Soooo, I've never been a big fan of Chinatown. Perhaps its because I feel like such a cultural outsider when I'm there. Or, perhaps its because I don't care all that much bout designer purses so there's really no reason for me to be there. Either way, I experienced it in a way like no other on Tuesday.
One of the people from our mission team invited me to go with her to a friend's wedding. This particular team was from Texas, and through a long history of Bible studies at a certain Chinese restaurant there, this lady became friends with this girl who then, in turn invited her to her wedding in New York.
Upon arrival, we were told by the host at the door of the restaurant that they couldn't seat us because they were "full." When we informed them that we were there for the wedding, they just gave us a funny look. Then, the bride finally saw Kim, the lady I was with, and she gestured for them to let us in.
We became instant celebrities. Fortunately, we sat at a table with one of the only people there who spoke any English, a cousin who was a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (so yes, a very smart cousin). Lisa, whose real name I cannot pronoun
ce, helped us to understand the customs and cultural differences. She also gave us some interesting insight into Chinese traditions.
According to Lisa, they are all pretty-much first the first generation in the family to not have arranged marriages. That said, the bride and the groom's families are from different provinces, which, to Chinese people, is a big deal. For the first few years of the relationship, her family did not exactly approve of him for this reason. This feeling faded as the families grew closer.
Lisa then told us that the wedding is more of a giant party and show than a ceremony. The bride changes clothes four or five times, and while she is in the back changing, there are performers. At this wedding, there was a magician, and a pop star (Who tried to sing one song in English and had NO IDEA what the words were or how to pronounce them. It
Throughout all of this, there is a ten course meal being served, one plate at a time. They put a platter on the table, we quickly picked through it and got what we wanted,
then they take it away an put another. Some of the food was awfully scary. We would ask Lisa what it was and she would say "Some kind of seafood, but I don't kno
w what kind," or "It's a bird, but I don't know what bird." I ate what I felt I could eat without seeming culturally rude or ignorant.
For the first time in my life, I really knew what it felt to be the cultural outsider.
I didn't understand the customs, the language, or the food, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless. I kept thinking that this must be what it felt like for the international students at LSU when we take them places where they are surrounded by Americans. Everyone was staring at us, watching how we did things, trying to help us without speaking the language, and all-in-all, enjoying the show. Even the cameraman kept coming back to our table.
This wedding reminded me of why I love anthropology and cultural studies. I was intrigued. I am so thankful that we were placed at the table with Lisa, who had the most interesting things to say about the way things were done among the Chinese. I couldn't stop taking pictures and asking questions.
That said, I will never make fun of the new person at the crawfish boil again....
Well, maybe just a little.