We made it to Wuhan, the province of Hubei's largest city, and the rain was pouring down! Luckily we easily found my sister-in-law's father who had been waiting for us all day. He was with another man from their town who had driven a van to come pick us up. We stood under the airport's awning, wondering about running to the car. I couldn't speak Chinese, but I whipped out my umbrella and quickly handed it to her father to give our driver. He made a run for it and came back with the van to pack us all in. From there it was about a 3.5 hour drive to the small town of Mengxi.
Mengxi is a one road place. A fairly modern strip of buildings line either side. Each is connected to the other, like row homes with no space in between. Open front mom'n pop shops fill the spaces. Some are selling live pigs, others household needs or alcohol. Jiao Jiao's uncle and aunt own a hair salon that fills one of the spaces. None if it is clean. Dust floats everywhere. Small trucks and motorcycles whiz up and down the road, as do bicycles and wagons. Beyond the strip of buildings lining the street, rice fields and farming stretch on for days. You may find a small cluster of homes sprinkled throughout, but for the most part it's just open fields. The homes are shack-like concrete structures that you can walk through on dirt foot paths. People sit around in doorways, groups of men work on a neighbors roof, and chickens run about.
My brother has bought Jiao Jiao's parents a new apartment on the main road. Its sparkly clean and sleek on the inside. This is where we'll be making our home for the next week. Jiao Jiao's parents, my parents, Ben and Jiao Jiao, me and Ilario, all under one roof. I take the couch, as we all know that I love sleeping on couches and I can snooze through just about anything. It's a natural fit, and the rest of the week I rise at 6am when her parents wake. I get to see the inner workings of a Chinese couple's early mornings. There is no power when we first arrive because of the rain, and so we head down the street to the only hotel where they have a generator and we can get some food. Family fills the place, we have it all to ourselves, and we eat like kings.
The day before the wedding we head about 10 minutes from Mengxi to Nanping, the next town over. Jiao Jiao has to find a wedding dress! Can you believe it? Any American bride would have had her dress for months, but in China it's not uncommon to go and rent yours the day before. That's right, rent.
We then head the big hotel in town, where Ben and Jiao Jiao will get married the following day. We eat lunch, and then rent a room so we can shower. The apartment is still without power, and by this time we're a group of very smelly Americans, so it's pretty much needed. Afterward, we wander into Nanping, check out the street food, the shopping...I go to bed very happy that night.
Our last day in the province of Hubei, we venture to the nearest city, Gong'an. We head there so that Jiao Jiao can get a new ID, and so that they two of them can file for their marriage license. The Chinese culture is all very funny, and we have to bring cigarettes and chocolate to bribe the workers. Can you believe it? This makes it so that, perhaps, Jiao Jiao can get her id in one week rather than five - or, their marriage license will be ready the following day rather than in a week. I can't believe it, but it's true, and oh so funny.
We eat our hearts out in Gong'an on street food. At one point I have a red bean matcha green tea milk tea. It's so delicious. We also gnaw on some sugar cane, and share spicy street noodles.
Every which way you look it's so interesting. There are no stop lights, people drive and honk like maniacs. Things are dirty, buildings look run down, yet the people are very put together and some shops are fancy as can be. The juxtaposition is so strange and foreign to me. I love soaking it all in and taking it for what it is.