Tag Archives: Engagement china

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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Bad China Week 2 – The Engagement Ring

Attachment to material items cultural difference China west
So, aside from my little run-in with the law, another factor that contributed to my Bad China Week (BCW) was my engagement ring.

I explained the history of the ring in a previous post, but in short my parents brought it over from Germany. Mr. Li proposed mid-November. And then, a month ago, after four almost blissful months of wearing it, my hamfisted self somehow managed to get it caught and one of the stones came out of its setting. I have to say, seriously disappointed by the infamous German quality that people in this country so adore. Luckily, the freak accident happened while I was at home and the stone, despite being about the size of a molecule, was found. I taped it to the ring box to make sure it would not get lost and then left it there for a month.

The reason was that I was in two minds as to whether it would be better to send it back home to Germany and get it fixed, or just find a local jeweller, pay a few kuai and not have to worry about an expensive piece of jewellery getting lost in the black hole that calls itself delivery service.

Then this weekend I decided it was time. I packed my ringbox in my back pack and ventured to the “jewellery street” of Nanjing, Taiping Nan Lu, which houses what is truly an army of stores selling everything from diamond rings to jade bracelets. I went there after I had been rock climbing in my sports gear looking like the world’s biggest schlub, a pair of dirty roller blades in tow, which probably explains the looks of disgust as I marched into some of the more glamorous establishments. I was a little tempted to scratch my non-existent testicles just for show.

All the bigger jewellers turned me away because the ring had not been bought at their store. Snobs.

All of the smaller jewellers were out for lunch, and as the staff informed me, might return at any random point in time but they couldn’t really say. Great, thanks for the help.

After an hour of dragging myself from one store to the other I finally walked into the right one, or so I thought. The “Shifu” did not ask any questions, immediately got to work and five minutes later after seemingly expertly have pressed and pushed the stone into place, handed it back to me. He did not even accept payment. I was so elated I asked for his business card and then posted this lovely story on WeChat (China’s number one social media app).

Then, half an hour later I met up with my roller blade date, and dramatically pulled out my hand sporting the engagement ring, just to find that the stone was again not in its casing. I had managed to lose it on the metro, confirming my suspicion that anything that’s free cannot truly be good. Of course the poor jeweller wasn’t to know this was going to happen and in all fairness, other stores had looked at the ring in wonder since the entire set-up seems to be different than they are used to in China.

Still, I was heartbroken. I had set out in the morning with the quest to fix my ring. Now, not only was my ring not fixed, I had also lost the stone. My emotions were on a serious roller coaster.

Calling Mr. Li did not help either, except giving both me and my friend another insight into the differences between our cultures. “Oh it’s just an engagement ring, it doesn’t matter, why even bother getting it fixed” was his reply to my request that he go look for the receipt.
Usually when I get angry I argue a lot. Yet, this time I was so livid, that I barely was able to speak. He sensed it and quickly asked me to put my friend on the phone.

She then had a very productive conversation with him in which she explained that the engagement ring is very important to us and we often wear it our whole lives. Whereas he said that in Chinese culture once you wear the wedding ring, you don’t tend to wear the engagement ring anymore (although I am fairly certain that my married friend is still wearing hers, sometimes I feel Mr. Li, having lived abroad for 6 years, is not very in touch with the China of today).

In a later conversation with another female Chinese, she was also very calm and nonchalant about the ring fiasco, leading me and my roller blade friend to theorise about Chinese and Western people’s different attachment to material items.

For us, it is all about the emotions. If a materialistic possession has an emotional meaning or a fond memory, we might keep it until it is completely destroyed, even if it looks and possibly smells disgusting, simply because it has a meaning attached to it.

In China, people tend to want the newest of the new, as a way of showing status and gaining face. There seems to be less of an emotional attachment with material items than a functionality to display wealth and success. Hence, if a ring breaks, it is not a big deal; you simply buy a new one. This is possibly a healthier attitude insofar as it keeps you from hoarding, in terms of financials though I definitely think the emotionally attached camp clinging on to their 20-year old teddy bear with only one eye and stuffing popping out of his bum, wins.

Long story short, I still am unsure as to what to do with the wedding ring. Mr.Li and MiL both were so kind as to look for the little red bag in which I was convinced the ring receipt was stowed away and while they managed to find the bag, the receipt is currently still successfully hiding away.

Part of me really wants to agree with Mr.Li and simply forget about it, as this ring is turning into just another nuisance adding to my already cramped Things To Do And Freak Out About List for this wedding. In all honesty, each time someone shook my hand the stones in the side would pierce my middle and pinky fingers causing excruciating pain. I guess that’s an argument for the Let It Go camp, isn’t it?

Yet, my German and my sentimental sides just can’t bear the thought of a technically brand new, beautiful and rather pricey ring just sitting on the shelf, gathering dust and mocking me with its gaping hole where once was a stone like a toothless grandma.

It’s official! – The Proposal

image

Okay, so Mr. Li finally pulled it off; just when I was beginning to give up hope. For the last three months I have been waiting for the proposal, and yet when it happened I was entirely caught by surprise.

