Travel with us and Wally every month to a new country.
We wanted to launch a new series about travelling because so many of us are missing the feeling of wandering around the world. We teamed up with Wally, our Ambassador, who shares with us his funny stories from countries far away. Every month you can watch us LIVE on Instagram on the second Wednesday of the month at 4pm. No worries if you have missed it, you can rewatch the full first episode whenever you feel like escaping your city a little bit.
Our first destination is China. Wally spent 1 year and 4 month in Wuhan, before the city became infamous, teaching English for kids. This was basically the first time he left the United States and jumped head first into a crazy adventure. He had to learn how to communicate with the locals without speaking Chinese and he was fully embracing the local cuisine trying different parts of different animals. One time his friends took him out for dinner and they all ordered a special part of the pig, which is rarely eaten in Europe. Other surprises came along during his stay in China, for example, when one of his colleagues kidnapped him for a weekend without really knowing him. If you want to know how these stories continue head over our Instagram account and watch the first episode of the travelling stories.
He has another story to share with you that he didn't tell in the Instagram LIVE, from the time when he was at a fake wedding. Read on to find out how he ended up there and what was his role to play.
It was a bleak, Saturday morning and I had just poured my instant coffee into my cup, waiting for the water to boil in my kettle. Looking off into the distance from the 13th floor in what would be considered “a small apartment building”, I wondered if I’d ever really be able to see the sky here. Then my phone rang and it was my co-worker, John. “Man, it is 7AM...I don’t even know why I’m up. Why are you calling me?” I muttered. “There’s a foreigner gig and they need an extra person. But you need to come suited up” he replied. “I don’t know what a “foreigner gig” is, I’ve been here a month and have seen much outside Jiangxia (‘Jung-sha’ the suburb of Wuhan that we lived in) and why would I need to suit up?” I said. “They’re paying 500 yuan (at the time about 75 Euros), it’s really easy and there’s a free buffet at what seems to be a really nice hotel!” he exclaimed. Now, I’m not one to turn down easy money or free food, so I figured what the hell, let’s do this. “Alright I’m in, it’s happening tomorrow?” I asked. “Nope, it’s happening today. They’re going to pick us up at 9AM.” he said. Damn, I was hoping to at least have some time to get on my newly subscribed VPN, get on Facebook and let the world know how I was adjusting to China or at least wake up. “Alright, I’ll get dressed and see you in a bit.” I said. “You need to meet me downstairs in a suit Walt, a suit!” John reminded me. “Ok, got it!” I replied. Well, this is going to be interesting, I thought. What could I possibly be doing that was going to be so easy with a free lunch in a suit?
I drank my coffee, ate breakfast and donned my suit. I hurried out the door and into the elevator as I had predictably underestimated the time it was going to take me to get ready for this “foreigner’s gig”. By that time I had encountered so many people spitting and smoking in the elevator, that the old man, I had estimated to be 75 years old, staring at me intensely hardly bothered me. Was I going to be in a movie as a chinese version of Men in Black but with the closest thing they could find to Will Smith? No, that’s unlikely, surely they would have more time to plan it better than this. Needing someone with a couple hours of notice? I didn’t have to wonder anymore, the elevator doors opened and John was waiting for me, suited up as well. “You look good man! You ready?” he said. “As ready as I can be, I guess but what am I ready for?” I asked. “I’ve learned the best thing to do is just go with it and not to ask too many questions. It ruins the spontaneity and surprise.” he chimed with a smirk. As we walked out of our building, there was a white van waiting for us with a nicely dressed Chinese woman in what I estimated to be her late 20s. I had been warned that looks can be deceiving. From 20-40s, especially for Chinese women, they don’t really seem to age. “Nice to meet you! I’m Cici,” she chimed. “Hi Cici, I’m John and this is Walt”, John said. I went with the flow and hopped in the van, struggling to hold back the urge to ask the 157 questions I had running through my mind. In the van were four other people whose names I don’t really remember. “Hi, everyone”, I said. They were all expats, as I later found out, in the same boat I was. They were called through friends or colleagues, dressed nicely, ready to do this foreigner gig. Then Cici addressed us. “You all look so lovely! Today we are having a wedding. I will explain more to you when we arrive at the hotel, but you will all participate in the wedding and I’m hoping that you will all enjoy it very much,” Cici beamed. Well thanks for the information Cici but what??? I looked at John and he gave me the “don’t worry about it” look. So I decided not to. No one else looked worried and also I thought, ‘They called me at 7AM, or at least John did, what could they possibly expect out of me.
