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A Letter From China
Eason's Wedding
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 2009.

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 – thankfully!

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 all.

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 know.

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 groom.

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 sated.

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 strike.

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 completely irrelevant.

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 name it!

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 somewhere discrete!

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 by.

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 sojourn.

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 in Namhoi?

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 this moment.

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 greatly!

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 off.
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 the time.

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 sometime’.

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 in bounty.

This work including text and associated photographs is Copyright of Jonno Morris (Unless stated otherwise), and may be reproduced for personal and private use under Collective Commons 3 Licence. An email would be appreciated in such circumstances, as would a reference.

You are not allowed to use this information to make money from my work - regardless of how fancy or well paid your lawyers may be.

Some artistic licence has been used arbitrarily in some of these Letters, and whilst most facts are in essence correct, some personal and literary interpretation may have been employed to greater or lesser degrees.
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Eason's Wedding
Image: Siu Geue's Home 01 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 02 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 03 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 04 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 05 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 07 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 08 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 09 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 10 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 11 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 12 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 13 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Geue's Home 14 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Coming to the new home 01 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Coming to the new home 02 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Coming to the new home 03 - Click to Enlarge

Image: Arriving at the Reception - Click to Enlarge

Image: The Reception - Click to Enlarge

Image: Toilet sign with arrow pointing the wrong way - Click to Enlarge

Image: The delicious soup served at the reception - Click to Enlarge
Recent Pictures
Image: Nonni exploring aged 11 months - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Ying and Rhiannon outside 520 Club - Click to Enlarge

Image: Jim and Duma come to visit - Click to Enlarge

Image: Busy main street at 6.45am - Click to Enlarge
Canton Caddywack
Image: Siu Ying and Nonni recently in Toisan

Image: Mama weighing a live hen brfore cooking

Image: Village Allotment 2

Image: Village fields Summer 2008

Image: Steve and Baba's Ox

Image: Dai Lo or Number 1 Brother + Family - Click to Enlarge

Image: Siu Ying and Yee Lo or Number 2 Brother - Click to Enlarge

Image: Nonnie Wagon - Click to Enlarge
Image: Wax Gourd - Click for Details

Image: Courgettes - Click for Details and Recipes

Image: Mango or Mok Gwa - Click for Details and Recipes

Image: Lao Lin - Click for Details

Image: Ba Choi - Click for Details

Image: Cheung Choi - Click for Details

Image: Long Gnun - Click for Details

Image: WongPei - Click for Details

Image: WuTao - Click for Details

Image: Chinese Garlic - Click for Details

Image: Gai Choi is a large leafed plant that tastes similar to cabbage - Click for Details

Image: Chinese Marrow or d'Zhit Gwa - Click for Details
Chinese Recipes
Image: Sik Juk, Congee, or Rice Porridge - Click for Recipe

Image: Chinese Style Ribs or Pi Gwat - Click for Recipe

Image: Crabmeat and Sweetcorn soup - Click for Recipe

Image: Chinese chicken wings and drumsticks - Click for Recipe

Image: Ba Choi Soup - Click for Recipe

Image: Mango Soup - Click for Recipe
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