Tag Archives: Wedding in China

A quick hello

Wow, I cannot believe that I wrote my last post almost a month ago – life has been indeed crazy.

Since my last day at work I have met my parents and best friends in Hohhot, somehow got through the crazy wedding/birthday party, run off for another week of traveling the country with one of my bridesmaids and best men, jetted to Shenzhen for an expo, gotten a cold after almost two weeks of severe sleep and rest deprivation and now am resting up in Beijing just to hop on a plane down to one of the most Southern tips of Yunnan in two days and do some traveling with my Mother in Law. With husband having to return to work after a week off and our Honeymoon plans postponed until my situation is more permanent, I am still making the most of my free time.

That should definitely include writing more for this blog – it is top of the to do list. And photos. Coming soon, bear with me 😉 Hugs from a pretty blue-skied Beijing!

Laura

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Wedding Logistics – Pictures, Dresses and Logos

Phew, so it has been a while, since I last managed to write something even slightly coherent. I have been traveling back and forth between Nanjing and whichever city Mr Li resides in that week, so far Shenzhen and Beijing have made it onto the list.

In terms of the wedding, things are moving incredibly slow and I am mainly starting to notice the major logistic challenge that this whole arrangement is going to cause in the nearest future. I now have a total of five dresses, four for the ceremony and one for decoration purposes, plus at least two pairs of shoes, all of which I will somehow have to squeeze in a suitcase, aside from your regular clothes for the one week trip to Inner Mongolia during the wedding.

As if that was not enough, Mr Li is going to get his suit tailor-made when he comes to visit next month.

Last, but certainly not least, I am about to pick up about seven super-sized pictures, including a roll-up banner from the wedding company, which will be difficult to even move on my own, no less so since I am not in possession of a car. I will then have to stash them in my studio flat and figure out a way to get most of them to Inner Mongolia, where I am certain the family will have much more use for them than I. After all, who wants to come home to a lonely flat with a life-sized picture of you and your husband – sounds like an occasion for vodka and Chaka Khan as Bridget might say.

The wedding planner is waiting for my pictures in order to make an e-vite and she has in the meantime been working on our wedding “logo”, a must-have at any Chinese wedding that takes itself seriously. It is in effect the given names of the couple surrounded by kitshy floral or Victorian patterns. My task to my Wedding planner was “create a logo that combines both East and West”, since she has chosen the motto “Across the World” for our wedding. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the motto. This is sometimes part of the logo and inspires the overall decoration. I like our motto, it is very succinct and not so cheesy as to make you want to poke your eyes out at the mention of it, as many others can be. Just a sample selection to give you an impression of the mottos I have come across in my wedding research: “You are the brightest star in my heart”, “Love of Swan Lake”.

I am now entering the stage of worrying about bridesmaid logistics. Since three of my bridesmaids live in Austria, one in Shanghai and one in Taiwan, and with two different sets of native languages and commonly used apps, it is not that simple to get everyone on the same page. Yet, I have to express my major thanks and gratitude to all of them at this point, since they are incredibly quick to answer all my strange queries (“send me your measurements, now!”) and even chose an identical bridesmaid dress of the selection I gave without my even intending them to do so. I had actually thought that they should all just wear a qipao (for the Shanghai theme) in a champagne-ish colour but with a motif of their choice. They immediately banded together and chose a uniform dress. Thanks, girls, you rock!

What I am concerned about is of course the fact that Chinese and Western sizes are entirely different and the dresses will now have to go on a little trip around the world to Austria/Taiwan, so my bridesmaids can make sure the dresses fit, before there is a grand disaster during the “wedding week” when they arrive in Hohhot.

Just thinking of the endless possibilities for utter cock-up in this scenario – low quality dresses, wrong sizes and unreliable postal services – I am quite certain that there will be at least one minor wardrobe malfunction. But then, I guess, that is to be expected even at a “normal” wedding with less hair-pullingly complex logistics.

