Chapter 11. Murphy Was No Fool. Murphy's Law Gets Enforced.
April 1st. I had a cunning plan. It should have been a simple day. Wake up, check work while my darling runs into town to get checked into the hotel. When she comes back, we'd run over to the Dongguan Civil Affairs Bureau to do the paperwork. Come back to the house, gather everything else up, drop some stuff at the hotel, some at the restaurant. Then kick back, relax, and get a good night's sleep before the wedding party.
Nothing can go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong . . .
Maybe I shouldn't try to execute a fool-proof plan on April Fool's Day.
Here's what really happened:
Packing took a little longer than expected, so she decided we'd skip the early trip to the hotel and go straight to the Civil Affairs Bureau. A car and driver had been borrowed, so this should have been quick.
The driver decides to take a wide swing around town to avoid traffic. All this really does is give us about 20 wasted minutes before hitting the exact same amount of lights and traffic while approaching downtown from a different angle.
My darling and I also notice that Captain Slow
was consistently getting passed by all the other cars, bicycles, and even old people with canes walking along the sidewalk. That was ok. I'd built the schedule to have plenty of time to survive delays.
We arrived at the
Dongguan Civil Affairs Bureau of
Harmonious Family Relationships. Papers were issued and filled in. We then got a clerk who spoke a little English. We gave her all the papers we'd filled in, plus the papers we'd brought. She asked where the 2nd copy was of the translation of the paper I had from the Guangzhou Consulate. My dearest and most loving soon to be wife punches me and says "Oh no, I forget the second copy." I asked where she left it. I get hit again when she says it's at home. I ask why she's hitting me. She smacks me a few more times and says it's because she forgot the second copy. I turn to the clerk and say "She's soooo violent." The clerk just smiles.
A photocopy of the one we have won't do. It has to be the 2nd one with the original chop on it. We dash out to find that Captain Slow has slowly wandered off with the car. We now have 45 minutes to get back to the village, find the paper, and get back to the Civil Affairs Bureau before they run off for a 2 hour lunch break.
My darling calls our driver and says something that sounds like a threat of things far far worse than death. He slowly drives up 5 minutes later. Naturally, he then misses a turn and takes us the long way around People's Park, but at least we avoid looping all the way around the south end of the city. While in transit, my darling calls her father, tells him where the document is. Once he has it, she tells him to come out by the main highway.
The village has a couple of tunnels under the main highway. Both used to have signs banning cars. Someone removed those a few years back (don't look at me - it happened while I was out of China and I don't drive here). We managed to get Captain Slow pointed down one of the tunnels to save having to spend a few more minutes getting to the next turnaround. I then leaned out the window and grabbed the missing paper from my soon-to-be father-in-law as we sloooowly drove past.
Despite the valiant efforts of Captain Slow (it's a little embarrassing being overtaken and passed by a turtle with only 3 legs
), we managed to force him to drive back along the shortest possible route and got back to the Civil Affairs Bureau just in time to grab our clerk before she could run away to lunch. While she processed the papers, she asked where I lived. It turns out that one of the other clerks is from the next sector over in my village. I took the opportunity to brag about my sector's unrivaled skills with Dragon Boats.
I saw one other couple putting their fingerprints on their certificates at the desk. Our clerk decided that we needed something a little more special, so took us a couple of rooms over where they had what really did look like a little chapel. In unison, we read the very romantic script (in English) where we stated we were free to marry, knew all about any dread diseases the other might have, and that we weren't any closer than distant cousins. I kissed the bride at 12:13 pm.
We then sloooowly cruised went back to the village for lunch (the driver was told he needed to be back in about 90 minutes). Several of my dearest friends, including Cantonese Twin #1 kept calling and asking if they could help with anything. I tried to politely suggest that letting me not be on the phone for a few minutes would be very helpful Afterwords we gathered up everything needed, only to find that our driver had spent 80 minutes setting a new land slow record to find a place to eat lunch. He finally showed up 20 minutes later and we loaded us, her parents, and everything else into the car and went to collect the baijiu.
Let me flash back to the evening of March 30th. My darling and I went to a local baijiu wholesaler just outside the village to check the availability of a brand recommended to me by the village's greatest expert on the subject
. I saw they had 4 or 5 bottles on the shelf. I asked my darling to ask the staff how many they had in stock. The answer was "We've got a lot of all brands." I asked her to get a MUCH more specific answer. They claimed to have many cases of the brand we wanted (6 bottles to a case). I suggested that we pay for it right then and have it delivered to the house. My darling said that picking it up on Friday would be fine and told me not to be paranoid. I'm sure you can guess where this is leading.
