10 Years Ago: Officially Married
Officially Married—Ganzhou, Nanchang and Back
(Chapter 41 from our book «Loving China, Loving Bulgaria: a quest for meaning and love».)
In Nanchang, Lily had booked a “Seven Days Inn,” just opposite the bus station and quite near the Bureau of Civil Affairs—that was where we were going to sign our civil marriage and obtain our “little red books” (i.e. marriage certificates). Since we had met in the flesh only in September this year, getting married in December of the same year was precipitately defined by our Chinese friends as “blitz marriage” (闪婚). This, however, is not true. We had been in friendly correspondence for more than a year before we met and our friendship formed a solid foundation for our marriage. Our love sprang from deep and trusty friendship and this, I believe, is one of the reasons why we have never had any serious friction, let alone animus, in all our almost 10-year long relationship.
In the afternoon of the 5th of December we reached our destination: the Nanchang hotel, which was to accommodate us for this important event. Regardless of how momentous this was, in terms of change and consequences, our time floated on as ordinarily as a day could be. We found everything wonderfully suited to the purpose of our Nanchang sojourn: there was a small restaurant quite near the hotel, and the Bureau was only a five-minutes’ walk away.
Everything looked settled. We picked a small restaurant and ordered Nanchang’s local flavour dishes: hot and sour shredded potatoes (酸辣土豆丝), home-style tofu, grass carp braised in soy sauce (红烧草鱼), sour spicy soup (酸辣汤).
“Simply delicious!”, remarked Lily.
“Especially the ‘Potato sirs’”, I added jocularly.
“But you are Sir Potato,” said Lily, returning the joke.
“I was since I was born,” topped I.
“As for the sour-spicy soup,” went on Lily, “I suspect the cooks mistook us for Sichuanese and overdid it with the hot pepper chips. I daren’t eat it!”
I tasted it and confirmed Lily’s apprehension. It was spicy no end! Still, it tasted delicious.
“This is our last supper as unmarried persons,” smiled Lily.
“It makes you think twice, right?”
She snickered disapprovingly at my joke. We were avowed spouses, after all.
I had never seen Lily in such a state before: she was inebriated with happiness.
“You must be drunk!” I poked her. “I need to take you round for a walk.”
She only laughed with sparkling eyes.
There was, however, an omission we had neglected in our rush: a Chinese marriage certificate needs a photograph of both spouses-to-be, on a red background. This was what we had forgotten!
So, we used our evening to reconnoitre the area surrounding the hotel and entered a pharmacy. Lily had caught a little cold. She asked the pharmacist and we were directed to a small, dingy studio right opposite the alley. We would never have found it alone—there was its sign: so inconspicuous, as though used to conceal, rather than show, the location of the studio. Luckily, it was open and we just jumped at this heaven-sent opportunity, made our “marriage photo” and were able to get it printed, in as many copies were needed, within an hour.
So here is our wedding photo: neither of us dressed for the solemnity it was meant to convey to this once-in-a-lifetime event, and the first at that! I had not even taken a shave after our two days’ odyssey. The colours of our garments are not in tune with one another, but our smiles say it all. There is honey in our lips and sunshine in our eyes! Our purpose was not to show, but be.
After all, tomorrow at 9 a.m. we were going to be husband and wife, notwithstanding all obstacles and rush.
So it happened. What a day!
We were as punctual as both of us innately loved to be. It was not difficult to find the premises: the only place in Jiangxi, where residents of this province and foreign citizens could get married legally. And we were not alone. There were two or three other Chinese-foreign couples. All our document were in order, except for a small portion of English text which had not been translated into Chinese while we were in Bulgaria. The efficient Chinese administration immediately offered us their translator to take care of the matter for some 200 Yuan, and of course, we were relieved to accept the offer. To save time, we began filling in the necessary documents, while the translator did her job. We were asked, one by one, whether we were healthy and fit to engage in marriage. Yes, of course! Then we were taken to an adjacent room where a civil-marriage “officiant” asked us to repeat a solemn oath, after which the marriage was signed and declared performed.
“She paid attention to your reading so closely,” murmured Lily after we left the room, “and almost neglected my uttering the vows!”
“That’s because I am non-Chinese, they are curious about my reading out the Chinese vow, aren’t they?” smiled I.
We had to sit on a sofa and wait for our documents to be issued. Both eager and brimming with joy, we took our seats. Now our attention was occupied with the other visitors of the Bureau. First, there was an elderly couple getting married.
“The man must be from Taiwan,” Lily whispered a deduction.
“Could be. He does not look as a foreign foreigner.”
Then there were couples with a spouse from Malaysia, India, Japan. There was also a white guy.
“An American,” ventured I.
“Seems to me these international marriages are thriving!” observed Lily. “If so many Chinese girls are fleeing from China, what is to be with our poor Chinese boys?”
“No wonder some Chinese guys look at me with animosity while we are walking outside, hand in hand,” smiled I in reply.
Lily gave me a smile, which was meant to be vitriolic, but came out simply naughty.
