for specific toasting purposes. In this
setting my Cantonese is actually pretty good, and
so much so I am involved with several conversations
as the meal flows. At one point I am asked if Siu
Ying is coming, although I really don’t know where
we are exactly. I had rung her when we arrived, but
the call was not answered = they are still asleep.
As the time approaches ten o’clock so a panic ensues
and I am caught up within it, being taken to a different
car which has been parked outside overnight. We form
a vague convoy and negotiate the local backstreets
before parking on a road junction opposite some motorbike
cops, and outside a hairdresser. There prove to be
seven of us, and no girls ready for work yet, for
we are having a massage before the hairstyling. They
actually get staff ready quite quickly, most appearing
from upstairs where I presume they live and eat also.
The massage is fine, and then I have a haircut, before
we wait for them to attend to Eason, who is constantly
on his mobile as the morning unravels. I am warned
by the boss not to even attempt to pay for my services,
so sit with him and chat as we enjoy yet another of
his especially strong cigarettes.
With time on eleven o’clock we then leave, the boss
being detailed to take me to collect Siu Ying, Mama
and Rhiannon. I have not actually been in my room
yet, although Eason did check it last night before
we left. Therefore I find the girls and tell them
we are leaving = NOW! They don’t quite get the urgency
for a while, but it does come together within ten
minutes. I am told Nonni really missed me last night,
as she is used to sleeping between us, so the delight
upon her face when I entered the room is something
I will always treasure.
Oh, just in case you wondered, the girls presumed
I would be gone all night and not a word was said
about it the next day, except when I mentioned it
just to be sure - and my wife and Mama both laughed.
I then had to laugh also, but for very different reason
– as I am sure not many British wives or Mother in
Laws would be so dismissive and accommodating. I suggest
you do not try this one at home!
However, times move on, and so must we. The boss
is happy so see us and as soon as we are in the car
we try to find our way back to the village. Unfortunately
nobody can remember the way, so we drive around for
a while and try several roads before coming back to
the hotel and going in the opposite direction. Hey
Presto! This does the trick and within ten minutes
we are back at the house.
Today is very cold with a biting wind blowing and
a mizzle of rain to accompany proceedings. The house
is already full and important people come and go to
ensure the communal room and bridal suite are perfect.
We have a look, but basically I hang out with some
of the lads on the expansive balcony as we wait for
time to pass. Nonni is ok, but it is clear she is
too young for this, although she seemed to really
enjoy the night in the hotel and this morning’s cold
rice porridge left over from the night before.
The next item should be a village meal for close
family, friends and neighbours plus accredited others.
The format varies slightly depending upon family circumstances,
and this one proved to be set for 12.30 in a local
restaurant. There was absolutely no sign of the Bride
or any of her family, thus this do was for the Groom’s
side only. Presumably the Brides’ party enjoyed something
similar in their neck of the woods.
The place was not the most salubrious, but then neither
were many of the guests. The whole village was present
and I guess this was the only place large enough that
had decent food. Did I say decent food – it was fabulous.
I had to order extra beers, as they had provided rice
wine and fruit juices only, but otherwise I could
not fault the place.
It was situated exactly opposite the village main
gate, on the other side of the busy main road, and
set alongside the sideroad that had a site frequently
by a steady stream of dump-trucks entering and leaving
opposite the main doors. By dump-truck I mean the
six or eight-wheeled Hino tipper trucks version that
carries aggregates too and from other locations. They
are the preferred workhorse of all Chinese construction
sites, although the massive Chinese Dong Peng conglomerate
does also have a large market presence.
Back to our meal and inside are eighteen
tables in the main room set for ten people each. Side
rooms offer seating for another hundred people, so
the total number present is approaching three hundred!
On cue the food is dished-up course by lovely course,
and I count an unusual twelve courses. Normally there
are only eight at weddings, but it seems they dispensed
with the normal fish centrepiece and added extra and
most enjoyable extra plates. We were all totally stuffed
before even more dishes were added, and I sat back
with the boss and my family for company and felt well
I am not sure if I can pick a star dish, as virtually
all of them were excellent, and served faster than
we could eat them. There were: Prawns, chicken, goose
(Gorgeous), choi sum (Vegetables), an brilliant mushroom
thing that I kept coming back to, water lily bulbs,
tofu, small clam soup; I forget – too many to remember
all + many more fruits and vegetables. This meal was
totally excellent and I have to respect the caterers
for a very good job excellently executed.
