Web Exclusives: Letter
from Hong Kong
a PAW web exclusive column by Ed Finn 02 email@example.com
October 9, 2002
plan, a man, a marriage
friends start getting hitched, the left-behinds begin to wonder
It must be a shock for anyone to see their first college classmate
get hitched, but seeing it happen in Taiwan made it all exceptionally
strange for me.
Yes, it's true, I was honored to be a guest at the wedding of
Thomas Tso '02, prodigal roommate of four years standing. He was
duly wed (before my own unbelieving eyes) to Chia Yu Shen '01, the
lovely lady who has stolen him away from a reflective life of Confucian
Needless to say, watching those two stroll down the aisle caused
some introspection, but perhaps not as much as the wedding's fabulous
I arrived in Taipei the day before the wedding. Thomas met me
at the airport and installed me at his parents' home, where I was
very generously put up for the weekend and fed delicious food to
within an inch of my life. I spent that evening and the next day
seeing Taipei with Thomas and other college friends who had also
made the pilgrimage to witness the awful majesty of someone our
age getting married.
After wandering the crowded outdoor markets, the museums, the
temples, and the alleyways, it became clear to me that Taiwan is
an island overflowing with a weird intensity. A determined bustle
permeates all levels of the island's society, from the roadside
vendors of fish and other slimy things to cab drivers who trust
their lives to well-honed brakes and little Buddha statues on the
dashboard. The streets are always packed with locals hurtling onwards
on motorcycles, and it seems like every square foot of available
real estate is somehow harnessed for commercial enterprise.
The cultural point was driven home to me by Thomas's father, a
gregarious Captain of Industry who peppered every conversation with
business advice now when my chance comes to buy a factory
in mainland China, I'll be ready. All this gave me new insight into
where Thomas is coming from how the most laid-back guy I
know is still heading to Harvard in the fall for his J.D. and a
master's in East Asian studies.
The sheer energy level of Taipei and its citizens made me really
curious to see the wedding itself. The event was to be held at the
Grand Hotel, arguably the city's most fabulous nuptial venue. Originally
built as an official reception building for foreign dignitaries,
the Grand Hotel only later opened its doors to the public. It towers
over the city, an elaborate square pagoda structure with huge red
ornaments at each corner encasing hundreds of rooms in a vast filigree
of traditional Chinese architecture. Its hundreds of rooms spawn
out above a cavernous lobby.
On the appointed day we proceeded into this fantastic ornamental
maw and met up with Thomas, who was busily marshalling squadrons
of friends and relations to go hither and yon as the wedding hour
drew nigh. We were instructed to sit at the "college friends
of the groom's side" table, which included three or four of
Thomas's friends and a slew of his father's old university buddies.
At last, the guests had filed in, the musical prelude was over,
and the wedding ceremony was about to begin. The bride and groom
walked down the aisle, with attendant parents and retainers in hot
pursuit, where they encountered a raised dais bracketed by floral
arrangements and twin ice sculptures. The ceremony was all Chinese
to me, but it seemed to lack heavy religious content, focusing instead
on the legal declaration of marriage and the witnessing of documents.
A few speeches later, it was official, and the assembled guests
began digging into their first course with enthusiasm.
The first course was replaced with another and then more and as
the plates whirled before me with dizzying rapidity, I realized
that Thomas was providing my first bona fide 12-course meal. There
was shark-fin soup, fabulous dumplings, delectable fish, and all
manner of traditional Chinese delicacies. Over the course of the
meal, Chia Yu reappeared in no fewer than four different dresses,
each more fabulous than the last. As the meal wound down Thomas,
Chia Yu, and their parents made the rounds, toasting each table
Hours later, the remains of the feast were being rapidly cleared
away even as the last of the banqueters staggered out the doors.
Thomas looked like a man overjoyed in spite of being run over by
a bus. Everything had gone smoothly; in the morning he and Chia
Yu would be flying to Japan for a week's honeymoon before settling
into grad school life. Marriage! It was impossible to believe.
Well, suffice to say I'm not planning on getting hitched anytime
soon, but my little visit to Taiwan certainly made me think. Maybe
we can take the hectic velocity of downtown Taipei as reason enough
for Thomas's accelerated life plan. To be honest, though, it's the
fact that Thomas has a life plan at all that makes him seem a world
away from me. As I learned that weekend, Thomas grew up in a family
with a firm belief in goal-oriented planning, and that's exactly
what he's pursuing (after horrifying them with his undergraduate
pursuit of philosophy). While most of us are floundering around
for a new purpose after countless years of directed education, Thomas
has a plan.
We last saw Thomas in the Grand Hotel's imperial deco lobby, harried
but complete, ready for the next stage in his their
life. We remaining bachelors spent the following morning wandering
the streets of Taipei, where the motorcycles zoomed and tilted with
the same intensity as before. But now I wondered if they really
knew where they were going, and what they hoped to find there. I'm
still on the lookout for my own plan of business.
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