Our turn to obtain the “little red books” came at last. We were invited, once again, to the adjacent room, where the same “officiant” politely handed us the marriage certificates and gave us a civil blessing for an everlastingly happy marriage life. Behind the woman was a solemn Chinese state emblem. After that, the young lady added to her benediction a sermon on marriage life and the ceremony was over. We were married!
Looking back at how we had met for the first time a little less than three months ago, time seemed like a dream. At the same time, everything was so ordinary and non-spectacular! Just another day!
The sun was shining over Nanchang and that sunny sixth day of December was our first and brightest red-letter day.
“I can’t believe this is true!” repeatedly sighed Lily, beaming blissfully.
“It is true,” said I.
Our story continues in Ganzhou, where we went by a very comfortable highroad bus. We found that in order to get my new visa, I needed to apply directly at the central police station in Ganzhou. That is the old one, a couple of years later it moved to a new, imposing building. The police officer was very kind, indeed. He explained to us that I needed to make a local registration with the home address of my newly-wed wife, in order to apply for a family visa. Time was running fast, my short vacation was coming to its end and the official working day was only till 5 pm.
We thanked the officer and immediately took a bus to Chongyi. The journey thither took us some two hours and we arrived at dusk, again in the nick of time. We found the nearest police station and were hospitably welcomed by a female clerk and a couple of officers. I was offered a seat and a cup of Chinese tea. The inconspicuous building we had entered from its back yard proved rather comforting, if not comfortable, and the smiling welcome was genuine and simple. This day I felt really God’s encompassing care and blessing: when all difficulties came to a sharply critical moment, some kindness poured in and the clouds dispersed as by a “magic” wand. The working hours were over, the dial showed a despairing 5 p.m., we could not complete the registration today—we had to go to the central police station for that and it was a quarter of an hour away, provided we could take a taxi immediately; and tomorrow we had to take an early bus for Ganzhou, because my vacation was over on the 8th of December. And then, as in good old films, the officer, seeing our discouraged, almost desperate expressions, quite unexpectedly picked the phone and called the central office, just a few minutes before the end of their working hours. He explained here was a foreign citizen, married to a local girl, who needed an urgent registration. I did not remember his exact words, but the meaning was precisely this: could they stay for, say, half an hour more, in order to help us? The answer was positive and, overjoyed, we poured out our sincerest thanks to the officer and the whole department, and immediately got out, waved a taxi to stop and take us to the central police station as soon as possible.
We were given the registration with amiable patience and not a sign of bureaucratic frustration, a grateful memory of which I will cherish in my heart forever. Dear officers, you did an honourable service to both Chongyi and your country, and I use this opportunity to thank you for your understanding and genuine kindness!
It is meet to mention specifically, here, that both in Chongyi and in Ganzhou I have always enjoyed the traditional Chinese hospitality and a treatment, warming the heart. Small services, rendered to one’s country from a sincere heart, render it great in the eyes of foreigners. Humaneness and honesty are of greater value than gold and any material embellishment, even in an affluent society.
Early in the morning of the 8th of December, we took leave of Lily’s parents and hurried off to Ganzhou. The visa issuing took several hours, which, in my experience, was a record. So little bureaucracy, so much efficiency: in the name of granting, not receiving, a service from a common citizen! Lily was so happy, she took several minutes feeling the visa, as though disbelieving it was real. After that we had a lunch with some Ganzhou friends and, with reluctance, we parted.
The long-distance bus from Ganzhou to Shenzhen was scheduled at 5 p.m. We were, as customary, punctual in the British way. The bus, however, took a later start. Then, to prove the old saying that life consists of ups and downs, we had some very palpable downs. The first was a huge delay: half an hour for the bus to start, and more than an hour to exit Ganzhou! Almost two hours for some 10 miles, no more! This was the first Chinese traffic jam in my experience and it almost killed the joy of a succession of wonderfully planned and blessed, indeed, days. The second “down” was even more palpable. We were seated a row or two behind the driver who kept his window open all the night. In December! We were bitten by the frosty winter wind, that slashed through the seats in front and pierced our unseasonably dressed flesh and bone. I offered Lily my slender overcoat, because she had underestimated the season (or overestimated her physical strength to resist it).
“We should never take a night bus in winter, no more!”
After nine hours of floundering through the chilly darkness, at about 2 a.m. on the 9th of December, the bus finally reached Shenzhen and sometime later we were in Lily’s flat, like two winter-stricken sparrows. We took a whatever-remained-of-the-night’s sleep and when the brightness of the day flooded the room, Lily was quite willing to wash clothes, go to buy vegetables etc. to prepare the food for this last vacation day we had.
“That would be imprudent,” I told her. “We will go to a restaurant.”
Then, in the afternoon, I had to return to Luocun, in order to resume my teacher’s duties. There was practically no time for rest. And both of us had caught cold.
Nine rushed days had passed in a flash. We had been betrothed in the Chinese ways of Chongyi Hakka families, then we had held a simplest of marriage without a hint of celebration, then I had got my visa for half a year, which was almost enough to last until the end of June when we both planned to go to Bulgaria. While in Ganzhou, Lily had applied for an international passport—her first ever. For ten days that was more than enough.
 The Chinese word for “threads, silks” (the way the potatoes are cut) sounds precisely as “sir” in English.