After all, I never like to take the easy road, do I?

The Theme 2 – Out with the Old Shanghai and in with the New

Chinese wedding theme

We had locked down the company I wanted, a major success but still something just did not feel right. I had a conversation with Mr. Li about my idea for an Old Shanghai theme previously and he was not enthusiastic about it. Aside from the argument that Northerners don’t do a Southern theme and it would seem out of place, he further felt that the theme did not have anything to do with us. In actual fact, he even felt uncomfortable with this theme for political reasons. “That time in Shanghai was a time when Western powers colonized Shanghai, it reminds us of a shameful time of submission. It’s not appropriate for a wedding.”

I was genuinely surprised at this but in all honesty maybe just a bit ignorant and naive. I have witnessed first-hand the Chinese anger that still rages within locals whenever the Opium Wars come up; it is, if I may be honest, the reason I often choose to introduce myself as German rather than British. The former will usually result in major enthusiasm, something I was not used to at all back in Europe, while the second will not be met with outright hostility, yet still tends to be a little less warm. Especially if the destruction of the Old Summer Palace, Hong Kong or the Opium Wars come up, the situation quickly turns sour. When I once suggested to one Chinese friend to attend a movie night, at which a film on the war was to be shown, they vehemently refused and got incredibly upset, stating “this is China’s period of shame, I would never watch a film about it.” More incidents along these lines have made it increasingly clear that this is a very touchy subject.

While I made the argument that an Old Shanghai wedding theme is purely an artistic statement and not a political one, and he quickly gave in when he saw how passionate I was about having this theme, I still felt uneasy at the thought of forcing a theme on him that he did not like. Part of me kept rethinking the decision, despite the fact that I was spending many an evening combing through the internet for Republican style wedding dresses and Qipaos for my bridesmaids.

One major concern he kept voicing though was that most Old Shanghai themes are rather dark, and indeed this was one of the issues I had noticed myself. Bordeaux red, dark green or the darkest shade of purple, velvet and other heavy materials made most of the decor I found online look rather dreary and depressing. Not very celebratory at all. Now a dark theme is only as dark as you make it, and so I decided to go with a champagne-white colour scheme that would lighten up the whole thing.

As I mentioned before, MiL had found the “phallic cake company”, and it seemd like a sign from the heavens that Old Shanghai would succeed. The pictures we found of a wedding by this company seemed themed around Paris, in dark purple and white, and was just the right amount of tacky to be fun. The thing that sold me were the penis cakes that were randomly placed among the decoration. I still wonder whose idea those were. Hence, this new wedding company, that I was 100 percent sure I wanted to do my wedding was known as the “penis cake company”. I managed to get in touch with the planner from PCC and she was very helpful and enthusiastic. As many long-termers to China will know, good service is not easy to come by in most parts, unless you pay horrendous amounts of money.

So, PCC girl and I had a chat about possible decoration for my wedding and I was impressed by the fact that she admitted openly to not having done an Old Shanghai wedding before, most other wedding companies would have just downloaded pictures from the web and sold it as their theme design.

However, such splendid service of course comes at a price. PCC girl announced that the wedding I had seen on WeChat cost a ludicrous 120 000 RMB just for the decoration! I always call China a country of extremes because in nothing you find a middle ground, and once again it just went to show you can either have inexpensive and shoddy or fabulous and bankruptingly expensive.

Mr. Li reminded me that in truth the price was probably less than this, since it is very common for Chinese business people to increase the actual price, especially if they are talking to a foreigner. Yet, even so, I already had a feeling that I would have to say good bye to Penis Cake Company. And so it was, after we told her our budget for the wedding, she suggested that we contact the hotel for the big decoration (i.e. big, luxurious cloths that are draped around the hotel and massive cardboard posters with decorative elements and the couple’s “logo”; at most modern Chinese weddings the couple tends to have a logo designed by the planners). PCC girl then said, she could do the small decorations on the table, i.e. the bit that I had originally considered doing myself before I saw her. This then left me with the question, why I should use her at all if I could instead cut the same deal with the hotel directly and save a lot of money in the process.

