Not a Fairy Tale

The year is 1928. The place, Shandong, China. She is nine years old and has just been told of her betrothal. She is excited, pleased and very proud. She has been told that she is very lucky, that it is a coup for their family because her future in-laws are a very respected family, and well to do.

Soon the silver jewellery, long drop ear-rings, and metres of exquisite silk fabric arrive from her future mother-in law, as is the tradition, to commemorate the arrangement.

Fast forward to 1939 and she is nineteen. The wedding date has been set for 29th December, the day before Chinese New Year. She is upset because she cannot have the full wedding procession. There has been too many kidnappings by bandits in the area to risk bringing attention to the family. She will not be able to enjoy the traditional sedan to carry her from her family home to her new in-law’s place, and she had been so looking forward to it.

Even so, everyone is very happy as it is an auspicious occasion. Her sisters and the female cousins arrive at her place early in the morning to help her dress. Her thick long black hair is pulled up into a bun, fastened with three silver combs placed in a row along the bottom. She puts on her wedding outfit, traditionally something borrowed and provided to her by her future mother-in-law. An elaborately embroidered red silk top and long skirt.

When everything is done, she is led, sitting on a mule, to travel the three kilometres to the next village, her future home, for the wedding. There is much head bowing and tea drinking, and paying respect to ancestors, making food offerings to “heaven and earth”.

After this formality she is led to the bedroom where the groom is seated on the bed with his shoes on the floor. He is wearing a black silk padded long gown and trousers, and a felt hat with a red pom-pom. She sneaks a peep at him because she has never seen him before today. She is happy with what she sees. A slim, tall studious looking young man with round metal-framed spectacles. He has already sneaked a look at her as she entered the room with her head lowered, and he was pleased with what he saw. Tall, erect, sweet face, and big feet – not bound. A tall daughter-in-law is said to bring good luck as it will lift the family’s fortune.

Fast forward to 2008, Sydney, Australia. She is 88 years old, as is her husband. “Tell me about your wedding day, mum.” I ask.

She relates her story, delving back into her memory, bringing it all back to life, seeing the small details of her dress, her mother’s face, her new groom’s shyness. It feels only yesterday and it sounds like a fairy tale, but it was her moment in time.

Not a Fairy Tale

Amy Hing-Young

Coogee, Sydney, Australia

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