I’m Too Young to be Married

The next day we signed up with our hostel to visit the Longji rice terraces. We thought it was going to be an English tour since we signed up with the hostel but as we stepped onto the bus the next morning all we saw were a bunch of Asian faces looking back at us.

The way that these tourist tours get you is that they take you to a side location before you even get to the main place. For example in Beijing if you sign up to go to the Great Wall, they will drop you off at a jade factory for an hour or two before you get to the Wall itself. Well the same thing happened with us. They told us that before we go to the rice terraces we were going to stop at a village and see a show. But it was going to cost us and extra 50 RMB.

Jennifer and I asked if we could do something else while everyone was at the show, but the tour guide said that there was nothing else in the area, so we might as well go.

The village we went to was called the Yao village, because they are the Yao people. What makes the Yao people unique is that the women have really long hair. They cut it once when they get married but before then and after that they never cut their hair. What is also interesting about the Yao people is that it is a female dominated society. The women go out and work in the fields while the men cook, clean, and take care of the household. So for all you hardcore feminist out there, you might want to check this place out.

The Yao people were completely shut off from the rest of society until ’97 when a road was finally built connecting their village to the rest of the world. Now the Yao people cater towards tourism by selling artwork as well as putting on this show.

The moment we arrived in the village we were pestered by the local women to buy their goods. Since we were some of the only Westerners in the group they clung to us more. Jennifer got it worst. They followed Jen around the longest, trying to get her to buy their chachkalahs.

   

We were ushered into a large social hall, took a seat, and waited for the show to start. The Yao women came out and did a few dances and songs. It was semi-interesting/cool but definitely not worth the 50 RMB we paid. After about 3-4 songs, they asked for some volunteers to come up on stage. Not really thinking, I raised my hand to volunteer and since I was a westerner, I was picked right away.

  

Not knowing what I volunteered for, I stood up on stage with the rest of the male participants. They finally told us that we were going to participate in a Yao marriage ceremony. The MC told us that we needed to go backstage and change into appropriate Yao attire for the wedding.

  

After changing into our costumes, we were told that part of the wedding ceremony is an exchange of gifts between the couple. The gifts they wanted us to give them were these silver bracelets that the Yao people made. The problem was that they wanted us to pay for these bracelets.

I became a little pissed. Why would I pay for a bracelet that I was just going to give right back to the person I bought it from? It made no sense. And plus the Chinese people who volunteered, already took all of the cheapest bracelets, so the only ones they had left were the most expensive kind of bracelets. After arguing with the Yao women for a little bit they told me (as well as this Danish guy who also didn’t want to pay for the bracelet) to just go back out and that we could pay them later.

As we all know the first part of any wedding is finding someone to marry. They way you select your wife in the Yao culture is by stepping on her foot. So we all went over to the women who were waiting in the corner and selected our brides. I think (and Jennifer agrees) that I picked the prettiest one to be my wife.

  

The first part of the wedding ceremony is for the man to knead dough. I guess it is to show the women that we can be good stay at home dads. It wasn’t as easy as it seems.

Next we did a circle dance with our brides while the elder women stood around making an outer-circle. As we danced around the elder women would pinch our butts. The pinching of butts for the Yao people is a sign of love. But these weren’t soft love pinches, they really pinched hard.

After that we had to share a drink with our wives. They brought out shots of baijo and we each took two shots. The first was by encircling our arms, sort of the way they do in those cheesy romantic movies. The second one was by putting our arms around each other’s whole body sort of like drinking over their shoulder.

Then we had to sing love songs to our brides. Being put on the spot I wasn’t really sure what to sing. The first song that came to my mind was You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker. I learned while I was teaching that if you are going to get up in front of a group of people and make a fool of yourself; you might as well go all out. So that’s what I did with the song. I looked into my bride’s eyes and sang with all my heart, even adding some movements along the way.

Afterwards came the exchanging of gifts. I gave my bride the silver bracelet (that I hadn’t paid for yet) and she gave me a handbag. What an emasculating gift, but I guess that’s how all the men feel in the Yao village.

Finally to end the ceremony we had to carry our wives off the stage while giving them a piggy-back ride.

  

Once we were backstage my wife started to demand that I pay her. Now that I think back on it, it was our first fight as a married couple. I’ll remember it forever.

One minute after being married we got in a fight; I think that might be a new world record.

I finally told her that I had no money on me. She told me that she would look for me after the show and get the money I owed. So I went back to my seat and watched as the Yao women came back out on stage, did some more singing, and unwove their hair, to show us its true length.

   

It was pretty long. Some women had hair all the way down to their feet. When they were done showing us their hair they started to wrap it around their head so that they wouldn’t trip over it. As the show ended, Jennifer and I made a dash for the exit. (I didn’t want them calling in my debt). As we exited, the Yao women made two rows and as we walked through they pinched everyone’s butt.

To tell you the truth I’m not sure if my marriage will work out. From looks of it, it seemed like my wife was a slut. She must have been married 100 times already. Well, c’est la vie. At least I got my money’s worth at the Yao village tourist trap.

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About JoelS

Spending a year teaching English and saving the world in China
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