Back to Taobao it was. Now in the meantime, the theme had also undergone some modification. Since there just seemed to be so many reasons not to do Old Shanghai, the troubles of getting Northern wedding companies to do a Southern wedding, the fact that Mr. Li didn’t like it and the problem of it being rather dark and dreary, I had been thinking of alternatives. The logical conclusion was a UK-themed wedding. I was sure Mr. Li would love it and it was after all where we met, as he said before re Old Shanghai, it had nothing to do with us really. Quick research revealed that the UK theme tended to be too tacky even for me with the glaring red and blue of the Union Jack. However, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the ultimate combo of both themes, UK and Old Shanghai, when I found a “vintage UK” themed wedding that seemed to encompass exactly what I was looking for. In terms of the colours, I felt I wanted to keep the Union Jack colours but with a little twist, a dusty blue and a Bordeaux red to make it look a bit less tacky and a bit more classy. When I sent the pictures to Mr.Li and so finally on the third attempt, the wedding theme was born.

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 3) – Part-time Bureaucrats and the King of Pandas

Restaurant Inner Mongolia

After we managed to acquire our translation, we were off to the registry office. Since I am a foreigner, said office is not just the regular registry office but instead a “special one” across town. We found out just how special it was when we arrived to find that the registrar was not there. Mr Li’s mother had been trying to contact the kind sir since Saturday to no avail and repeated calls to his office on Monday morning while we were getting our stuff done were of course to no more successful. His colleagues tried to appease us by informing us that due to the fact that about only 50 marriages between foreigners and Hohhotians take place a year, the registrar worked on a part-time basis and was currently “in the countryside”, which is probably code for sitting at home drinking tea doing absolutely nothing at all.

I think the question I ask myself most whenever I deal with bureaucratic entities in China is how on earth this country still keeps running considering no one in the administration actually ever does any work. Then again, it is probably necessary for them to be Lazy Larrys so that they can employ five people to reach the productivity rate of one regular person, in order to keep everyone employed and unemployment rate up.

After calling the Prince of Pandas, as he shall henceforth be known, he suggested we come back at 4.30 since he, and I quote, “might be around then.” But, you know, he couldn’t be sure of course, and it wasn’t like we had a plane to catch. A call to his supervisor though seemed to take care of the small issue of when he would bring his derriere into work, thus we were given an appointment at 2.30pm and left the building accompanied by a lot of swearing on my part. To my German genes, these situations are infuriating to say the least, and it is all I can do to keep myself from getting physical. With regards to our new appointment we were told to be absolutely on time, since the registrar had to leave at 3pm for another appointment (read more tea slurping, maybe some TV or card games).

So, in the meantime, there was nothing much we could do except go for a delicious lunch at a nearby Mongolian restaurant. I consider myself incredibly lucky insofar as I am a massive fan of lamb meat, or a lamb fan, and Mongolia is to lamb as Germany is to sausages. We had a most heavenly lunch of oven-roasted lamb and stewed lamb with glass noodles and Sauerkraut, which for some strange reason is identical to German Sauerkraut. A frequent subject of speculation between Mr.Li and I is how the Kraut ended up in two countries so far apart and which country had it first.

To my utter surprise, I even managed to not get any grease or sauce all over my dress (you would be just as astonished if you know of my unique talent to get food everywhere while I eat except in my mouth, apparently, like a toddler just with slightly longer arms).

I also steered clear of the Mongolian milk tea; for some strange reason, people in these parts of the world think it is a great idea to add salt instead of sugar to said beverage; a concept, which I with my bourgeois European taste buds simply cannot accept.

After posing for some slightly surreal pictures in my German dirndl and Mr.Li in his black suit in a Mongolian restaurant, it was time for our next quest; celebratory alcohol!

