‘This is pretty much a normal Mongolian wedding. Just with more celebrities.’
The venue was an empty lot 17kms to the east of UB. We entered through a gap in a broken brick wall, where two bald-headed bouncers holding radio mikes looked us up and down. Although I had been tipped off beforehand, the next step in proceedings should have been enough to tell me this was going to be an unusual wedding. Smiling bridesmaids wrap paper bands around our wrists—the kind you get at music festivals. Ahead of us, the field has been transformed, with seating for 400 around white draped tables, all under a canopy of fairy lights. There are entrance arches covered in white roses and a red carpet. And a fully rigged stage, with speakers and a large TV screen stacked up on either side.
Matt and I sit with Matt’s gorgeous work colleagues, waiting a little while for proceedings to start. Matt works with the bride, Minjee, who he has described to me as ‘super cool. She’s got tats. She’s got a three year old daughter. She looks about 18 and she’s heaps of fun.’ We sip milk tea, surrounded by hills made blue with smoke haze from forest fires in Siberia. Each table is supplied with a litre of vodka and baskets piled high with fresh fruit, cheese and dried curds. A drone circles above us, no doubt recording every moment for posterity.
Looking around, everyone is much, much cooler than us. There’s a table of dreadlocked reggae musicians. A table of bald-headed guys without necks who I initially take for either bouncers or hip-hop roadies, but who we are later told are the local Liverpool Football Club fan club. A closer look reveals that they are indeed all wearing matching Liverpool ties. There are girls in elegant evening gowns with traditional script tattoos snaking down their arms. Girls with shaved heads in high heels.
The music starts well before the wedding party arrive, and aside from brief pauses for the odd speech or gift giving ceremony, it doesn’t stop. Somehow, we’d scored an invite to the wedding of one of Mongolia’s most prominent rappers. His name is Gee. He has a better beard than Matt. He has a tattoo under his left eye. And a black suit with white sneakers. He knows the who’s-who of the Mongolian music industry, and luckily for us, he’s called in a few favours for the evening.
When the bride and groom arrive, they are already married. The official wedding took place at a registry office earlier in the day. Minjee has eschewed traditional dress in favour of an off-the-shoulder white number that would have made Scarlett O-Hara proud. There are speeches from friends and family members, although they don’t interrupt the music for long. We don’t understand them, although I do notice that the word ‘Mongolia’ is used frequently. Perhaps this is a reflection of the crowd, but maybe also of the strong nationalist sentiment we detected in last week’s Naadam celebrations. Matt and I were only recently married, and I don’t recall the word ‘Australia’ being used even once.
I lose count of how many people perform. Perhaps because we like the familiar, we make a game of identifying a western counterpart for many of them. There is Mongolian Tina Turner, Mongolian Beyonce, Mongolian Madonna, whose real name is Ariunna. She was breaking the same kind of pop ground as Madonna when Mongolia moved to democracy. Now her music is a little bland for my tastes, but the crowd seems to love it. There is Mongolian Eminem, Mongolian Jay-Z. There is a pop-opera group which we can’t get an equivalent for, and some horse-head fiddle players with a hip-hop beat. One band is described to us by a friend as ‘Mongolian Metallica’. We aren’t so sure about the accuracy of the comparison, but love it when they rip out a cover of Renegades of Funk, which gets Matt’s male colleagues jumping.
At some point, Matt is declared the ‘chief’ of our table. The chief’s primary duties involve circling the table with a bottle of vodka, politely compelling his colleagues to drink. The chief self-medicates a little, but this is also a requirement of the job description. I’m dragged away at this point by a five year old girl who requires my urgent assistance to find rose petals and shower them on the girl band on stage. This is probably good for my sobriety, and the girl band don’t seem to mind.
The evening ends with a DJ and about twenty bald, bearded rappers, (and one pony-tailed girl with springs for feet) in a long freestyle session. I don’t know where Minjee has got to at this point. Matt and I stand in front of the stage, a drone hovering above us, and above it, a spread of stars. We shake our heads and wonder how we got so lucky.
Like what you’ve read? We also have a blog about cycletouring in Europe. Check it out here: https://journals.worldnomads.com/katescarlett