We walked in, asked for 3 cases of the baijiu that had been chosen as well as a couple of cartons of the cigarettes (
). Somehow, they had gone from having many cases to having very little available, but said they could deliver later. After much arguing in English, Mandarin, and localized Cantonese, they promised to have it to the restaurant at 5 pm. We decided to go ahead and carry the cigarettes ourselves.
We got to the hotel and were about to check in when I realized that I didn't have my passport.
I decided to sprawl out on the lobby sofa while my darling wife got checked in and hope that they didn't notice me in time to demand it. For once in the whole day, luck was on my side and I got to commit a brand new crime on my wedding day.
I wasn't the only one who forgot things. We were missing some other items. There wasn't time to go back, since we had to direct Captain Slow to the flower market and collect another of my helpful friends (my little bluebird of despair - she's a good friend, but if you are one of her relatives, the best you can hope for is that your death will be relatively quick and more or less painless - I guess someone else's family really does have a worse family curse than mine). She and my darling debated flowers and reached a quick conclusion. We dropped her off and got back to the restaurant just before 5 pm. A quick phone call revealed that the baijiu was supposed to arrive at the wholesale shop at any moment.
This created a predicament. My wife needed to be in the restaurant to receive the baijiu. I needed some assistance to collect the red and white wine from just across the parking lot. As usual, my phone interrupted me in mid-sentence while we were trying to figure out what to do. It was Cantonese Twin #1 wanting to be helpful. She was on a bus just down the street and was heading my way. "Yes, come to the restaurant right away!" I told her. After a few navigational errors, she arrived.
Leaving my dearest one to vigilantly await the promised arrival of the baijiu, my friend and I went to TrustMart to collect the wine. I tried explaining to her that TrustMart had a shopping cart lending option so I could pay a 100 RMB deposit, borrow the cart, bring the wine back to the restaurant, and then return the cart for 100 RMB. Somehow, this concept didn't quite make it past her otherwise excellent linguistic skills.
We got to TrustMart and I presented the claim ticket for the wine. The clerks couldn't find it. About half way through that, my darling called and said that the baijiu was on the way. Trying to explain the lack of wine was difficult. Finally, the clerks noticed the 3 boxes (all clearly labeled in English and Chinese) in the room where merchandise to be collected is stored. I kept trying to explain the shopping cart situation to my friend and she grabbed a cart and said there was no charge. Naturally, the moment we reached the edge of the sidewalk, the shopping cart guardians descended upon us and relieved us of the cart. She carried the box with 4 bottles and I had 2 boxes with 6 bottles each as we walked across the parking lot.
Happily, the baijiu had arrived. We had everything at the restaurant. The didn't have a key to the changing room inside the VIP banquet hall we'd reserved, so locked up all the alcohol, cigarettes, the wedding poster, and the confetti cannons inside another VIP room - which smelled like a VERY used ashtray. The manager tried to talk my darling and I into changing clothes in there. We declined, since we didn't want any clothing stored in there. Also, the plan was that after we entered the room and welcomed everyone, we would do a quick clothing changed into the traditional Chinese outfits and wanted that to be as close as possible.
My lovely wife then took Captain Slow back to the village to grab more missing items (her shoes and a few other things). Her parents went to collect our darling daughter (now legally my daughter
). Once everyone was back, we all went out to dinner. Thankfully, my dear friend refrained from telling too many incriminating tales of my previous times in China to my brand new in-laws.
Our darling daughter planned to stay in the hotel room with her grandparents, but didn't bring anything with her but her school uniform. After dinner, we took her out to buy shoes for the wedding, some pajamas, and a few other items. Then my darling wife remembered a couple of other critical items. While she, our daughter, and her parents continued to shop. I grabbed a taxi (Captain Slow had been dismissed just before dinner) back to the village. Ah, what a relief - traveling at speeds relatively close to the other cars, changing lanes to pass instead of to get behind buses that were about to stop at bus stops, getting from point A to point B in reasonable amounts of time. On the way, I kept getting text messages about other forgotten items. Finally, I got there, grabbed it all, and found another taxi back to the hotel.
Everything was ready. Now we just had to host a huge lunch party followed by a big KTV party the next day.