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Brian Hennessy. China Australia Consult. 2008.

Chen Xiao Jin and Zhang Yue had invited me to their wedding ceremony in Chaotianmen, Chongqing. Xiao Jin, the bride, was a close friend who had waited three lonely years for her boyfriend to complete his engineering degree in France before they could be reunited


Q-Digital Caricatures -Chinese Wedding



These days Zhang Yue has a job in a car-assembly plant in Guangzhou and that is where they live after marrying in a government registry office there one year ago. They have returned to Chongqing for the photos and the expected formal celebration with family and friends. Waiting a year for this is normal cultural practice. 

Both sets of parents are seated on a small dais facing the guests. The couple thank them for their love and for the effort they have made to bring their children to maturity. They toast their good health and happiness and honour them with a deep bow of Confucian respect and submission. Then they entwine their toasting arms and, looking into each others eyes, drink to the success of their marriage. After that, they visit each table where everyone formally toasts their union, and wishes them long life and happiness. Much like we do back in the West. 

This celebration is on the 8th floor of the Feng Huang Jia Ju hotel (remember that name) which is located somewhere between the CBD area of sophisticated Jiefangbei and the chaos of a raucous Chaotianmen port. A lovely occasion in a fine hotel in a dodgy downtown area.

After a couple of hours, and a few too many Shancheng (Mountain City) beers interlaced with baijiu, a barley-based spirit used for toasting, it was time for me to go. So I found the lift and headed down to the ground floor (level 1 in China) to grab a taxi home.

I must have pressed the wrong button though, because when I exited the lift I walked into scene from Mad Max. I found myself in the middle of a brawl. Bleeding participants, broken glass and crockery, upturned chairs. The usual bloody chaos.

The star of this scene was a bald ape of a man with a small gash on his thick peasant skull which had splattered a lot of blood down the front of his shirt. A beer-bottle job no doubt. This guy had obviously been considering his options when my unexpected arrival presented him with one. “You’ll do,” he seemed to be thinking, as he moved towards me looking like he would belt me next.

Two relatives were trying desperately restrain him, ladies were screaming and staff had already bolted for cover. And here’s me standing in front of the lift doors which have just closed behind me. Slowly registering the bad news, “Nooo this isn’t the ground floor”.

Another wedding. Guest list from the wrong end of town. How can they afford this posh pub, I wonder?

By the time I realise that I have accidentally stepped into another dimension, ape-face has picked up a chair and is looking dangerous. Then I look into his eyes and read his mind…

Oh shit. This Chaotianmen chinaman is in-control, not out-of-control, and whatever insult or beer bottle he’s had thrown his way he’s thinking that maybe it’s better to belt a bystander than a relative. Either way, this is how he is going to save his face. You know how these things are: biff a brother-in-law and you have pay-back problems for the rest of your sorry life. Rough up a foreigner, and there are minimum consequences. You’ll never see him again. Good risk-assessment.

House rules for this part of Chongqing: the old port area with minds narrower than the stone stepped alleys which climb from the banks and docks of a muddy Yangtze up to the crowded heights of a jutting Yuzhong Qu Peninsula. No trendy coffee-shops and swank department stores in this end of town, folks. It’s more like a mini Somalia out here on this edge of civilised Chinese society.

Some quick thinking: “if this guy eyeballs me again I’ll be wearing that chair for a hat, so maybe I’d better slip into ‘contact front’ mode”. My brain snapping back into working order again and doing what its supposed to do: “Think of the consequences, Brian. This has nothing to do with you. It’s a family thing. This guy is acting. It’s a performance. Don’t be a hero.”

Thanks brain, I owe you one. So I lower my eyes, and dodge my way through the fracas (it was literally going on around me) over to the two frightened young girls backed up against a wall. Past the female staff hiding behind a desk and the only waiter for miles calling for help on his mobile phone. Aware of screams echoing down the stairwell from departing female guests. Somebody hiding under a table. Taking it all in in a flash.

Shepherding the two young ladies safely into the stairwell, surveying the continuing entertainment, then dodging my way back to the lift without sustaining any injury.

Question: “why didn’t I use the stairwell?”

Answer: “No way! …I was going to leave this strange dimension via the same portal I had used to enter it”.

So I got the next lift down to the first floor and the foyer. Back to a more familiar 3rd dimension. A normal scene. Muzac in the background. A porter shifting luggage. A few staff behind a desk. Some guests signing in, and so on. You wouldn’t know there was a riot going on upstairs. Everything as it should be.

Then I sauntered out of the building, and got a taxi home.

As you do.







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