Bad China Week 3 – The Engagement Pictures, Ghosts and the Fires of Hell


Wedding pictures

Thus concludes my triple blast of Bad China Week moments. After being branded as a lawbreaker of minor import and living through the accidental destruction, perceived repair and ensuing redestruction (wait, is that even a word?) of my engagement ring, the final straw were the engagement pictures.

Aside from the eccentric decoration and theme of my wedding, what I was looking forward to most since this whole wedding fiasco started were the engagement pictures. I just love, love, love the idea of getting all done up and professional photographers having you pose while you look like a fabulous movie star with her handsome hunk of a husband (I’m sure I will suddenly and miraculously transform from klutz to princess through the mere presence of cameras…no, really, I am!).

That describes in a nutshell the engagement pictures. They are also used in the wedding display, and for me personally my opportunity to experience the Old Shanghai style I originally wanted for the wedding but in the end let go.

The very first issue was the decision where to take the pictures. Inner Mongolia had exciting grasslands but would require both of us to fly there just for one weekend, a huge waste of time and money. Next option was Beijing, with a very professional standard of photography yet as is custom for a first tier city horrendous prices. The best deal I could find was still 5 000 RMB for a set of pictures. In addition, the North-South divide once again reared its ugly head; while the company in Beijing said they could do Old Shanghai style, it just wasn’t very convincing, which is when it hit me; Northerners have difficulty doing a convincing Southern style. It seems that if you hear a stereotype often enough, you will actually start to believe it yourself. So the decision was made, Nanjing it was, with added bonus that they are cheaper than the capital.

After lots and lots of research on Dianping, my favourite app in the whole wide world, I found a company in the South of Nanjing that will hopefully be able to meet my requirements of glam but inexpensive. If you can call RMB 3 700 for a photo session inexpensive, that is. Yet, still a lot better than what the competition had to offer and the reviews seemed convincing.

Now we faced the issue of finding a date to take the photos. This is one of those moments when long-distance relationships simply suck, as it has proven an incredible task to get the shoot organised. Were we in one city it would simply be a case of taking a day off on a weekend to get it done; yet now the local climate, traveling and conflicting schedules are making it next to impossible. Oh, and the superstitions of course.

Nanjing is very particular when it comes to seasons. Up until beginning of April it is about 5C°, then you have a two to three-week window with a comfy 20C° and a humane level of humidity, and by the end of the month it has skyrocketed to summer temperatures of 40C° and humidity levels of over 90% (and no, that is not an exaggeration). Therefore it is crucial to find the perfect opportunity between freezing off the tip of your nose or keeling over from heat stroke, when the cherry blossoms are blooming and outside shoots will not potentially render you incapable of attending your actual wedding.

The added problem is that while I love hot and humid, Mr.Li having grown up in dry Inner Mongolia with -20 degrees winters absolutely despises the Southern climate and will start sweating waterfalls once it gets to 25 C°. He also launches into endless moaning about the heat, which on a stressful day such as the wedding shoot, which will include changing outfit and getting make up done seven times, is really not very constructive. So, in order to avoid major drama and possibly death by high heel, we needed to squeeze into the minimal spring window.

I thought I had found the perfect date when I realised beginning of April was a long weekend. Initially, Mr. Li agreed to take the photos then; until he found out that this was actually Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when ghosts walk the earth and Chinese honour their ancestors by cleaning their tombs and burning paper money and paper iPhones so the dead will be comfortable in the afterlife. “NO, NO, NO, we can’t take pictures during the Tomb-Sweeping Festival,” Mr. Li protested vehemently. “That is when all the ghosts come out and they will show up in our pictures and bring us bad luck.”

At this point, my fuse just busted. Here I was trying to align all the atmospheric factors to make this as painless and conflictless as possible, and now ghosts were occupying my perfect picture weekend?! Yet, Mr.Li was insistent, and indeed, when we went to 798 Art district during the festival, there was not one couple taking wedding pictures to be found, an irregularity that Mr. Li saw as proof that Beijingers shared his superstition. When I told all my colleagues down here in Nanjing about this, they all shook their head in disbelief. They had never even heard of such a belief. The good old North-South divide, ruining lives since the beginning of time. It can’t have been the urban rural divide in this case; though often lower tier cities and rural areas are much more superstitious than the big urban centers, Beijing is hardly what you would call rural.

So, back to the planning sheet. Next opportunity was the 18th April, sitting perfectly between our two visits beginning of April and 1st of May weekend, also still in the blossoming Nanjing spring, and far enough from the fires of hell to appear in May.

Again, it was not to be. The company was already fully booked. So, I took the next appointment on the 25th April, knowing full well that there is a big chance that Mr.Li will be moving from Beijing to Shenzhen that weekend, meaning we would have to postpone yet again. Though, with the looming danger of taking pictures in suit and make-up in the scorching heat, he seems rather eager to get it wrapped up before May if at all possible.

The photo fiasco concludes the bad China week, by the end of which I was just about ready to pack my things and hop on a plane back to Europe. I felt like everything I touched in relation to the wedding was just ending in disaster, a feeling that is still quite present in light of my recent wedding company experiences.

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4 thoughts on “Bad China Week 3 – The Engagement Pictures, Ghosts and the Fires of Hell”

  1. I remember seeing couples taking engagement/wedding photos last year on Qingming Festival here in Guangzhou. Interesting to hear that some cities/photographers are absolutely against it.

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