The big cultural gap between East and West also became evident to me when shortly after my return to Taiwan in May 1999 I attended my first wedding ever on the island in the southern city of Tainan, Formosa’s old capital.
Ten years earlier, I had missed an engagement in Taipei because on the very same day it took place I left for Hong Kong with the only German girlfriend I ever had to start a long holiday in neighboring countries.
Probably what surprised me the most was that the happy event had been scheduled on a Wednesday, in a big hotel near the railway station for the guests’ convenience.
That really struck me, because to organize such a celebration during the week would hardly occur to anybody in Germany or Spain. At that time I wasn’t aware that a propitious date chosen according to the lunar calendar is essential for a happy marriage.
I was told that before entering the ballroom I was supposed to deliver a red envelope full of cash, which would be counted in front of everybody, in exchange of various pictures of the hosts.
Accustomed to giving presents, that surprised me. Nevertheless, I simply attributed it to very differing customs and thought to myself “When in Rome, do as the Romans”!
Some foreigners also warned me that everything would be over pretty fast and everybody going straight home afterwards, wasting no thoughts on an after-party.
I simply didn’t believe them! How could that be possible? From Valencia, where my classmates were getting married one after another in the 1990s, I was used to endless partying.
In my memory, a school buddy still holds the record: almost eighteen hours since we met at the church at noon until we left the disco early the next morning.
We had lunch outside of town, which lasted until around six o’ clock in the afternoon or the evening, depending on your perspective. Then we watched a decisive football game at a local bar. After dinner we had some more drinks and finally went dancing. I was impressed that the bride and groom lasted almost until the very end.
It was an amazing, unforgettable and truly unique experience! Though when I mentioned this in Taiwan, most people just couldn’t imagine that it had really happened…
Well, as usual in Chinese culture, the food was pretty good and abundant. I don’t recall the drinks at all, but I guess they were pretty forgettable. The alcohol normally offered is no match for the delicacies served. It doesn’t play such an important role as in the West and drinking habits are very different anyway.
However, when we were all very well-fed, things went exactly like it had been predicted. After two hours, all the attendees started to leave the nice location and, after bidding farewell to the couple waiting at the door, quickly disappeared into the night.
I joined the masses, said goodbye to those that had given me the chance to accompany them on their special day and took a bus back north, arriving pretty late.
Although the festive atmosphere wasn’t comparable at all, I had learned something that I will never forget. Besides that, I still keep the beautiful photograph that I received on the occasion and, much more relevant, I’m still in regular touch with those Taiwanese friends.