Mr. Li had spent the last months coming up with every possible excuse why he shouldn’t have to propose to me, including

“You want to take my name, so I think it is your duty to propose.”

He even had me so convinced, I got all irritated until I received a WeChat message promising me, he had something in store. Of course, it wouldn’t be us, if there had not been a few quirky moments.

First of all, he planned on surprising me, which was incredibly sweet but went slightly wrong for two reasons; one, he tried to get me back to the flat on time by telling me he wanted a Skype date at exactly 5.30 right after work. Thickhead that I am, I of course did not get the hint, and so 5.30 came and went and I was still at the office.

“Oh, he can just skype my phone”

, I thought and since said device was being almost eerily calm, I assumed that meant he was busy or stuck at work.

I strolled up to my flat an hour later. As I walked to the door, a delicious smell of curry wafted up my nostrils and I felt a pang of regret.

“One of the neighbours is cooking, it smells delicious. How I wish someone were cooking for me.”

I did feel a little suspicious when I noticed the mouth-watering smell seemed to be coming out of my own flat; but only for an instant, then the thought passed.

I opened the door and suddenly a figure jumped out from behind the bed. I screeched like a banshee with shock, which earned me a concerned look from the neighbours just unlocking their own door.

“Oh my god, I am being burgled!”

That was the first thought that shot through my head. (I now see how illogical it would be for a burglar to be cooking a curry in the flat of his victim…although at the time it seemed to make sense.) The next thought that followed was

“That burglar looks awfully familiar.”

You guessed it, it was Mr. Li; “burglar of my heart” (a title he later bestowed upon himself).
As I stepped into my flat, the first thing that caught my eye was the cleanliness.

You see, that was the second problem about Mr. Li’s unannounced visit; the pre-boyfriend flat clean, which I usually frantically complete the evening before his arrival, had not taken place. To make matters worse, this was a Friday with a filming appointment, and so I had spent the morning going through numerous outfit changes, discarding the rejects haphazardly on my bed and floor and leaving an array of make-up utensils strewn across the bathroom sink top as I rushed to work. To call the state of my flat chaos incarnated would be to flatter it. And so, around 1pm, Mr. Li stepped into this bombshell.

He later confessed,

“My initial reaction was ‘Oh my, a bomb went off in this place!’ For a short moment, all I could think was, this is the girl I want to marry. Am I sure about that? But then I thought of her pretty face and nice character and thought ‘What the heck’ and started cleaning.”

One of my constant complaints is that Mr. Li is terrible at making compliments and saying romantic stuff, but it seems he has recently stepped up his game.

And so he cleaned and cooked all afternoon, bless him. I have to admit, there is nothing sexier than a man who does housework. And yes, I am saying that partly because I hate doing housework. But mainly coz it’s true.

Engagement

After welcoming me and complaining about my lateness, he directed me towards the cake. He had purchased a cream cake from HPC bakery, one of my favourite chains in Nanjing. Yummy! As Mr. Li later stated:

“Whenever I am being romantic, there is food.”

While I was unpacking the dessert, Mr. Li announced he needed the loo. At this point I had a hunch what was happening; clean flat, curry and cake, and then I noticed the pad was propped up in a suspicious fashion, i.e. he was filming this whole procedure.

“Strange moment to be going to the loo,”

I thought to myself.

Next thing I know, he marches out of the toilet with a humungous batch of roses. At some point I had informed him that there need to be hundreds of roses during a proposal; he “only” got 99. This example was, without a doubt, proof of how I have a big gob and forget half the nonsense I say, but it was incredibly touching to know he listens to my ramblings.

After handing me a bucket full of roses almost as big as myself, he started rummaging around in them. As I found out later, he was desperately looking for the ring box, which he had hidden in the roses.

The poor thing was slightly nervous, mainly because I had further announced that I did not want him to propose to me in my flat, because that was boring. However, for a Chinese man, who is not prone to excessive displays of affection, especially not in public due to cultural convention, that was asking a bit too much. In the end, I am glad he did not change his plans, since everything was perfect.

He did skip a slightly important part of the whole proposing, though…the actual proposal.

“So, I kneel down…and then put this on your finger, right?”

he asked.

“Didn’t you forget to ask me a question?”

I replied. And there we go.

He had to then rescue the curry, which had burned in the pot ever so slightly in the meantime; but to me was the most perfect tasting curry in the whole wide world, after that he proceeded in his cooking marathon to make my favourite dish, aubergine, potato and green peppers in a garlic-soy sauce. For this dish alone, I would marry him.

Then he presented me with another gift; an engagement iPhone. This might sound really silly, but the fact that he used his once in a lifetime opportunity to pre-book the iPhone 6 and then hand it over to me, that is true love. I always thought, that if he could marry Apple, he would. Luckily, he chose me!