Eason and his Best Man have spent most of the meal
on the door to greet latecomers, and then he sits
to eat for a few moments before coming to each table
and toasting everyone present with rice wine. That
would be around thirty nip glasses of the lethal fluid,
but he wears it remarkably well. Several stay to extend
the table toasts after he passes, which is a welcome
distraction and great for engendering the party spirit.
However, as the clock swings passed the hour mark,
so we are gently cajoled to leave for the next item
– getting the Bride!
You might think my English is slipping, but let me
tell you that we do go to ‘Get the Bride’ and have
to battle our way in to her father’s house to do so.
I faced a similar conundrum at my own wedding, but
this is a proper a very serious affair.
So we leave the restaurant and a line of perhaps
fifty cars forms to raid Siu Geue’s parental home.
We set off in formation, as other road user’s stop
to accommodate our train, and then every driver puts
his hazard lights on – thus indicating an important
procession is en route. The journey takes about twenty
five minutes and leads us into downtown Namhoi (Nan
Hai in Mandarin), with the train remaining more or
less together throughout. Along the way we pass a
static police checkpoint (Motorcycles again) and a
couple of Police outriders, who all wave and wish
us well. You may want to re-read that last line, for
attitudes are so very, very different in China.
So by turn we arrive at Siu Geue’s Father’s home
and completely fill the empty street with cars, that
is both sides od the road and sometimes two abreast
and also around the corner. We all get out and head
for the front door, where they pretend to be out.
Boys then trundle up with boxes of firecrackers and
loads of plastic squirty string stuff of many assorted
and vivid colours.
We are all given a can, and there are loads in reserve
also, and begin to batter the security door down.
I have been through this for my own wedding, and it
is such a great laugh for all concerned. The theory
goes like this: the boy is unworthy of the Bride unless
he can prove himself and answer half a dozen unknown
questions. Therefore you first have to work out what
the question is, then work out the correct answer.
A typical question that is not posed by them is to
offer a red envelope of money. You think that is easy
– well let me tell you it is not. You do not know
which numbered task this relates to, and you do not
know the specific amount that has to be in the envelope
– not a Feng (100th of an RMB) more or less!
Meanwhile all the neighbours come out to watch as
we mount challenges to the main door, back door, several
windows and have a major battle through the living
room window. They reply in kind with aerosol string,
and several on both sides get absolutely covered in
the stuff. We almost break through at one point until
we are assaulted from the floor above in a counter
Part of our duty is to also keep Eason looking pristine
throughout, even though many try to get him with a
spray of foam. The analogy to besieging a castle is
very apt, and I think it would have continued passed
the three quarters of an hour mark had it not started
to rain quite heavily.
You should be aware that there is normally a selected
person within the Groom’s assault team that has been
given a little inside knowledge of what each test
will be, and in our case this was the boss man. However
he kept his own counsel for most of the attack, only
offering the occasional hint under duress.
There is a great cheer as the drawbridge is lowered
and we are allowed inside. However, just as in my
own case, the deed is not yet done for the Bride and
her closest move back into the house and then defends
the upper floors, until finally she is caught by Eason;
and always after he has fulfilled all the challenges.
We loiter in the main room downstairs and get to
know the Brides family. I assist one who is probably
her mother or fathers’ sister clear away the general
rubbish so that an oldster, and I mean a very old
man – can sit down. He seems happy and bemused, and
I think that about sums it up so far for most foreigners
who do not understand Chinese weddings. I have no
such foibles; although I’m not sure my girls enjoyed
this as much as I did.
We are a little cut off from the main action and
indulge Nonni as she has great fun trying to eat sweets
and cakes left out for the guests. Mama gives her
a gloppy fudge thing that she really enjoys, so later
I give her another as time passes and she gets a bit
bored. Mama then tells me off saying that this is
no good for her. I think to argue that she gave her
the same a few minutes ago – but apparently that is
Then surreptitiously Mama grabs a handful of sweets,
and then sticks another in my pockets, which is noticed
by Siu Ying and she tells her mother off – for this
is polite society. It seems Mama is unrepentant and
continues later in similar vein, although the chastisement
by her own daughter does not go unacknowledged. I
had already noticed that she ended up with our unopened
bottle of rice wine – for why let it go to waste when
there is good use for it appears to be her philosophy.
The wine was different, for many people took that
and a lot more home with them from the midday meal
– as Chinese do not waste anything, especially food.