Jet-Set Wedding

Beijing cctv Tower

Wow, so I have not written in a while and now I need to try and catch up! A lot has happened in the last weeks; in fact so much I have barely had time to digest it all.

It’s the typical long-distance relationship syndrome! Getting used to your boring life and as soon as you meet up with your partner you feel the need to squeeze all the excitement you missed out on into a couple of days; in our case combined with Chinese New Year and Valentines Day this has equalled trekking to seven different cities in three weeks. I still have a week to go and already feel exhausted. Even more so, because in our case the squeezing in part included getting married.

YAY, we did it, isn’t that unbelievable?!

Of course it took another couple of runs to offices of any form and description and a lot of grey hairs appearing from nowhere until we managed to beat the system. Buckle up and get ready for a long ride!

I will not go into detail on the exact route the documents we needed to get my single certificate took, as I hope to provide a detailed infographic at some point. Suffice it to say it took three attempts for the documents to be verified, since the German’s followed the official Chinese standards which the notary translator in Hohhot did not.

Luckily, the town in Germany I am registered in is so small that the registry office know us well enough now to allow for me to submit my documents while I was in Germany and to hand in Mr. Li’s later, once the Chinese and German embassy in China finally managed to sort out their s..tuff.

This all happened with amazing efficiency. We got the documents approved in the way the Germans required, they in turn issued my single certificate, which my mother, after saying good bye to another €80, quickly sent to Beijing.

Once the documents arrived, I boarded the next possible high-speed railway to Beijing in order to get the final document issued by the German embassy. This went as smoothly as I could have ever wished for, as I popped in and back out and then as a reward went on a little spree at the international supermarket down the street. After moving to China, visiting supermarkets that sell cheeses, sausages and German bread becomes as exciting as front-row tickets to the Backstreet Boys to my 12-year old self (yes, I admit it and no, I am not ashamed).

After a Chinese New Year’s Party and an enjoyable weekend in Beijing, we then jetted off to Hohhot on Sunday evening in order to attempt to get married the following Monday. And with that, stay tuned!

The Dates (Part 3) – The Chinese Wedding

Calendar august wedding China

So after a lot of back and forth with regards to the Chinese wedding, involving certain Chinese superstitions, we had originally planned to keep it simple and set the date for 1st October. Although not a very auspicious date by any means (not an unlucky one either though), it is a very popular choice for weddings in China since it marks the first day of the national holiday, when everyone is off work and free to come. The temperature at this time of year in Hohhot is just about bearable and I had already made my peace with an Autumn wedding, when to my utter delight Laolao retracted her original statement.

“Since the two boys are cousins, not actual brothers, it is ok for them to be married within a year of each other”, she informed her daughter.

And so, once again, the date of the wedding was wide open. I knew instantly that it had to be August, since eight is an auspicious number in China but more importantly it would be warm in Hohhot (despite the hair-raising cold in winter, which is no stranger to averages of -20 degrees, summers can still climb up to 35 degrees). Since some of my best friends and family are making the long trip from China for this occasion, I then thought how great it would be if we could have the celebration sometime around my birthday, so I could get to spend it with everyone.

Since people will be arriving and leaving at different times, I quickly realized that if I wanted to make sure that everyone was there for my birthday, there was one sure-fire way to make it happen; have the wedding on that same day. So, in another example of German efficiency, I decided to combine the two (I sure hope I won’t regret that one day, this marriage better last!). This is only made better by the fact that my birthday includes not just one but two eights and to top it all off it will be my 28th birthday. Well if that isn’t enough auspiciousness to last a lifetime, nothing will help!

