Monday, October 4, 2010

Ashen Wisps of Hair

In any gathering of young Chinese you are likely to make a surprising observation: many of them, at the ancient ages of 17 or 21, have a significant frosting of white hairs radiating across an otherwise pitch-black scalp. Like the majestic silver-back gorillas, this fashion statement (intended or not) is not without its lining. But it does raise a mystery that I haven't answered to my satisfaction.

Is this a medical condition? Signs of bodily distress from all the pressure that young Chinese endure in the pursuit of good test scores, good college diploma, and a lucrative career? Deficiencies of an important nutrient? Evidence of the pod people? Shampoo chemicals run amok? A reaction to environmental hazards?

Or is this a fashion statement? Many young people--myself included--admire the Sephiroth look. That said, a few hoary strands do not make a pearly mane.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wedding on a Budget?

I need some advice on how to conduct a wedding on a budget.

With a prospective move to US, visa/immigration costs for my fiancee, and costs of settling into our chosen destination (Seattle), the prospect of paying for two weddings (one in the US, one in China) has my financial future looking a bit grim. Furthermore, my Chinese in-laws have suggested that the Chinese wedding will cost about 50,000 yuan (about $8,000). While that's not an unreasonable cost for a wedding--a friend recently paid about 10k for her wedding, so she tells me--it may be unreasonable to expect that we can pay for one at that cost and still have money for another wedding. Not to mention, I'd like to keep some of my savings as a buffer/nest-egg for starting the next leg of life with all its various responsibilities and needs.

Unfortunately for me and my bride to be, we're up against a conception of honor, obligation and shame that permeates the bedrock of Chinese culture: "face". Face is the shame inflicted by the eyes of others--never the guilt one inflicts upon oneself--for not living or acting the socially accepted norm. Face is the obligation to succeed and become the envy of others. Face is being calm, collected when staring at calamity or injustice. All these and more. Face, as you might guess, insists that a wedding be a grand one, providing (among other things) a feast 30% more abundant in food than even the most gluttonous guests could possibly consume. While I've been hoping to plan simple and smart, spending at most a couple thousand per wedding, my fiancee's family has been thinking about the envy on their neighbors' faces.

Face has not always been unkind to me. Kiera's family perceived a great gain in face with their neighbors and friends for having caught themselves a foreigner as a future son-in-law. They are kind people, so I doubt they would have mistreated me in any case, but it certainly eased the acceptance of such an alien element into their lives. This conception of face is not without reason, but it does not fit well with an unconventional guy like me in an unconventional situation.

One bit of brightness, although it may sound crass in the extreme: the Chinese do have a tradition of wedding money given to the bride and groom. Some Chinese even manage to gain a net profit from their weddings. Alas, this does not solve my problem. Kiera's extended family and friends are not (by and large) well-to-do, upper-class or upper middle-class Chinese. Her father estimates we might get back about 20K RMB on an outlay of 50K. That still leaves about double the cost I was looking to pay on the Chinese half of my wedding.

Well, strategies for the weddings in general may have to be reformulated, and budget ideas may not translate well to the Chinese ceremony, but I'd nonetheless appreciate any ideas any one of you--out there in cyberspace--might have to share. Do keep in mind that although this blog gets re-posted on Facebook, as well as on Buzz and the blog at Blogspot itself, I'm not often able to get through the Chinese Great Firewall to check FB or Blogspot. Shoot me an email (to my Gmail account) or find me on Google Chat/AIM.