Our friend Vanessa and her fiance as they toasted with each table
The Ring - First of all, there are no engagement rings or wedding bands here. Not for the women or the men. When our co-worker Vanessa came to school one Monday announcing that she had gotten engaged, my first instinct was to look at her hand. No ring. I asked David, "I wonder how people get engaged here...is it a big production? Is it a question over lunch?" I still don't know the answer to that. It did make me think about the ring though. Not about the social norm part of it or the pressure the men are under to "deliver", but more about the commitment that it means. When I think about the planning that goes into it, it makes it so special. To think that a man one day decides that he wants to spend the rest of his life with someone, and then has to act on it... It requires a great deal of commitment(generally, I hope) to put away money every month in anticipation of going somewhere to buy a ring that you want to see on your wife's finger for the rest of your life. Then waiting for the right moment, and how proud he must feel to present a ring to the woman that he loves....proving his commitment to her. The size doesn't matter. It's not about what clarity, cut, and color it is. Being the woman on the other end and realizing all in one instant that the man you love, loves you that much and wants to spend his life with you is the most magical moment ever. It really is unbelievable to me. I may be getting a little sappy, but I am proud to hold on to that moment in a special way.
So back to Taiwan. I by no means think that the "American" way is the right or best way. I find it equally as special to think that in this country, a ring is not required. They don't need it. Most of the country is Buddhist and the traditions and ceremonies relate to their religious beliefs. I feel like it puts more trust into the other person. There are no men at the bars taking their rings off to hit on a pretty girl. I don't know if it happens here or not, but there is no physical object to bind them.....just trust.
Who Pays for What? - So our co-worker Vanessa didn't have a ring either. As we started asking about the party and what to do and what to expect, we started to learn alot of little traditions and interesting quirks. First off, the engagement party would be thrown by the bride's family, and only includes friends and family of the bride and the groom's family....not really a joint gathering. The wedding however, would be thrown by the groom's family and would include a lot of their joint friends and family.
The room we were in for the party - so beautiful!
The Dress - Vanessa and her fiance made a grand entrance and she was wearing a beautiful pale pink gown. Later she would change into a gorgeous red ball gown, traditionally good luck. We also understand that most women change into 2 or 3 different dresses during the engagement party - they are all rented, as they will also change into 2 or 3 dresses for the wedding as well!
The Gift - In Taiwan, there are no registries... :) To the engagement party, you bring a red envelope. The envelope should include multiples of $800(about $25 USD), a lucky number. As you walk in, you give your envelope and people are stationed at the door to recieve them, count the $$, and record who gave what. We were a little nervous trying to figure out what was appropriate to give, as we didn't want to offend anyone.
The Food - Also traiditionally, the parties include 10+ courses of food. Unbelievable food! I couldn't believe. We had 12 courses and I was stuffed by course 5. There is even a little "intermission" time where you take a food break and walk around for a bit. Our co-workers tried to explain most of the food to us, which helped quite a bit, but sometimes we just had to go for it and see what it was like! The food was pretty extravagant as explained by our friends and everyone was very impressed. I made a few boo-boos with my chopsticks and looked like a total amateur, but overall, we got the food into the mouth successfully! Here are some pics of the food served family style to tables of 12.
This was the first course -some kind of lobster potato salad - ***** ( Out of 5 stars)
This was a warm, sweet soup with pink and white gummy balls - **
This was a soup made from and including fish bones - a very extravagant and expensive dish - ****
Mushrooms in a gravy sauce with green veggies and yellow beans(bai guo) - ***
Mushroom, bai guo, broccoli, Japanese potato, and abalone - *****
Roasted chicken - head included.... : ( - ****
The fish dish - so yummy...head also included! - *****
There were some courses that we didn't get pictures of, including two courses of desserts!
The Pictures - Probably the most unbelieveable part to me was the pictures...they were everywhere! Apparently, when you get engaged in Taiwan, you book a day with a photography studio for a package of 30, 60, or 120 different pictures! And they are all taken in one day! Sometimes from 5am -11pm! Unbelievable. There were outdoor shots, indoor shots, pictures in front of famous places. Casual, formal....a little bit of everything. One friend told us that Vanessa spent $100,000 (about $3,000 USD) just on the pictures. There was a picture slideshow playing the whole time, a table full of pictures in a book and probably 10 stacks of -little take it with you- pictures that served as a thank you for coming. It was unbelievable. They must have changed clothes, hair, and make up 20 or more times that day! It was really beautiful and the pictures were gorgeous! There was even a framed portrait as we walked in that was changed several times during the event!
The picture table
The Thank You - Not only were there the stacks of thank you pictures to take home, near the end of the meal people came around giving out little gift bags with a giant box of cookies inside. People always give their guests cookies or cakes when they come to the party....for some reason it's good luck. Also, it is bad luck for the bride to eat her own cookies! So the week after the party, Vanessa brought the extra cookies and gave them away to the kids and other teachers who couldn't be there. The cookies were delicious and it's such a huge box full that we have gotten a kick out of picking a different one to try everday and still have tons left!
Our bag of cookies
The Groom - So as we are eating our 12 courses of delicious food, our table warns us that when the fish course comes out that the groom's'family will leave the party. We were like....huh? Why? Well, no one could really tell us why, just that that's the way it goes down. Also, no one in the family is allowed to say goodbye...it means bad luck for the couple. So sure enough, right as we were served the fish course, the groom's family shuffled out - no eye contact - no goodbyes....strange huh? The groom stayed until the end but his family was long gone...
So I felt like this was the first real experience inside the culutre and thought that it was a great success. We weren't too awkward and were forunate to feel accepted into another culture. It was an interesting experience and we are so grateful to have been invited to share in such a special day. Here are some pics of us and our co-workers from Well School.
Teacher Maggie has been so helpful since we've been here!
The bride, Vanessa in her second dress
The group of us