As a sidebar, due to its extreme popularity in China, the iPhone is almost impossible to get, especially in smaller cities. Even in Beijing Mr. Li had to go to the store, where he had pre-booked the phone, and queue up for ages to get it. The “huangniu” illegal sellers were lining up to offer those who managed to purchase the iPhone to buy it off of them for RMB 300 extra. A number of people were caught trying to smuggle the phones from Hong Kong on to the mainland. China and the iPhone – an epic lovestory. Well, as I said, this illustrates the troubles and pains Mr. Li went through to get me the phone, I am truly spoiled!

The final, and in my personal opinion, best surprise was when he confessed he had not only recorded the proposal on the pad, but also a few messages in the morning and afternoon for me. At this point I was so touched I started to cry, what the roses, the food and even the phone had failed to do; the fact that Mr. Li recorded himself on camera, something he really does not enjoy, just because he knew I would love it; that was the moment right there, that I will never forget.

So, to sum it up, although I was convinced that our pre-proposal engagement had taken the surprise out of things, Mr. Li actually managed to give me the loveliest surprise on a great date (14/11/14).

“You didn’t think I was going to prepare on our three-year anniversary, did you?! That’s so predictable!”

he informed me later, and he was right. After a weekend of feasting on delicious home-cooked food and cake, and drinks and lunches with friends, I had to once again send him off to Beijing; maybe next time, he will get a surprise visit from me.

Engagement nanjing

The Proposal (Part 1)

Every wedding begins with a proposal, right? Wrong!

In our case, our families have been informed, our closest friends have heard the news and wedding prep is already underway, but no formal proposal has been made. How can that be, you might wonder? Well, for a number of reasons, first and foremost my “inofficial fiancé”, as I currently awkwardly introduce him to new acquaintances, is rather traditional.

In the olden days, and even among more conservative Chinese families today, the decision to get married is not actually made by the young couple but rather by their families. If a couple has been going out for the appropriate amount of time (which in China often ranges between six months and one year), the discussion is usually brought up by both side’s parents, who are all eager to see their children get hitched sooner rather than later out of their passionate desire for grandchildren; a concept I find fascinating to put it lightly. Luckily, my future mother-in-law is a very open-minded and intelligent person, who was easily appeased by my proclamation that foreigners don’t get married before they are thirty (yes, I know, not true, but it kept the questions at bay). Now after torturing my future in-laws with that line for almost three years, I have finally decided that despite my only 27 years, I am happy to put an end to their suffering. But in all honesty, they have been incredibly respectful of my opinion and I have not been subjected to any pressure; I truly appreciate how rare this is in Chinese families, although it may be down to the fact that I am the woman here and it is usually her side who is more eager to get things settled quickly. Anyway, I digress.

So, traditionally, Chinese families decided upon the fact and hence there was no true proposal. Nowadays, as Chinese culture gets more and more Westernized and Chinese women’s expectations, after a steady diet of Friends, HIMYM and Big Bang Theory are exponentially rising, things are a-changing. Back in 2012, when Mr. Li (the inofficial fiancé) and me were still living in Newcastle, a Chinese acquaintance proposed to his girlfriend right in the central square of the small city by playing a romantic video on a big screen in which all their friends asked the girl in Chinese if she would marry her partner. He then knelt down in front of everyone and presented her with a dazzling engagement ring.

Interestingly, this indirect way of proposing via video or by having someone else pop the question is very popular amongst Chinese, partly because many Chinese men tend to be rather shy, and partly because Chinese culture is not a very offensive one, communication being rather indirect most of the time.  Asking someone straight on to marry you with the possibility of them saying no is even scary in our direct, speak-your-mind Western culture, so no wonder Chinese men often try and find a more indirect approach.

So, to sum up, yes, wedding proposals are becoming increasingly common in China. In my case, I have not had one yet. What actually happened was that after a three-hour Skype session, we managed to discuss and sort out any lingering concerns about what marriage entails and how our relationship dynamic might change if we take the plunge. And then we decided that we were finally getting married. It was not until later that Mr. Li looked at me quizzically and asked:

“Do I actually have to propose to you?”

As a child of the Disney and Hollywood era, I have to say that no proposal is a bit of a no-go, especially considering that I will be organising two weddings, one in China and one in Germany, and all Mr. Li needs to do is show up. Hence, I need him to do at least his one thing. But more importantly, it is a little bit of a test I have set him, since when romance knocked on his door with free hand-outs, he decided to pretend he wasn’t home, so for one time in is life I want him to prove to me that he can be at least a little bit romantic.

He is still trying to get out of it by regularly reminding me of my cousin who proposed to her husband and pointing out:

“You always insist on being a feminist, why can you not be one the one time I need you to be?”

Or he tries to trick me by arguing that by making wedding plans and arrangements I am consenting to the marriage and hence no proposal is necessary, the sly little snake (this is not an insult, but actually his Chinese zodiac sign).

Anywho, long story short there has not been a proposal as of now but there is a ring (which is an entirely different story), and I have been assured that the planning of the grand gesture is underway. I am incredibly curious to see what the possibly least romantic person on earth comes up with!