Some forty minutes after entering the house Eason
appears with Siu Geue, and she is looking so beautiful
I hardly recognise her – I mean, she is beautiful
normally, but the make-up, the dress, are fantastic.
We then have another forty minutes of them doing some
Buddhist stuff and a version of the Bridal Tea Ceremony,
during which an awful lot of gold is passed to them!
And I mean, and awful lot of serious 24 carat gold
is gifted to them this day as rings, necklaces – you
It is raining properly by the time we leave, so umbrellas
are up and the western traditional Bridal dress is
hoisted to avoid the encroaching puddles. The car
is bedecked with finery, talisman’s, and loads of
canned string stuff. Full ribbons have now been applied
as the event moves into the more serious section,
and the recognised wedding begins. I note that all
the cars’ number plates have been covered by a special
sticker especially made for the purpose, and casually
wonder if this is legal in the modern world?
Our train of fifty cars then becomes one hundred,
as the hazard lights go one again as we manoeuvre
and take to the highways and byways once more. With
the official wedding car leading we are swept through
a police checkpoint en route, with the Sergeant standing
to salute every car that passes. I guess the number
plate stuff is ok then?
Here is China!
We stay in company with the boss on the journey back
to their ‘wedding home’, as he extols the virtues
of Cantonese weddings. Arriving we are simply left
to find parking spaces in the narrow and twisting
streets that form the hamlet, many drivers having
to park a long way away.
We are dropped off outside the house and wait … and
wait … and wait.
It is raining steadily now, and the wind is bitter.
However the first job upon arrival falls to the girls,
for Nonni needs changing as soon as we get back. With
the house now out of bounds except for a downstairs
toilet that is constantly in use, Siu Ying and Mama
find an adjacent alleyway and conduct the change there.
Fortunately there is an outside tap nearby, and the
situation is soon resolved, as is tying the used pamper
securely in a plastic bag and simply throwing it away
It seems some of us should have been at the first
event, which is the photograph session. I was later
informed I should have been there, but nobody was
aware and so I stood outside the house with hundreds
of others as the time ticked by and passed us all
I think a trick was missed here, although this is
not a criticism. It is merely an observation and the
whole hanging around for hour’s thing that was greeted
with classical British stoicism, something I reflect
upon now and respect.
It seems the newly weds went to several places while
we waited for them to come back; one being Eason’s
parental home proper, and another for an ancestral
blessing. These people admit to being Buddhist, but
in actual fact they are Daoist, except nobody ever
told them. Religion is important as far as folk-culture
goes, but sticking modern labels on it is usually
left to outsiders who cannot tell the differences,
or simply presume recklessly. I use the word Daoist
because this is Cantonese – and they often change
‘T’ for ‘D’, so ‘Taoist’ would be Mandarin pronunciation.
As the minutes tick interminably by, so we all get
colder and wetter as we wait in the street outside
the Honeymoon home. Then the skies lighten just before
sunset, as a parade led by clashing symbols and Daoist
drums beckons ever closer. Firecrackers are lit to
clear the end of the street from evil spirits as the
happy couple finally reappear from their extended
Eason is the epitome of a true gentleman carrying
an umbrella under which his Bride shelters from the
elements as they come into their marital harmony.
This is actually very true, and very true of them
I know as a couple extremely well. Arriving at the
home even more firecrackers are let off, and I have
a perfect picture – except it takes me half and hour
to get the most stupid of camera’s working. Hello
Sony fricking Ericsson! I had found the thing still
locked in my pocket, but it had decided to make a
voice recording = Durrrh!
Anyways, the happy couple make it to the home, and
then a new inspection by the Brides’ family ensues.
Later it is ‘approved’, although all elements of the
Brides greater family seem to have a say and make
gestures and derogatory remarks as is expected on
such occasions. It is all for show, if you are in
on the joke? So of course the house is approved as
being fit for their daughter to inhabit, and then
they have another Daoist thingymagig.
Meanwhile the skies outside where we all are darken
once more, this time not only with the portent of
more rain, but also the onset of night. The time now
is roughly about six pm, and so it will be another
hour before anything happens, except for us all getting
a lot colder and wetter of course.
We pass the time by ensuring Nonni is ok, and she
is in her element apparently, as being snug as a bug
in a rug, she is waking up and wanting to have fun!
