Sunday, 11 May 2008

Chinese Wedding at the Sofitel Highland Shanghai

Weddings for me is always a cultural experience. Growing up in Australia, I was accustomed to the church service/ reception dinner arrangement. When I finally got married it was a different affair. I married a Chinese Malaysian which meant that there was no "Christian" Church involved and instead a series of games and challenges to get into the Brides house followed by a tea ceremony and then a sit-down Chinese Wedding Banquet at the Mandarin Oriental. For Chinese, the wedding dinner wasn't so much a getting-pissed-and-doing-inappropriate-speeches affair but more of a themed dinner where the bride and groom are the entertainment.

Chinese culture in China is an odd animal. The wedding I attended last night was the second Chinese wedding I had ever attended and once again it was a learning experience. I have noticed in China is the evolution of Chinese culture is actually not driven by tradition, (as it is in Chinese communities outside China), but driven by modern influences.

At almost every wedding I had attended in the last decade one of the activities on stage is a Champagne fountain of some description. At this one I attended last night they have simplified and modernised even this concept. Rather than building a pyramid out of champagne glasses the hotel supplied a contraption that left an impressive yet somewhat kitch impression. Mounted on stage was a double glazed sheet of glass in a frame that had a UV light shining on it. The Bride and Groom then poured the champagne into an opening at the top of the frame that funneled the liquid into a groove between the two panes of glass that spelled out the words "Our Love" which glowed a violet hue due to the UV lights. It was a bit gimmicky but it had more of an impact in this day and age since everyone has already seen a champagne pyramid before.

The other surprising thing was the Bride and Groom were absent from the reception for most of the night. They made their entrance in the beginning, did the champagne gambit and other on-stage photo ops, one speech, and then vanished. Then all the courses came out almost simultaneously before they appeared again just before dessert.

As I recall from my own Chinese banquet style wedding, we had a running sheet of 2 courses, dress change, 2 courses, best man & bridesmaid speeches, 2 courses dress change, 2 courses, parental speeches, 2 courses, thank you's and song & dance, 2 courses, cheesy mobi-disco.

The final surprising thing was at the end of the wedding, they had door prizes and game shows which felt like those celebrity shows they do in Taiwan and Hong Kong. It was at this point that I got this feeling that I was in a scene from "Requiem to a Dream".

The general effect was that it was a fun wedding that didn't really feel like a wedding. This might be a good thing but the absence of the bride and groom for most of the night made if feel like any other dinner. I guess the night served it's purpose of giving friends and relatives a date to mark their anniversary but with all the activities going on, the only thing that I didn't get enough of was seeing the bride & groom.

The Sofitel Highlands situated in the middle Nanjing Dong Lu was a nice venue for the wedding although there were some issues that you should consider if you are intending to a wedding there as well. If you are planning to have a four hour wedding, book for 5 hours or try to get everything done in 3 hours so that the waiters are not rushing through the meal. One of the annoying things about the service, although the staff were attentive, they were taking dishes away before we were finished with them. The alternative is to have the dishes divided up for the guests. There is nothing more disruptive than having a dish removed while you are still eating it just to make room on the table for the next dish. Another alternatively ask the hotel to transfer the food to smaller plates and return them to the table.

A blow by blow of the meal is below.

First Course was a collection of Shanghai Cold dishes including Jellied Pork and Pigs Ears, Red Dates, Mung Beans, Marinated Eel and Prawns.

It was also at this stage that we cracked open the first bottle of wine. The wine at first glance looks French or at least that what the name suggested however upon further inspection, the label stated that it was "Made from the best grapes in the World and made from Advanced Internal Technics". The quality of the Chinglish gave it's Chinese origins away as did the headache I had when I got home that night.
First hot course was the obligatory Shark fin soup. I imagine that the quantity of shark fin was related to the price however environmentalists will be pleased that it is unlikely that a shark died as a result of this dish. It was more likely just wounded.

2nd Dish: Sweet and Sour Prawns. Good size. Adequate freshness.3rd Dish: Chicken marinated with Soy Sauce. Typical Cantonese dish.

4th Dish: Lobster with a cheesy sauce on top of a bed of noodles.
Crab in a what looks like a fair bit of corn starch
BBQ Duck
Stir-fried prawns and broccoli
Fried noodles that remained untouched. For those unaccustomed to the Chinese wedding banquet this is the meal's buffer. If at the end of the meal, if you find that your guests have devoured this dish in it's entirety, then you did not provide enough food. Most Cantonese Wedding banquets will also include a fried rice too. Both of these dishes generally go back to the kitchen staff.
Dessert was a bit of a weird combo. The buns you see are actually Char Siew (BBQ Pork) and the Egg Tarts are ...well... egg tarts. Both items are Dim Sum items traditionally. Strangely enough though after about a litre of Red wine, it went down quite well.
So as you can see, the meal was plentiful which is all you can really ask for from a wedding in a hotel. If I had to score the food quality I would give the meal a 6.5 out of 10 but as with most weddings (where newly weds are looking to start their new life together) it makes sense to treat the wedding as a matter of economics. In modern China (and most of middle class Chinese Asia I imagine) the wedding banquet costs are actually borne by the Bride & Groom rather than the brides parents as it is in Western weddings. For a young couple starting out their new life in a new home, this was indeed a great way to start that journey.

To David & Josie, Congratulations!

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