Tag Archives: Corruption

The Venue (Part 1) – Hijackers and Hostages

Inner Mongolia wedding venue
As mentioned earlier, my German self was struggling considerably with the Chinese approach to organising, yet through persistent nagging I finally managed to convince Mr. Li and MiL that we needed to find a wedding venue.

Truth be told, the main holdup was a rather personal issue surrounding the attendance of Mr.Li’s father; since the parents are divorced and Mr.Li’s relationship with Mr. Li senior is frosty to say the least, this was a whole other can of worms. But that is for another post.

Once MiL got down to it, there were three wedding venue contenders, the Shangri-La Chinese luxury hotel chain, the Sheraton Western hotel and the Inner Mongolia hotel (the Chinese concept of face dictates that we have to get married in the most expensive location possible to impress the wife of the boss of the cousin twice removed, or something or other). Mr. Li and I initially both agreed on the Inner Mongolia hotel as our favourite option, since it has character with Mongolian elements in the decoration. We felt that particularly our guests from abroad would enjoy the “local flavour”. Great, wedding venue settled. Or so I thought. I even got so cocky as to design and send out wedding invitations to all and sundry proudly announcing our special day at the Inner Mongolia hotel. What a fool. I never learn.

I had not taken into account that this is a five-star hotel, which obviously feels it is above everyone else and therefore can make its own rules. When my poor MiL went back to book the venue last week, the hotel manager informed her that if we wanted to have the wedding in their hotel, we would HAVE TO use their in-house wedding company. She insisted that we could not bring in an external wedding company.

Now this did not go down well with me at all for two reasons; a) my MiL had through careful WeChat watching of a local wedding photographer’s account found an absolutely fabulous wedding company (their décor was just the right mix of tacky and class in my eyes, but what sold me where the penis cakes that were randomly draped on the middle of the wedding display, oh how I would have loved to seen the guests reaction), so the thought of my being forced to give up said great company was not one I enjoyed, and b) I generally think it is scandalous for a wedding location to hijack someone’s wedding like that. I would like decide on my own what company shall get the task of decorating my wedding, thank you very much. I personally absolutely despise people trying to tell me what to do, ask my Mum or Mr.Li and they will tell you that if you order me to do something I will most probably not do it just out of principle. I’m such a grown up. Hence you can imagine how the Inner Mongolia Hotel’s policy resonated with my anti-authoritarian self.

Now I thought that I should at least give it a try. After all it would be silly to lose the venue if the wedding company was good. So I got in touch with them; and it all just went downhill from there. After repeatedly asking the manager whether they could do an Old Shanghai Theme, which I had my heart set on, he sent me a few images off the internet and I confirmed this was the style I wanted, yet he still did not answer my question. Once more I asked: “So can you do this style?” You will not believe the reply I received.

“I will tell you once you have booked the Inner Mongolia hotel.” This was the response. I was FUMING. Lucky for this man I was talking to him through a virtual channel; had I been in the same room, who knows what would have happened. So, not only is the hotel blackmailing me into using their internal company, now the wedding company is holding my theme hostage? That was the moment I knew the Inner Mongolia hotel had just lost my custom henceforth and until the end of time.

Ironically, I spoke to the wedding company that I liked and told them of my plight, and their immediate response was that this rule was nonsense and that they had already organised weddings in the Inner Mongolia hotel. However, this is another interesting Chinese business model that some high-end hotels including the Shangri-La and now the IM Hotel employ. You can use an external wedding agency, but you have to pay an extra service charge to do so. The wedding company also takes a cut from the fee and so everyone except the happy couple wins. By telling us that we were not allowed to use an external company, the IM Hotel was pushing up the stakes, making sure we would be so desperate as to pay any fee they asked for if we wanted to use an external planner. However, they forgot to consider the fact that I am a thick-headed German who would rather celebrate her wedding in McDonalds before bowing down to such shameful schemes. So the search for a new wedding venue continued…

…and ended the next morning when MiL went to check out the botanical gardens. The location is absolutely stunning, with plants everywhere and glass ceilings for natural lighting. What more could you want in a venue? Even objectively speaking I would have preferred this location to the IM hotel but in light of their behaviour and the fact that the gardens allow external wedding companies without additional fee, this victory is even sweeter.

After deciding on the botanical gardens, I was incredibly elated. I immediately thought of a Chinese motto that Mr. Li often recites in hard times. There is a balance in the universe. If you are experiencing a lot of bad luck, some time in the future you will have a lot of good luck to make up for it, so you can take solace in hard times. When you are experiencing incredibly good luck, you should treasure it and be aware that it won’t last forever, as there is always the balance. I find this saying very encouraging. It sums up the calm that I have experienced among many Chinese people in the face of problems. Where I get upset and very quickly work myself into a frenzy about external circumstances, Mr. Li and MiL are particularly calm and composed, even optimistic. I envy them a lot for that ability. In the meantime though I am enjoying my minor venue victory. Cheers to that!


Jet-Set Wedding (Part 2) – Translator by Name, not by Profession

Wedding pictures Inner Mongolia

So, finally on Monday the 9th of February we found ourselves in Hohhot with the document from the German embassy and we were in for a busy day.

After putting on my dirndl, traditional German (or to be correct, Bavarian and Austrian) attire, which I thought might be a fun thing to do when getting married in Inner Mongolia, we rushed off to the local photographer.

There we got the picture for our little red wedding booklets taken; a picture of the both of us with a red background. The end result was subjected to our critical review with the conclusion that I have a strand of hair sticking out and Mr. Li looks rather stern and serious; which I felt was rather appropriate considering he is getting married to a German (who nevertheless cannot even do her hair in the correct fashion on her wedding day).

