Cantonese Wedding

October 5, 2008

It's the day after the wedding. If last night's 13-course wedding banquet wasn't enough, I've just gone out with a small core of relatives for a buffet brunch. We took this afternoon in Causeway Bay up on the 34th storey of the Excelsior Hotel. That floor hosts a restaurant, Talk of the Town. Foie gras, chocolate fondue, oysters, crepes made to order--nice. Thank you, Auntie Eleanor.

I took the opportunity to chat over brunch with Auntie Lulu and Uncle Philip about my idea of opening up a hookah lounge. I'd long been meaning to run the idea by them and get their experienced take on it. They've run all sorts of businesses around New York over the past decades. They've opened several restaurants in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. A few months ago I came up with the thought that--if they would be amenable--I'd offer to "volunteer" at one of their restaurants. I'd be willing to work without pay for a couple months at the beginning of 2009 just to get relevant experience.

Both Auntie Lulu and Uncle Philip offered the same advice: find an existing business with the model I envisioned. Work there for a couple months. Learn the trade. Then go out and start my own venture up.

David: "Sure. I figured I'd need experience first. I was thinking.... how about any of your restaurants in New York? Would it make sense to become familiar with operations there?"

Auntie Lulu: "Not really. That's a totally different thing from the hookah lounge you're describing."

David: "Why?"

Auntie Lulu: "Everything. For example, we have kitchens where a lot of food preparation is carried out. You probably won't need that."

David: "Oh yeah. I hadn't thought about that. I guess that's true."

Auntie Lulu: "What we do is entirely different. Hookahs... I don't know anything about them. Your best approach would be to find a place just like the one you want to open, work there for a couple months, then start your own up. Do you know anywhere you could model?"

Auntie Lulu was open and willing to talk at length about my hookah lounge scheme. In the end, she offered some of the nicest discouragement I've received:

Auntie Lulu: "It could work, but I can't really see you doing it. Why don't you carry on writing? You can certainly do that."

David: "Write? I've strung a few things together for a couple publications in China, but I don't know that I actually write..."

Auntie Lulu: "Of course you do. And you do it well. I follow your 'blog."

David: "Really! You read my 'blog?"

Auntie Lulu: "Oh yeah, I've been reading it for the last couple years. I don't always read everything... you go to so many weird places I've never heard of. But if what you write features somebody I know I'll be sure to read it. It's well-written. You should pursue that direction."

At the end of the conversation I invited Uncle Philip and Auntie Lulu to meet up some evening in Las Vegas. A Vegas strip mall is where the hookah lounge with the best ambience I've ever seen is located. Uncle Philip and Auntie Lulu have just bought a home in the nearby suburb of Henderson. Perhaps sometime in 2009 we can meet up there--whether or not I still have hookah-related business ambitions at that time.

The wedding... that was brilliant. It was between my second-cousin Bryant and Annie: a couple since their days together at university. The afternoon featured a ceremony at a Catholic church in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was all in Cantonese. Even with printed program in hand I understood none of what was being said. However, the pastor officiating was charismatic. He was clearly joking, connecting well with the guests.

The evening banquet was the most elaborate I've attended. Over 400 people were on hand. The bride made at least 5 costume changes. Video screens around the banquet hall offered a montage presentation of the couple's story, showing photos of Bryant and Annie from childhood on. At various points a couple of emcees at the front of the hall (where all the tables lined with red tablecloths were) bantered back-and-forth. As with the afternoon ceremony, everything was spoken in Cantonese--a language I can't follow--but I didn't need language to feel a part of what was going on. Lots of smiles throughout the crowd.

In my last entry I wrote that I felt I had a good sense of who was who among relatives. Perhaps it's better than it was in previous years, but I still keep meeting relative upon relative. The day of Bryant and Annnie's wedding I met two more "aunties" (cousins of my father). Polly and Juliet both live in California--I had heard their names but we'd never met. Ironic that this was our first time meeting--they're the sisters of Aunt Martha who came and visited me in Urumqi three years ago.

Perhaps I need to increase that estimate I made of my father having only "several dozen cousins".

Next week, another second cousin will be getting married. I'll be sticking around Hong Kong to attend that wedding as well.