I exchanged pleasantries with the other wedding participants as we cruised through the mean streets of Wuhan in our presidential van. In fact, Wuhan isn’t really rough at all. It is like many Chinese cities, a concrete jungle littered with huge roads that are difficult to tell apart, endless shopping centers and lots of gray, lots of just gray stuff. After what felt like an hour, the van came to a stop and we hopped out. We were in what was a gigantic hotel. The building took up the entire block and honestly I couldn’t even see the end of the block, it was so big. “Let’s do a tour!” said Cici as we entered. We walked down a huge hall with nice velvet carpet. There were people and tables on all sides of the room with a lot going on. “There are lots of events going on here, all at different times. But what we are here for is this.” she exclaimed happily. As we exited out the back, we walked down the gigantic steps, what appeared in front of us was a huge scenery, with a giant pond to our right, dead center about 250-300 seats, an altar, a pathway for the procession, the whole nine yards. ‘No joke, we are about to be in a straight up wedding,’ I thought. “So John, you are going to be the groom and Walter, you are going to be the best man.” Cici said happily as if we were going to have the best wedding ever created. And indeed, if you had just judged by the setup, it was going to be the best wedding of all time. If you took into account the people who were gonna be involved, you’d think to yourself, ‘No, this is gonna be a shit show, accompanied by a really nice backdrop.’ “John and Ksenia, I need you to come with me. We need to practice now, but Walter you can look at the hotel a bit. You’re part won’t need as much practice. The buffet will be open at noon, see you then.” Cici instructed and headed off with John and Ksenia. I looked at the other participants and asked, “So is that our queue to do whatever?” After several nods of approval, we set off to explore the gigantic hotel.
As we set off down random corridors, I wondered to myself. How is it that a hotel this large and clearly with this much money, can put on something this extravagant, lavish and get away with putting on such a fake wedding with people they essentially just picked up off the street? As I pondered and discussed this question with the others, so much time had passed exploring that we didn’t realize it was already noon. Buffet time! We walked down to the buffet hall and what a buffet it was! There were tables and chairs as far as the eye could see and so many different kinds of buffet tables that I really didn’t know where to start. I piled so much food that I really didn’t know I’d be able to finish. Then, I quickly reminded myself that I was American and put that worry to bed. I found John, Ksenia and rejoined the others. John brought me up to speed on exactly what was going to happen.
Basically, in about an hour we were going to have a relatively short wedding that was going to be used to market Western weddings to Chinese people. “That seems cool, but wait, do the Chinese people know that this wedding is going to be fake?” I asked. “I have no idea'' he said “but surely since the audience is going to be all Chinese and there’s only going to be about 8-12 foreigners in the actual “wedding” they must know it’s fake right?” he questioned me. “Well, yeah that makes sense, but then why pay us each 500 yuan? Why not just have your own employees suit up and carry out a Western wedding with Chinese people if they know it’s fake anyways?,” I retorted. As we continued to eat and discuss the nuances of marketing and oddities of China, Cici appeared and notified us that we had about 30 minutes before we were going to do a final walk through. We finished eating and headed back to the wedding area. I found it so bizarre that we were really doing this but I’d find out later that it would be just one of many weird things I’d experience in Wuhan.
Fast forward through all the rehearsal of me essentially watching everyone else do the rehearsal. My part of the procession was literally to stand next to the altar with the ring and watch the bride and the groom walk down the aisle. I remember Cici asking me to try and “look emotional.” So I guess they really did think this was real to a degree. Everyone began to get into place and I took my place along with everyone else next to the altar. The music began to play and I couldn’t help but smirk a bit and think to myself, ‘Well I didn’t expect to be in a fake wedding my first month in China. I thought maybe I’d get in a ping pong tournament or I’d be rolling egg rolls or I’d be meeting a Chinese girl’s parents but not this’. This really paints a picture for how culturally ignorant I was at the time. I hadn’t lived in any other country nor really travelled to any other country outside visiting Western Canada for a week and I chose to live in Wuhan, China. Smart move, Walt. I pushed my thoughts to the side trying to focus on John and Ksenia coming down the aisle and couldn’t help but shoot a look towards the other ‘groomsmen’ and ‘bridesmaids’. Oh by the way did I mention that the ‘priest’ was my other co-worker??? As James took the microphone and took his fake bible with his lines in them and began to speak, I tried to well up some emotions. I thought of my own friends and family members who had walked down the aisle and how happy they were and how happy I was for them taking that big step in their lives. Thinking of these moments at least allowed me to keep a neutral expression on my face while James was speaking. Then when the moment came and James asked for the ring, I took it out of my pocket and handed it to John. Wow! I didn’t drop it or anything, great job Walt! For obvious reasons Ksenia and John didn’t actually kiss because they had just met five hours ago! They gave each other a close hug with the fake kiss, everyone cheered and clapped, they set off back down the aisle as if they really were starting the next chapter of their lives. Seeing the expressions on some of the Chinese people’s faces, there were definitely some people who thought it was a real wedding and others who knew it was a sham. It didn’t make the situation any less weird but did make it somewhat more forgivable that not all of them thought two people were actually getting married. The wonderful power of marketing! Just by the sheer number of people that attended, you have to figure that we were the direct result of at least two Chinese people having a Western wedding. I don’t know what that means but what I do know was that I was more than happy to take that envelope with 500 yuan from Cici. She thanked us for a great performance and saw us off into the van.
In the end that weekend didn’t play out the way I thought it would, not by any stretch of the imagination. Truth be told, I thought it was great! It had adventure, unpredictability, nice clothes, great food, confusion, melding of cultures and money. It is a story that I’ll have and remember for the rest of my life. Just imagine if I had said no! If you’re thinking about going to China, say yes to new experiences. You never know what might happen!
Our next trip will be a Southeast Asian tour to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Watch us LIVE on Wednesday, 9th of December at 4pm on Instagram and don’t forget to follow us.
Stay safe and see you soon,
The Sojoourn Team