Therefore a long car journey is just the thing to
raise her spirits, and then send her to sleep once
again. She is just about gone when we arrive just
around 7.30 for the main wedding reception, which
is held in a very grand hotel – probably somewhere
The reception is a grand affair and completely takes
over the upstairs banquet hall. I guess there is seating
for more than four hundred guests, and possibly 500
all told. We are amongst the first to enter and are
immediately entertained by a dual-screen display of
official wedding photographs and videos which are
so far away it is quite difficult to make out the
details – even though they cover a large wall space
from floor to ceiling!
We are actually here one hour early, and whilst fruit
juices are provided, plus disgusting hotel tea, I
am not allowed to have a drink until the Bride and
Groom deliver the first toast. This may explain why
a large proportion of the guests arrive one hour late.
Therefore we spend two hours twiddling our thumbs
whilst I consider making a break for the toilets,
via the bar!
However, Nonni has discovered how to leap around,
though not actually ‘walking quite as yet’. Both Mama
and Siu Ying take a long time to focus on this, so
it seems I end up catching her when she strays; at
least up until the point I reach when I know it is
full time for a toilet break!
There appear to be many people I know at the hotel
bar, most of them drinking industrial strength drain
cleaner from nip glasses. I am a good boy and stick
to the beers, which flow quite appropriately in this
small haven, even if they cost many times too much
for bottles one-third the size of real ones.
Then we are shooed away, as it appears something
is about to happen!
I retake my seat and we are well in time for the
main event. Seating was a bit of an informal affair
and we spread out not really knowing who to expect.
Then Step arrives in a flurry and we look to change
peoples seats before she simply sits down opposite
us and in company with two guys who turn out to be
potential business clients as the meal progresses.
A little later I can see Eason and Siu Geue trying
most unsuccessfully to appear inconspicuous outside
the main doors, as an MC come to the stage and sets
the parameters for what is to come. I catch my friend’s
eye and we laugh together across the distance – far
too many late nights and situations we discovered
together for several years; to loose their significance
I have the stupid urge to video their entrance, which
immediately sees me battling once more with my most
fuckwitted Vivaz. This time it is again still locked
as I retrieve it, but has decided to video the inside
of my pocket – something that does not amuse me most
So I have to unlock it and stop the video. Then it
defaults to locked, so I press about fifty buttons
in the vain hopes of discovering where they have hidden
‘video’ mode, but I do eventually find the camera.
Set; I then simply have to change the camera to video
mode, and I am ready to take the shoot – but then
of course to operate these particular buttons set
in odd places requires the collective down-force of
several fully grown bull elephants! Eventually I get
it working and am just in time, almost - managing
to get an image of the couple’s side as they pass
me by. They walk slowly to the front of the great
hall by the time I have managed to switch the thing
This is going in the bin!
Siu Geue has started off wearing a traditional western
white wedding dress which looks most elegant, and
even has a small train. Of course it was custom made,
for this is China and not the west. The wedding meal
goes according to plan as first the female Master
of Ceremonies makes introductions and thanks certain
people for attending. Eason then makes a short speech,
and a couple of others quickly follow. Then they have
to cut the wedding cake, which is followed by the
George Best champagne stack of glasses being filled
from the topmost one, which Eason accomplishes with
great ease – well, he would!
Then the bottles are opened and we all stand to toast
the couple. I have seriously learnt to avoid rice
wine whenever possible, so make a simple request for
a couple of bottles of beer. The waitress understands,
goes away to talk to a colleague, and nothing happens.
This is curious; and also dry work. Then a supervisor
comes to check our table so I repeat the request.
Her Cantonese is local and my request properly understood
– but there appears to be a problem.
However, she does come back to me some minutes later
and states that providing beer for me will have to
be approved by the Groom. What! I offer to pay for
them myself, but she assures me it is not a problem
and is being attended to.
Within a couple of minutes the request is approved,
so the first waitress rocks up with a glass and two
beers for me. Then others at our table decide a beer
would be grand, and so we end up with six of us drinking
beer, and get through many bottles of the stuff, not
all of them out of the cooler.
The meal is excellent and our table company great,
except for Eason’s old mate who has rocked up looking
for a spare seat with another lad from last night
who I like quite a lot. The second lad also has beers
and conforms to drinking etiquette, whilst the ignorant
one simply ignores toasts and drinks as and when he
feels like it. This does not go unnoticed.
