This article was originally published on Medium and reposted with permission.
What does it take to convince two parents to be in the right place at the right time — for their own surprise wedding? Apparently two crazy children, lots of deception, and a lot of Google Translate.
Now, I know the words “surprise“ and “wedding” don’t usually go together. Especially when in combination with “for your parents.” As immigrants who came to America from China when they were in their 20s, our parents never had a wedding ceremony and got legally married in 1990.
That was a pretty common practice among parents like them, but my mom and dad had always mentioned wanting a wedding ceremony for their 50th anniversary. My mom had always regretted not having the opportunity to wear a white dress and walk the aisle with my father all those years ago, even if it was a formality.
So when my parents asked me if I wanted to go to China in October just coincidentally on the dawn of their 30th anniversary, I knew that this was a perfect chance to give them the surprise of their lives. Why a surprise? As Asian parents, they would absolutely not allow us to do something as rash as this. So they couldn’t know until the last second.
Having never gone to a wedding before, somehow I had the audacity to text my younger brother, Jeffrey, in early July, not knowing that this text was like taking the red pill in the Matrix down the rabbit hole of wedding planning.
This crazy idea over the summer manifested itself into a family deception plot similar to the one that was in an Awkwafina movie I had watched earlier that summer called “The Farewell” — but instead of a fake wedding it was real, and no one (luckily) was terminally ill. It was an elaborately planned four-month web of lies that could have been spoiled at any moment.
We had three main problems. First of all, we had four months until I went to China, and for people who have planned weddings before, that is definitely not a lot of time to find an open venue, plan all the festivities, and get everyone on the same page.
The second problem was that we wanted to keep it all a surprise, and that involved getting my brother who was studying at UC Irvine, to China, without triggering the suspicions of overprotective Asian parents. Last of all, the wedding was in China, and we were in America. We had AP Chinese level Chinese abilities, and that definitely was not enough to plan something so important and so secret.
When I told my aunt about my plan, she told me that it was impossible in the time we had left before we went to China. Might as well plan a simple wedding photoshoot and that’s it, she said. Those were easy to find and there were hundreds of cheap options in China. For some reason, being a kid raised in Silicon Valley, being told that something was impossible only fueled my insanity and obsession to make the wedding happen further.
I contacted my uncle, who was in China, and my mom’s best friend, who happened to be the manager of a wedding venue, and the wheels started turning. Using my Internet stalking abilities, I secretly messaged all of my parents’ best friends and relatives to get them in on the plan and sworn into secrecy.
We planned the whole wedding over WeChat, a popular messaging app in China. I was on my phone almost everyday texting my uncle, my parents’ friends, relatives and wedding planners in broken Chinese about what we wanted to happen. About a week before the wedding, we told our parents that we had planned a surprise wedding shoot for their 30th year anniversary and that they would need to purchase wedding clothes.
Luckily, they were shocked enough at the news about having a photo shoot that they didn’t realize that we were also planning a real wedding ceremony in addition to a photo shoot.
11/1/19 Day before the wedding:
For the last step, we had to sneak my brother in from UC Irvine, so we created an alibi for him being in Irvine on the day of the wedding using a photoshopped poster for a school event, had his friend purchase his tickets to China, and turned off his location sharing so that we could maintain the facade.
We had our moments of panic, including the moments when we found out my brother’s connecting flights were canceled or when my brother almost ruined the surprise and almost called my mom in a hungry-desperate-panic when he couldn’t find a working ATM during his 8-hour layover in Xiamen.
When he finally got to the place we were staying at, it was like a game of “Metal Gear” and we had to stealthily get him room to room without alerting my parents sleeping next door.
There were so many other moments that our cover was almost blown. From my grandparents accidentally mentioning that Jeffrey was coming before he arrived (we had to quickly cover that up), to the printed wedding schedules almost falling out in front of my parents, to our parents growing more suspicious over time: it took just the right amount of ambitiousness, craziness, and recklessness.
11/2/19 Wedding day:
The morning of, we snuck my brother into the hotel breakfast room in a bear costume as he pretended to be a waiter. My brother even took some pictures with random guests, but when the moment was right, he revealed himself to my parents’ shock and amazement.
The rest of the day went as planned, but most of it felt like we were going through the motions. Taking pictures, doing makeup, getting in place. Hundreds of hours of planning. All happening in front of my eyes. It felt strangely calm and strangely smooth.
It really didn’t hit me that the wedding actually was happening until the moment I saw my brother and my mom’s father take my mom down the aisle to my dad. It was according to schedule, like everything else, but it felt different. The stress and mess of logistics and getting everyone in the right place suddenly melted in my head.
As she walked towards him, I could see 30 years of anticipation, 30 years of life already spent together, and 30 years of waiting for this moment. It was as if we were transported back to 1990, back to when they had first fallen in love and had decided to take the next step.
Surrounded by both of their own parents and under the soft glare of the setting sun, I saw my dad and my mom look each other in the eye and give impromptu speeches about how the last 30 years of being together had brought them through so much; from the days that they had $100 in the bank after leaving family in China, to raising two kids, to balancing part-time jobs, to building a new life in America.
I heard my dad’s voice crack as he professed how he was still very much in love with the woman he had fallen in love with at first sight 30 years ago.
I saw my mom wipe tears from her eyes as she recounted the fateful decision she made when she said yes to the man that asked her to come to America with her.
And in that moment, I knew that everything was worth it. The hundreds of hours of planning, the white lies, the obsession over details. It was worth every second.
There’s something special about experiencing the wedding of two people who truly, deeply, love each other and have gone through so so much in the last 30 years. And are your parents.
It was a small wedding, for 14 people in total, but it felt like a huge occasion nonetheless. I don’t know how many tears were shed, but in that moment, I felt like a weight had lifted from my shoulders. None of my everyday selfish worries were as important as this moment.
That night, we toasted to a successful wedding and to the end of the need for secrecy and manipulation. We danced away to Chinese pop songs and ended the day feeling completely spent. We enjoyed the rest of the night with the band we hired as wedding entertainment Sydney. To top things off, the next day, filled with emotion and not enough sleep, I ran my first marathon in 3 hours and 5 minutes in the Hangzhou International Marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon!
It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of life and go through the motions of living, but this is one day I’ll cherish and remember forever. Even now, we don’t have the perfect family — no one does — but at least this is one moment that we can truly call perfect.
Would I do it again? I wouldn’t recommend doing the marathon after the wedding, after a day in heels, but I 100% don’t regret the decision. When I initially sent the text to my brother, I had no idea that it would spiral into hundreds of hours on WeChat, lying to my parents (for good reasons!), and a full-blown wedding ceremony four months later. I also would never have imagined Google Translate would become my #1 app on my phone, or that I’d cry more than I did when I watched “Train to Busan.”
Now, I’m not recommending that everyone go off and plan surprise weddings now, but I do think that the simplest things and acts of kindness towards friends and family can go a long way.
Just the basic things like texting or calling go a long way and can take you places that you never imagined. Especially if that text is to your brother about planning a wedding.
About the Author: Jenny Xu likes long-distance running and making video games for JCSoft Inc.