A Taiwanese wedding

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a Taiwanese wedding reception.  I was pretty excited about this because I’d heard a lot about how lavish these affairs can be, and I really wanted to experience one.  In this particular wedding, the family of the bride is VERY well to do, so the occasion included all the bells and whistles.  Before I get into it, here are a few things I’ve learned  about weddings in Taiwanese culture:

  1. The engagement must be approved by the parents.  Chances are if the parents say no, the couple will split up, regardless of how they feel about each other.  Family support is vital for the relationship to continue.  Love won’t overcome all if Daddy says no.
  2. Traditionally, the groom pays “Pinjin” (聘金) to the wife’s parents.  This is a sum of money given to the in-laws.  It may seem like buying your wife, but the idea is more that you’re compensating her parents for taking her away – now she won’t be able to take care of them when they get old.  Nowadays, the money will most likely be returned as a gift, or simply just given back at a later date.  The minimum for this is NT 120 000 (US 4 000) but usually the groom will pay around NT 360 000 (US 12 000).  This is probably another reason Taiwanese bachelors stay at home until they get married – that’s a lot of dough!
  3. Picking the day is a HUGE deal.  Taiwanese go by the lunar calender, and certain days are lucky while others aren’t.  They are firm believers in auspicious days, luck and so forth, so the wedding must be on an acceptably lucky day.  Now there are only so many “lucky” days, and considering the dense population of Taiwan, I can see “Bride Wars” type senarios developing.  Obviously, the grooms will not get involved.  Like men everywhere, they probably just want the whole thing done and over with.
  4. Pictures.  All weddings have pictures, but here in Taiwan it’s a monstrous deal.  This is a must for any Taiwanese bride – it’s seen as capturing her when she is at her most beautiful.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen couples in full marriage regalia out in parks being photographed.  It must be brutal walking around all day in the hot sun, but no groom would dare protest.  Besides parental approval, this is something that could also nullify the relationship.
  5. Gifts are normally not given at weddings.  Instead, the guests will give the couple red envelopes (signifying luck and good fortune) with money.  This custom is called “Hong Bao” (紅包) which literally means “red envelope”.  The amount given differs depending on the relationship you have with the couple.  If you barely know them and are a passing acquaintance NT 1 200 (US 40) will suffice.  If you are a close friend, around NT 3600 (US 120).  This money is used to cover the cost of the banquest and other expenses, and hopefully enough is left over to pay for the honeymoon.  At least that’s the theory – the wedding pays for itself.

I attended the wedding of one of my gf’s close friends.  She was the bridesmaid, and I was the tag-along.  The reception was held at a swanky hotel in Taoyuan, a city close to Taipei.  I was instructed to wear nothing more than a collared shirt and dress pants, but I felt the need to throw on a blazer as well.  Aparently, you don’t dress up for Taiwanese weddings – only the bride, groom, bridesmaids and best men dress up.  I felt underdressed, but when I got there, everyone else was fairly casually dressed as well.

I was ushered into a back room where the bride was getting ready.  Her parents were there along with some friend and the bridesmaids.  No one spoke English, so I did a lot of smiling and polite nodding.  One thing to note was that even here – while she was getting ready, the photographer was there snapping away at everything.  I managed to evade most of the shots, but I’m sure a few years down the road, the couple will see me in one and wonder who I am.

After a while, all the men left the room – I was shown the way downstairs to the reception hall.  Guests had to sign in at the door to the hall and hand over the Hong Bao.  The hall itself was very lavish and posh looking, although the carpet did look a little 1980’s:

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I’d estmate that there were about 30 – 40 of those tables in the hall.  I later found out that the cost per table is around NT 10 000, so for 40 tables it would be NT 400 000 (US 13 333).  The tables always seat 10, I’m not sure why, but probably for cost efficiency reasons.  Or maybe 10 is lucky – I never really managed to get a straight answer on that.  Here is a closer look at the table itself:

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The raised middle part rotates.  The dishes are placed on it and guests turn it until they get the dish they want, spoon or chopstick some of it into their own bowl and  turn the table again.  Unlike western weddings, everything here was communal.

There was not too much ceremony before the dinner.  Interestingly, the bride and groom don’t say anything.  The MC said a quick welcome followed by a brief listing of the family members on both sides.  After this, the lights dimmed and the bridesmaids and grooms men walked in arm in arm:

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followed by the bride, escorted by her father:

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The father then hands the bride over to the groom.  There are some words said, and the groom then walks the bride the rest of the way to the head table.  I wanted to get more pictures of this, but there were a lot of people jostling for position.  I did, however get this gem:

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I’m sure this isn’t the case, but in this picture the bride is all smiles and the groom looks like he just swallowed a poisonous tarantula.  I can just see him thinking – “What the hell am I getting myself into”.  Poor guy.

After everyone was seated, the food began.  This wedding had a 12 course meal.  This is what we started out with:

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The food was absolutely incredible.  There were 2 soups, numerous veggie dishes, lots of meat dishes, and a tonne of seafood.  Treats included lobster, shrimp, various fish, succulent pork, soft, sweet breads, sashimi – and a whole lot more I can’t remember.  Taiwanese weddings are usually seafood heavy, as people here prefer it to meat, and it’s also more expensive (which = more face).  I actually got so lost in the dishes coming out, I forgot to take pictures of all of them.  The taste as well as presentation was masterfully done.  There was also bottles of wine on each table, and a cart that came around at regular intervals with glasses of whiskey.  All in all it was an amazing feed.

While the guests were eating, the bride, groom and their immediate families came around to each table to say a small hello, take a picture and offer a toast.  They both looked very happy, but exhausted – I felt a little guilty for stuffing my face before they’d even had a chance to sit and eat.

Other things at the wedding included a quartet playing classical music in a corner, and a photographer outside the hall who took pics of the guests that we could keep as momentos of this occasion.

After the meal, the bride and groom exited the hall, which was the signal that the festivities were coming to a close.  As everyone slowly filtered out, the couple greeted them at the door, thanked them for coming, and took a final picture with them.  Then it was a happy goodbye as well sated guests went home to sleep off their food drunkeness.

One thing I did notice over the course of the evening was that the bride went through 2 or 3 dress changes.  She came in wearing the traditional wedding gown.  When she was walking around to the tables while people were eating, she had a different dress on.  Finally as she was saying goodbye to the guests, she had yet another ensemble on.  I have no idea where she found time to change, but she did.

All in all it was an amazing event.  It was obvious that a LOT of preparation went into planning this wedding, not to mention, a lot of cash.  I’m glad I went to this one, and would very eagerly jump at the chance to go to another one.

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