The first dish is memorable, and so much so that
I feel the need to include it in my Chinese recipes
section. This was a simple soup, but one cooked with
some much attention to subtle flavours that it remains
memorable to this day. It was basically a very delicate
mushroom soup with spring onions, seaweed, and quite
a few odd things that I do not understand what they
were. It had the consistency of a good crab and sweetcorn
soup, so I presume there was an egg in the making
also. I actually has three bowls of it, as it was
so very delicious (And I am not normally a soup person)!
This time the meal consisted of eight dishes which
were placed upon the Lazy Susan. The first after the
soup was a selection of pork cuts, and by that I mean
‘siu yuk’ or thin slices of suckling pig, accompanied
by candied pork slivers and a very nice thick bacon.
Next was served a bed of large prawns with sweet
and soy dips, followed by chicken, goose, and abalone
in the shell covered with vermicelli. This was followed
by beef in chunks on the bone with a great sauce,
and finally the fish – which too my delight was not
one riddled with small bones, but an ocean flatfish
– probably a Chinese Sole. These main courses were
supported by various vegetable concoctions, and rice
of course – something I rarely eat. However, hand
made wheat noodles formed the base of a mushroom dish,
and these were totally excellent.
Then the toasts begin. The Bride and her entourage
set off in one direction and visit all the tables,
whilst the Groom and his party head in the opposite
direction. This is a very yin and yang affair, with
both families divide to support either male of female
as they make the rounds.
This night Siu Geue reaches out table first and offers
us a traditional and excellent medicinal tea/tonic.
Of the table I am honoured by her Mother, who takes
time to talk to me, and is very surprised that I can
speak good Cantonese, but little Mandarin. We laugh
and toast with special tea as the girls depart. She
was a very nice lady and I wish her well.
Some minutes later Eason arrives with his group and
a special look and upraised handshake is all that
needs to pass between us this night – for the best
of friends can communicate with a look, and no need
for words. It is clear that on this occasion the rice
wine has not been watered, for he has the healthy
glow of one well versed in the arts of drinking rice
wine. I then am toasted with others, and a special
toast from an older man, who I then work out, is Siu
Geue’s Father. Recovering just in time I raise my
glass to him and mutual respect flows between us both.
Then it turns out the guy to my side is his second
son and his wife, small world!
Once the toasting is complete Chinese people do not
hang about. This is no exception for with all the
food eaten or left for staff to dispense with, people
begin leaving en mass. I take this moment to nip to
the toilets, as I know I will have need later in less
accommodating circumstances. The gents are great,
although the sign amuses me. I finish my business
and go outside to re-check the sign, and basically
it is in both English and Chinese (Both of which I
now understand), but the thing is the arrow underneath
is pointing the wrong way.
I get out my camera to take a picture of it, and
having battled through the stupid menu system once
more; find the perfect shot – except this also looks
directly towards the ladies door. Now, I am already
aware that if I take a shot from here, then it may
look as if I am trying to take a picture of the ladies
toilets, should the door open at the wrong moment.
Perhaps you will appreciate my predicament?
So I go and take one from the other side, except
the words are backwards. There is nothing for it but
for me to take the shot and hope the ladies door does
not open at the wrong moment, and that I am not arrested
for some sexual foible. Then as I press the button,
so the screen tells me there battery is almost empty,
and the phone shuts off. I turn it back on again,
only for it to switch off again.
This moment is definitive, for I ended up with about
one dozen pictures I intentionally took; two voice
recordings of - I have absolutely no idea what; and
a long video of the inside of my pocket which ran
for about twenty minutes. If there had not been information
on the phone that I wanted to keep, then I would probably
have thrown this very expensive piece of total nonsense
in the nearest bin right there and then!
I return to the table as everyone is preparing to
leave, although Nonni seems quite keen to stay and
is trying to avoid being caught. Eason had been promoting
the idea that we all go for a disco and KTV to finish
the night, but this was never mentioned after we entered
the reception proper. I had the firm impression the
idea had been quashed by the new powers that be …
but may happen at some indeterminate time in the future.
The people leave and Step is really engrossed with
her new companions, and so much so she needs to speak
to them before leaving. We hang around the top of
the staircase and have a lovely relaxed chat with
Eason and Siu Geue as time passes and we rekindle
the flames of old friendship.
The time is – I don’t know, say after ten o’clock
when we all finally leave and it was a great do, and
one of the best I have ever attended in China. Step
is driving us back to Long gong, where we will either
think about trying to catch a midnight coach, or more
likely spend the night there in a local hotel. At
this moment we are passed by a golden coach that says
‘hoi peng’ (Kai Ping in Mandarin) in Chinese characters,
and I interrupt discussions to say that we can get
this coach, for it will take us almost all of the
way back home.
