Wedding Hike

For those of us with cross-border marriages, it often involves two weddings to cater to family and friends on each side. We had gotten married a year earlier in the States, but my grandma wouldn’t take the paper issued by some foreign government as my marriage certificate. It had to be done properly. Her granddaughter had to be married out respectably.

So it’s time to plan a wedding in Yunnan. The logistical challenges of organizing a wedding are many. Starting from the simple most, flowers and wines. I have always had a preference for a western floral arrangement rather than a rigid Chinese bouquet, same with wines. I’ll pick a glass of red wine over Maotai (the fancy Chinese white spirit).  So I ended up cutting out pictures from wedding magazines, and taking them to the flower market to find a talented florist to do them. Fortunately, Kunming is China’s cut flower center.

Then it’s the wines. It’s no longer an issue today, as  you can find many western wines in Chinese supermarkets. But back then, the only wine import channels was 5 star hotels. So that’s what I did.

The most fun part was designing activities so that my Chinese relatives and our western friends could mingle. We decided to invite our wedding party on a 9 day journey from theSalween River valley across the snow mountains to the Mekong River valley.  My husband’s best man probably didn’t quite expect the hike to be so rigorous at such high altitude (10,000 ft), so he didn’t waste his precious hours to prepare for it.  He eventually make it up the mountain top with the help of two Tibetan guide and a donkey.

This wedding hike was the first trip organized under WildChina’s brand name. The images from this adventure accompanied me through the first year of WildChina’s creation, as sales aid. It is now one of WildChina’s signature adventure travel to China product: Hiking the 19th Century French Explorer’s Route. It launched our local Tibetan guide into a successful lodge business in Dimaluo village near one of the most beautiful Catholic Tibetan Churches.

The wedding after the hike was probably the best party in my life. Also made my grandma happy.

Nowadays, I go back to Harvard Business Every year to discuss the case study on WildChina, and they ask me if I had any advice for future entrepreneurs. I always say, “Leverage whatever you can, your friends and family as your first clients, and your own wedding as your first product!”

Proof? WildChina now helps other people with their weddings at the beautiful Aman at the Summer Palace! This photo at the top is from a beautiful couple who are WildChina clients.  For more of their photos visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30359491@N08/sets/72157624138596972/

What’s similar between a Chinese a funeral and a wedding

” We sat around the table on stools, lunching on simple foods, stir-fried greens, meats and rice. Nainai had her bowl as well – placed by one of her grandsons at the foot of her coffin. There a wick, in peanut oil, had burned for the past three days.

It is an eerie and poignant feeling to eat with a coffin at one’s back, a last supper with the dead, but it made sense. So much of my Chinese family’s world revolves around the dinner table and Nainai was such a grand cook, what better way to see her from this world to the next than with a meal?”

These were words written by my husband in 2003 documenting the passing of my 84 year old grandma in China. Strangely enough, all memories came back last night, when a close friend of mine lost her mother yesterday at age 99. We did exactly the same thing, we gathered, a small group of friends, each of us brought food. We sat around, ate, and drank some fine French wine, talked about our earliest memories of our own mothers. Frequently, there would be a phone call of condolence that broke the pace, then we all returned to the topic, then we drifted away to talk about Kate Blanchard’s performance at the Kennedy Center and babies. We talked about how miracles happened that on that same day, my 1 year old baby looked at me in the eye, and called me “Mama” for the first time. We simply had a good time.

I wondered if we should feel guilty for having a good time when someone just died? Then I decided, no! It was the right thing to do, to celebrate the passing of a beautiful life one year short of a century. And that is ok with Chinese culture, and that’s alright by me.

I learned when Grandma passed away. There are two most important celebrations in Chinese life – the red celebration and the white celebration. The red one is the wedding and the white one is the funeral for people who lived longer than 80 years. The commonality of the two? – family and friends gathering around lots of good food and good wine! The only difference is in color. A Chinese bride wears all red, and everything is decorated red, as red color will fend off any evil spirits. (I know, I know, all the young Chinese brides today wear white. don’t get me started on the diminishing Chinese cultural traditions!) A white funeral is celebrating the end of long life, a person leaves the world in white, as pure as he or she entered the world.

In the end, both weddings and funerals celebrate the glory of life.

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