Weddings… great places for cultural traditions to mix and match, as
more and more Canadians of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds
decide to tie the knot.
I attended a wedding reception for the son of one of my older cousins, Joe Wai, the architect of so many buildings in Vancouver's Chinatown and around this city. Joe recently designed the Millenium Gate,
and previously designed the Chinatown Parkade, the Chinese Cultural
Centre Museum and Archives, as well as being one of the architects of
the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens.
I have always counted Joe as one of my early role models for his vast
amount of community work, and ability to blend East and West together.
His son Jonathan had just gotten married. I had never before met
the bride. But when I walked into the Fortune Garden
1475 West Broadway St. this past Saturday, I immediately identified her.
She was standing, radiantly beautiful, wearing an intricately
embroidered antique Chinese jacket, and skirt emblazoned with dragons and phoenix
in stunning relief. Calm and serene, she had presence and
dignity. I was to discover later that the jacket and skirt had originally
belonged to my Auntie Rose and Aunt Lannie and had been given to one of my cousin's
wives recently. They were loaned to the bride for this very special
occasion. Definitely now a museum-quality piece in all the good ways!
The bride was also wearing, which was to be revealed later, a red
Chinese cheong-sam – the traditional Chinese wedding dress. Cheongsam
means “long dress.” It is floor length but with a slit on the side up
to the thigh, and it features a mandarin collar. It was featured in the
Spider Man movie worn by actress Kirsten Dunst.
What is amazing is that the bride,
is Caucasian, and the groom is Eurasian. I learned many things
about Lisa Sowden the bride. She is an actor
and she speaks more Cantonese than my younger cousin Jonathan, who is
now developing his law career. Our families have always been
ethnically and culturally diverse. Inter-racial marriage has
generally long been accepted on both sides of my family. On my
father's side, 6 of my 9 cousins including Joe married
non-Asians. On my mother's side, 10 of my married cousins
including my brother chose non-asians.
For me, the small Chinese banquet reception (50 guests) seemed so
More than half of the guests were caucasian, and we dined
on shark's fin soup, prawns, rock cod, crab and lobster, chinese
mushrooms, duck, chicken. It was truly a grand wedding
banquet. Such gourmet delicacies are usually only ordered for
weddings. Long Life noodles and Happy Marriage fried race
finished off the meal with Red Bean soup dessert. As many of the
guests were not familiar with the significance of the menu items.
My cousin Hayne Wai and I explained things such as the importance of
the head and tail being included in the fish and chicken dishes, to
signify wholeness. The chinese pronounciation of Fish (Yee) is
similar to coin, the mushroom caps are uncut like large coins.
The noodles are long to encourage long life.
I got up briefly to talk with the bride and groom, and imagine my
surprise when I returned to my seat to find the cooked chicken head on
my plate. Immediately I told the chinese wedding tradition about
putting the chicken head on a string and dangling it in front of the
bridal couple with the instructions to kiss it to bring good
luck. Of course the person with the string pulls it up at the
last minute, initiating the couple in a kiss. I think it worked
better in the days of arranged marriages when the couple didn't know
each other, and probably were no strangers to kissing each other.
At our table, I sat next to Lisa's friends Maria
(another actor) and her boyfriend Darren who not too familiar with
Chinese cuisine. On my other side, Carole jumped right into each
of the dinner courses and enjoyed it tremendously. While Carole
French-Canadian background, it is her sister Tina, that married Joe's
younger brother Wayne, so… Carole is familiar around many of the
family's Chinese-Canadian activities and dinners.
At the evening's close, I gave a special bottle of Pinot Blanc Special
Late Harvest (-13) desert wine to the bride and groom. It is Red Rooster Winery's “-13” or Minus Thirteen, created to celebrate the Year of the Rooster.
It even has Chinese characters on the label, which is what initially
drew my attention tot he bottle. Checking their website, I was
surprised to discover an Asian-Canadian winemaker, Richard Kanazawa. Of course I chose this bottle to celebrate the year they got married – Year of the Rooster.
What does it mean for a Canadian couple of diverse cultural background
getting married in the Year of the Rooster and the Astrological sign of
Gemini? Many things to many people! And that's the great
thing about being Canadian, or to quote Bob and Doug Mackenzie, “Beauty, eh?”