It takes a few seconds to sink in, and then Siu Ying
is on the case and makes it clear to Stephanie that
we have to catch that coach! Step, for all her good
qualities is a ‘lady driver’ and not one given to
Gran Prix haste. However she floors the Toyota whatever-it-is
and soon we pull alongside the coach, and windows
down they have a conversation at 60 mph. Suddenly
the coach emergency brakes (Brakes on these things
are either on or off, with nothing in between).
Our bus pulls to the side of the road as we get out
and board the charabanc for our trip homewards. I
get caught up with the logistics of Mama and Nonni,
and bags that I don’t actually get a chance to say
goodbye to Step properly – something I apologise for
the next day. She is cool, having lived in China for
as long as I have.
We get on board as the low-flying object takes off
and hurtles down the runway. The girls are all together
and so having sorted a seat for myself, get out my
wallet and go to pay for our ride. I’m not sure what
the conductress expected, but we both speak local
Cantonese as I specify I am paying for three people
to go to the terminal. If you want that in Cantonese
then what I actually said to her was: “Sam gor yun
hoi soi hao”. She gives me a price for the tickets,
and the job is done. Easy.
Then she says in surprisingly good ‘In-ger-wishy’,
“You China speak velly ok”. I will take that as a
compliment, although her English was probably better
than my Cantonese if the truth be known – but you
see, it worked, and without me having to ask for any
assistance – which is what really matters here.
When I get back to my seat it is taken, so I choose
the best seats on the back row – most of which consist
of ominous looking holes. We are then boarded by a
team of young migrant workers who appear to have been
on the beers for some time, and they add a certain
‘Ju ne sais quoi’ to our travelling experience.
As the miles disappear so they by turn leave us,
and I hop down to a real seat once more that is completely
intact and doesn’t have a dickey backrest. Rhiannon
spots me and we play hide and seek for a while, before
some other novelty grabs her attention.
Then the seat behind my girls is vacated so I move
again to be with them. I am conscious of some weird
looks, as I appear to some to be changing seats all
the time, but this is where I need to be. More miles
roll past as I consider whether it would be theoretically
possible to catch a few winks – when Nonni appears
looking for me, and so our games begin! The delight
is so clear on her face, as her ‘Baba’ is now right
there with her. Little duck. Awww…
A little later she actually manages to clamber over
the seat to be with me, but then finds that Mama and
Ganma are not there, so I assist her back again. Having
passed Hoksan (He Shan) the coach then fills up once
more, right in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and
one guy comes to sit with me. He is thirty going on
forty, and into kids. He is great and has Nonni swapping
tickets with him, before I and Mama are also included.
This keeps her occupied for most of the journey and
long after the guy departs.
We arrive in Hoipeng just before midnight, and are
some of the few left on this last coach of the day.
We have several plans: get a cab, stay with Dai Lo,
get a cheap hotel. Siu Ying tries several cabs, but
due to the time of night none of them are even prepared
to offer us a sensible fare, for what is a regular
and relatively short journey. Then she forms a plan
and calls a friend.
We hang around on the streets outside and opposite
Hoipeng Soi Hao bus station, one of the busiest and
most obnoxious of places in the whole of southeast
China. The waiting will take ‘A while’ according to
my wife, so we sit outside an almost closed store
and they get talking to the guy. I get dragged into
it and before long I am sharing a cheap and very cold
beer with him – well at 4RMB it is a winner to pass
More than thirty minutes pass before Siu Ying gets
a call on her mobile, and so we are immediately on
the look-out for a likely vehicle. I finish the beer
with the ‘govnor’ of the local store, and we collect
all our stuff. Then a sort of Chinese Toyota Landcruiser
arrives and we pile in. It is a double cab with an
American style small truck bit behind. I ask my wife
what the charge will be and she says it is for free.
I press this, and apparently she ‘will buy him a meal
I could worry, but I do not for I already know how
deep family connections work in this part of the world.
Therefore a mere thirty minutes later we are dropped
off outside our apartment and we wish the guy a safe
journey home. The girls shower and go to bed dog-tired.
I take a moment and light a cigarette on our balcony,
whilst I reflect upon times just gone; for true friendship
is something we as human beings should always share