Friday, February 11, 2011

Wedding, Part 2

It is hard to sort out the various impressions of Andrew's weddings, but I am going to try, even though I realize that doing so simplifies and understates the whole event. But in this post I want to try to set the scene a bit better than I was able to do earlier. Then I hope to follow up with another post better describing how the entire community and Xian Na's relatives joined together to make the wedding happen.

First, as I may already have indicated. Xian Na's family lives in the countryside, more than an hour outside Chongqing, the huge metropolis where Andrew taught for the first four years he lived in China. Although the cash economy is omnipresent in China, life in the countryside depends upon more than money.  Everyone farms, and most food comes from nearby--from one's own plots or from the contributions of neighbors. So, despite the very hilly, almost mountainous terrain typical of the region, residents in Xian Na's village have over the generations carved out an impressive network of plots, some in low-lying regions (typically devoted to rice), and others fashioned by centuries of terracing almost all arable from the numerous hillsides surrounding the village.  The result can be visually surprising, as various tended crops snake back and forth across and down the hillsides.  But in addition to crops, the hills are also home to the tombs of ancestors, and one can see many tombs dotting the hillside.  These were especially prominent now because, during the Spring Festival, relatives set off numerous firecrackers at the sites of the tombs, an effort which once perhaps was intended to frighten away ghosts or other undesirables, but which nowadays perhaps just as forcefully serves to remind people of those who went before them, and honor them during the celebrations.  The fireworks leave behind a thick layer of red paper, a testament to how noisily the village included the deceased in the holiday. 

Jill and I spent our first night after arrival in China at a hotel in Nanchuan, a small city south of Chongqing. The next day--February 7--Andrew and Xian Na, who had been staying at Xian Na's house outside town, came to collect us and by taxi take us to her home where wedding preparations were already well underway. The taxi driver would only go so far as the roads grew more tenuous, so for the last few hundred feet, we went by foot along a path that wove along and between rice paddies now awaiting a new season. But we could see Xian Na's house, festooned with balloons, immediately before us. It is a fairly large house with two full stories as well as a rooftop, several bedrooms, a first-floor kitchen, and other inside space.  Nearby one could see another ten or more homes, most made of brick or faced with tile, pathways winding between and among the houses. Almost every spare piece of land was "in production," now showing various green vegetables--cabbages, various leafy vegetables, etc. A pathway wound up the nearest hill, and there one could see the formal faces of tombs as well as the patterns of green agriculture imposed upon nature's own shapes. Although electricity had long ago arrived in the village, this was nevertheless a very different world from urban China.  As became apparent in the preparations already underway for the wedding, the entire network of friends and relatives were joining in to make the wedding event a success.  Here, it seemed, kin and personal relations were every bit as--maybe even more--important than any other relations.  When we first met  Xian Na's parents, they were, as I already reported, very gracious and welcoming. Even more important, however, as Xian Na's father pointed out when greeting us, we--not just Andrew, but Jill and I too--were now part of their family.

I am posting here a few pictures to help illustrate what I have written above about the place.  In my next post I hope to talk about--and show--how the community helped prepare and celebrate the wedding.

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