Monday, February 13, 2012

Upane Kupane in the Dragon year

Dragon roars and dragon hugs! Well, that has been my greeting to people in the new year. The new year holidays were spent well in the coldest phase of this (comparatively warm) winter, in Qingyuan of course, bouncing from one relative's uninsulated place to another, drinking one alcoholic beverage (or another) and dining within my narrow gustatory limitations. We might be on the verge of the first real break in the back of this mild winter, and then it'll be a month of spring before the radiator of summer starts to crank out the steam.
Dragon roars, indeed! This year has started with more than just a hiss. Just prior to the new year's break, I received a flash of what was ahead: an email explained that the new management in my company changed the process for becoming a Director of Studies (DoS), the position that I basically came to China to occupy, and I was on the list of people due to be interviewed to evaluate my competencies. The interview, odd in its own way, was more of a conversation; the feedback was simple: I am deemed ready to be a DoS and may be one as early as April.
The new system is on the surface a logical one. Rather than latent applicants waiting for an opening within the company to spring into interview mode, the company now interviews pro-actively without an opening to mark those ready to take the reins, or to provide an action plan to those who aren't. It seems a simple concept (there have been later developments that show perhaps it isn't as idealistic, and more of a very pragmatic step, but I've got a promotion, I shan't speak ill of it further). As my current boss mused, despite the gloss it is still the same game with a few different rules: make those above like you and you win. Stand by your principles and prepare to wait.
Dragon hugs, indeed! My steps toward matrimony have been progressing smoothly even if my ideal of a Chinese wedding were thwarted. The Chinese concept of marriage is an odd one, not based on a moment or ceremony, but of an evolution of steps - and in these modern steps, no step in itself is necessarily essential. Legally, you need to have a formal marriage certificate, for which you need to go to (queue) in an official government bureau to say your vows and sign. That part barely needs two New Zealand dollars to do. Marriage is cheap. (That being said, the documents for marriage and organising yourself for marriage if you are a foreigner or out-of-household Chinese person can be expensive.) But some people don't do this because for most families a wedding banquet is what really makes you married in the eyes of people. It must be accompanied on the day by deistic ceremonies to separate the bride from her ancestral line and free her up to be reconnected onto that of the groom. Offerings have to be made to the ancestors (they are to attend after all). The banquet is open to everyone - you don't leave anyone off the guest list unless they're very distantly related. It is a witnessing process and there is no small reception option. It's either big or not at all. There aren't any vows at the banquet. The bride and groom offer tea to the groom's parents on the day, as they are becoming the bride's new family. But a couple doesn't have to do both the banquet and the registration; we could live with just one, and we have decided that our Chinese marriage status will rest only on the former, which is merely a legal recognition. Our marriage ceremony will have to wait till we can conveniently do it in New Zealand.
One modern ceremony for weddings is the "bridal veil photos". Of course, photos may be taken at the banquet or the registration, but they are not what are considered wedding photos in China. Hunsha zhao ("bridal veil photos") are almost essential. This involves, in its modern manifestation, a trip to a scenic spot with lots of different costumes, with a photographer in tow to take beautifully posed/staged photos of the couple. It is tiring, expensive, photoshopped and in my eyes, tacky, an opinion I shared quite early on. And fortunately it was one met with some sense of understanding. Cameras will be waiting till we get to New Zealand.
Marriage as an evolution is of course much more realistic to how it really is, although the western idea of a moment that seals the commitment is not only tradition but focusses the change down to a very sacred moment. I remember asking her younger brother whether he was nervous about the banquet, he said that he wasn't; he was just not looking forward to the ordeal of guest upon guest upon guest, hour upon hour upon hour. Very much like a duty. Like work.
The promotion has been like an evolution; the interview was not as a moment of reckoning but a green light at an intersection. Marriage will be the same in China - a signature on a piece of paper recognising what has been and will be. Onwards and upwards. Upane Kupane, as I haka'ed with an old colleague last Monday.