After our session in the non-too glamorous studio, we scooted over to the translator’s office, a bleak little windowless room at the backside of an old building. This was yet another entertaining experience, as the translator, who had been recommended by the authorities as the go-to person for notarized translations in the city, was about as qualified to do the job as a loaf of bread. The good man used a template to transcribe the contents from my German document to the Chinese one, guessing which information belonged where. In the end, I sat down with him and did most of my own translation, including finding the Chinese transliteration of the town I am registered in. Since official Chinese documents still rely for the most part on Chinese characters, any city in the world has a phonetically similar Chinese name, which in our case, due to its length and complexity turned out to be 凯塞尔斯图尔山麓恩丁根.

As a former student of the translation department of the University of Vienna, this encounter really rattled me. I remember only too well the many lectures discussing the lack of regulation in the translation industry and how anyone who speaks two languages can run around calling themselves translators and be paid for it. Add to that rampant corruption as it is still present throughout China, in particular in the less central and urbanised regions such as Hohhot, on a daily basis despite Mr. Xi’s clean-up campaign, the truth of the matter is that this so-called translator quite probably paid some money in order to get his recognition as a notary translator. Said certificate was from 1998 nonetheless, which should not be concerning as such; except of course for the fact that this man could barely even use Microsoft Word. Such translation standards are indeed concerning, even more so as they are present throughout China. Even in Nanjing the standards of professional translation companies are disconcertingly low. On the other hand this might of course present a business opportunity, if one were to pass their official exam (or purchase one, after all if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, harr harr).
Anyway, with our combined efforts we got there and paid the money really just for his little red stamp than any actual translation work on his part; yet, I shouldn’t complain, as we managed to get what we needed. Really, if I want to raise the standard of translation in this country, I should probably run a translating company. Now there’s a thought…

The Rings (Part 2)

So, my parents arrived safe and sound from Germany and brought with them a certain engagement ring. With China’s reputation and the additional factor that my parents had recently watched an episode of a German TV show, where a reporter managed to get the hotel staff to open the safe door simply by asking, they felt unsafe about leaving the ring in the room. After all, it would be pretty annoying to put it lightly, if it got lost now.

I am very easily swayed into mild paranoia when it comes to theft, even more so in China, where petty crimes are incredibly common and no one is safe. According to official numbers issued by the Chinese People’s Court in 2012, 22 2078 cases or an equivalent of 22.51 percent of their total case number, were related to theft crimes. In actual fact, the petty theft crime rate is infinitely higher as many cases do not even make it into court for a number of reasons. A substantial factor is that in smaller cities, where corruption is rampant, the police and thieves actually know each other and often cooperate, the “man of the law” receiving a little sum from the lowly criminal as protection money, and hence there is often no point in contacting the police if your things were stolen.

Sometimes, this can lead to interesting situations, such as in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia in 2010, when we were traveling with a large group of students from our university (I had not met Mr. Li at this point yet). On what was meant to be a short break at a certain fast food chain with golden arches, one of the girls hung her handbag from the chair behind her, a rookie mistake to which many foreigners new to these realms fall victim… Long story short, her bag including Iphone, wallet but most importantly passport, were stolen. The police were called and after a four-hour wait, the bag miraculously appeared in a bin in the vicinity and was brought into the police. While all material valuables had been removed, the passport was still there.

After telling this story to Mr. Li a few years later (I often teased him with the fact that my main memory from his home city was the bag theft and our being stranded at Macci’s for four hours before embarking on what would turn into a 24-hour bus trip back to Beijing; but that is another story), he informed me that obviously the police and the thief were in cohorts, explaining that the policemen had probably informed their contacts to return the passport as this case involved a foreigner. Now, I do not want to be cynical, but one thing one has to admit in China is that no good deed goes unpunished and hence many Chinese people are not very willing to help strangers.

The classic example are the many cases where people run over by a car received help from a third party, but would suddenly turn on their helper, accusing them of being the one who ran them over in the first place; otherwise, why would they be helping them? According to reports some of the “victims” even got away with this shameless strategy; as a result an innocent person, who only wanted to help, could find themselves paying damages for an accident they never caused. These incidents are the reason many Chinese have a fear of altruistically helping people, since it might cause them suffering and in the worst case financial loss. The most tragic example was the death of the Chinese toddler a few years ago, who was killed in a hit and run, because for 20 minutes people walked by the dying two-year old pretending not to see her.

The point I am making is that the story that someone found the bag with the passport in the trash and then decided to bring it to the police sounds rather unlikely, as sad and cynical as that might be, and with Mr. Li’s local knowledge and explanation, it seems rather likely that the bag was handed over by the thief to a police officer instead. Admittedly, though, at least the girl got her passport back; a true silver lining, since getting a new passport and visa while in China is sheer hell.

So, in conclusion, this experience has scarred me into paranoia when it comes to theft in the Middle Kingdom. My father’s suggestion was that I simply wear the engagement ring although there had been no proposal. As we all know, better safe than sorry!

“Don’t be so superstitious! It is the safest option”,

he said when he saw my mum and my exasperated faces. While I agree with him on that particular point, I did decide to wear the ring on my right hand ring finger instead of my left (the customary engagement ring finger in Germany since it runs along the love vein). After all, despite the fact that I shake my head at most Chinese superstitions, I am in truth a rather superstitious person myself.

Upon arrival back in Nanjing, the circular piece of jewelry returned to its little red box and was picked up by Mr.Li. Now it has traveled to Beijing with him, waiting for the big moment. Let’s hope it needn’t wait too long!