Fake Wedding (Part 2) – Blondes, Old Jazz Bands and Chinese Media

Shanghai Fairmont Peace Hotel Wedding ShowAfter an action packed day of eating and visiting the hotels stunning presidential and nine nations’s suites (the latter costs about £700 – 800 per night, while the former is ¥88,888 or almost £9000 per stay), finally it was time for the wedding show. It was indeed all staged, and this being Shanghai the female was a tall, stunning blonde model, as opposed to a regular local employee. If ever we needed a reminder that Nanjing is just a second tier city, haha.

Even more interestingly the male model seemed to be mixed Asian-Western, yet another indication of how the local society sees AMWF couples as something to strive for.

While the actors were trying their best to be convincing, they did spend most of the ceremony in conversation or giggling, and it was difficult to tell whether this was meant to be part of the show or whether they were just being disinterested in doing their jobs properly. After the MC gave a far too lengthy and even more sappy speech (am I the only one who gets severely irritated by Chinese MCs and their way too flowery language?), they exchanged the rings and kissed. It became clear at this point that Mr Handsome had been looking forward to this moment as he began to devour the poor girls face; his “kissing style” was positively violent. Yet, the young beauty managed a brilliant smile and even laughed heartily as they poured Champagne over a tower of glasses and tried with minor success to cut the cake. Her dress was beautiful I have to say, and I very much enjoyed the French Renaissance type wedding display.

I did indeed stumble upon something useful for the wedding; the flower bouquets in the decoration used a fabulous mixture of flowers and colours, so I am hoping against hope that the dear Hohotians (is that what they are called? Well, it is now…) will be able to imitate the splendour of Shanghainese decoration companies. I have faith in them, so they better not disappoint me.

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Following the fake wedding there was a small surprise, a not so fake proposal. A suspiciously beautiful and perfectly clothed young girl, who looked no day older than 20, got a romantic proposal in the circle of “all of her friends” as the dear MC put it (and 30 strangers give or take) on the roof top of the hotel with the Pearl Tower as the backdrop inside a transparent tent due to the torrential rain that had been raging all day. That’s what I call a grand proposal (not to worry, Mr Li, I still think mine was way better!).

A Trip To The Past – Peace Hotel’s Old Jazz Band

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The undisputed highlight of my stay at the Peace Hotel, aside from a fascinating history lesson and a bathtub with feet fashioned into silver mer-creature heads, was the Old Jazz Band, famous in Shanghai and beyond for quite literally being old and rocking, or rather jazzing it up. The band has been playing at the hotel for over 30 years, their oldest member (94 years) having founded the band in 1980. Every night they play the greatest classics of the past century, keeping alive the infamous Shanghai style of the 1920’s. This style was effectively American culture imported and given a local Chinese twist, e.g. Rose,Rose,I Love You 玫瑰玫瑰我爱你. This and many songs I had grown up with such as Que Sera Sera, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the general MGM repertoire filled the bar with memories from days past.

It was almost as if I stepped into another time, the band were in their element nodding their heads and swaying with the music, the bar man shaking his cocktails along to the beat and my heart was breaking for those days that are over and the people that have left us. My grandfather was in a Jazz band in Germany at one of the numerous American bases in the Frankfurt area. As a handsome young man he played the clarinet and the sax. It really tugged at my heart strings that I had travelled so far in time and space, from Germany to China and from my childhood to my Tweens, and still the culture is there, the classics are there, and so is the feeling. Say what you want about Americans, but they sure know how to bring the world together with their music.

Reflections on Chinese media

Aside from giving me a weekend I shall probably remember for the rest of my life, it was once again a highly interesting and educational experience to interact with fellow Chinese journalists and those who know them well. I ended up getting a private tour of the aforementioned nine nations suites because every one else ran off to their rooms after they had been fed, massaged and shown the hotel’s most expensive quarters. My host and tour guide Belle, a lovely young woman from the Beijing area, commented with tangible frustration that this behaviour is very typical amongst Chinese media. Indeed I have often heard criticism of the way local journalists do their work, enjoying free stays at high-level hotels, but not actually wanting to do any work for it in return. It was not until the next day, and to the utmost surprise of dear Belle, that one of my Chinese colleagues enquired about some historical aspects of the hotel and asked to be shown the hotel museum (a tour I of course promptly joined). It is generally lamented that the quality of journalism in the country is beyond help due to a combination of government control, government funding, abominably low pay (I met a TV reporter who after 10 years of working for the same company earns ¥2000 a month, often less since her expenses do not get reimbursed) and the fact that many who enter the profession do so for the social prestige (or gain of face) that comes with it and not from a passion for reporting or digging for stories.

