In an attempt to learn more about the ever-changing social landscape of Shanghai, NPR's Frank Langfitt has been driving driving citizens around their city and learning their stories. In his most recent installment of the series, he took a break from the usual routine to drive a couple 500 miles to their home village for their wedding.
The account, which, based on the headline may seem like it's about a race against time, is actually a beautifully written description of what family means to the people in Shanghai. Since many of its residents come from villages and towns far away, it's understood that when they get married they'll return to their village for the ceremony and, hopefully, for good at some point in the future.
Langfitt's story follows his journey with a couple named Rocky and Xiao Piao and chronicles the entirety of their wedding: a 14-hour trip in dangerous conditions (Langfitt points out that driving in China can be hazardous because many drivers are inexperienced), a gas emergency, the wait to get a marriage license, and a stop in Rocky's village to visit his mother and the tomb she's built for herself (something that Rocky was, unfortunately, too busy to do even though it's custom that a parent's tomb is built by the children).
While the wedding is beautiful — I highly recommend looking at the photos— It's Rocky's mother Guo who is the standout of the story. Delighted by the wedding and amazed by what her son has accomplished, Guo spent the six months before the ceremony learning a special dance that she and Rocky's "aunties" performed and can't think of a happier day than the one she's had. And, according to Rocky, she's the reason for his success.
I went to Rocky's wedding in part to try to understand how he'd made the leap from a farm house to a Shanghai law firm — quite a feat in China's hyper-competitive society.
Xiao Piao offered one theory: "The entire village thinks his family sits on good land, good feng shui," she said, referring to the house's location vis-à-vis the natural environment.
Rocky politely disagreed: "Everyone's fate, career and job are the result of one's struggle. If I didn't take the bar and sat around at home, what use would good feng shui have been?"
One of the biggest reasons for Rocky's success is standing just to the right of me in this photo with a peace sign partly obscuring her face; it's Guo, his mom. Without her smarts and resilience, Rocky never makes it to the big city.
And when Langfitt talks to Guo after the wedding , she reveals the fears she had and the reasons why she fought so hard for her children to achieve as much as possible.
"I always thought that my kids wouldn't be able to find wives," she said. "Look at this place! Why would anyone want to come and join our family?"
After Mao died and China's economy began to open, Guo raised money by selling fruit, vegetables and even funeral clothes for the dead, a genuine business in China. She borrowed money to pay for her sons' educations. That they became attorneys in mainland China's most cosmopolitan city is beyond any expectation and — though she won't say it directly — a vindication.
"My kids have made it," says Guo, joyful and amazed. "I never imagined a day like today."
The whole piece, which can be read here, is truly touching. Even if you hate weddings, people and the existence of happiness on earth, it's a guarantee you'll need to blink really hard to get all that dust out of your eye after reading.
Image via Shutterstock.
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