The result is sub-par journalism that makes me want to laugh and cry and pull my hair out simultaneously, except that I can’t handle so many complex motorical tasks at one time.

Probably one of the most obvious indicators is a conversation I partook in during breakfast with an employee of the hotel and a bunch of the local journalists who were accompanying me on this tour. The employee criticized the government as only protecting cultural heritage sites such as the Peace Hotel if they see the gain and profit in doing so. They would never, unlike the West, protect cultural relics for the sake of preserving past culture, because they are ignorant, stated said employee. The fact they were making this statement in front of a group of journalists truly surprised me; yet, upon second thought it clearly illustrates the difference between ours and the Chinese media. Where people in the West often fear us and feel unsafe about talking to us because they worry we might turn everything into a story, here it is such an unlikely possibility that people even feel safe criticizing the government. More importantly, as an employee of the hotel which is offering these people a free stay worth thousands of RMB, because of this common practice, they needn’t worry, since saying anything bad would be like shooting oneself in one’s own foot. After all, why would you be thorough, if you don’t need to be?

In this context I have to mention one of the few positive things to have come out of Mr. Xi’s rule; his war on corruption has now extended to a crackdown on media and the very common practice of companies paying for stories. It is common that journalists who attend any form of press conference receive a little red envelope for their “efforts”. While the crackdown, if effective at all, as these declarations often go ignored, might result in my not being able to enjoy as many lavish weekends in grand hotels anymore, it will hopefully do something for the quality of local journalism. After all, isn’t the bigger picture more important?

The Fake Wedding (Part 1)

Christmas Cathay hotel Shanghai This weekend I got to go on a rather exciting trip to Shanghai to the grand Peace Hotel (formerly known as the Cathay, home to many a famous film star and political leader in the 1920s and for the most part of the 20th century. Their most esteemed guests include Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin and Muhammed Ali.

Apart from the excitement of a super luxurious mini trip to Shanghai and getting to stay in a hotel I will probably never be able to afford in my life (the perks of working in the dying profession of journalism), I was looking forward to a Fake Wedding as part of the entertainment.

Often, when five-star hotels celebrate a special occasion to make an even bigger splash they will organize a display wedding for the guests and media present. Sometimes the fake wedding is actually not so fake at all, my boss got to witness one of the hotel staff get married on such an occasion (which is of course a win-win situation for both sides, free wedding venue for the bride and free show for the hotel). I will be curious to see whether the fake wedding on my plan today is in fact staged or genuine. Yet, more than that, I am excited to see how the rich and famous in China celebrate their special day, and what the difference will be to my friend Cherry’s wedding; although to be fair, her husband being a national tennis star, they probably fall under the r&f category. In that case, I look forward to seeing how the glamorous Shanghainese handle things; they are after all famous in the entire country for their fashionable, modern stylishness.

The morning started out with a bit of the usual chaos; my train ticket was for quarter past nine on a Sunday morning, and so I got up at 6.30 (still way to early in my books) to get ready and go to Nanjing South, the high-speed railway station. After kissing my bus, I decided to take a taxi to the closest metro station and use the underground transport instead, as it turned out a case of fool’s luck. I maintain that my real name is Queen of Chaos as I am about the most clumsy and confused person I know. You might have guessed where I am going with this. After having been on the road for three quarters of an hour and two stops away from my destination, it suddenly dawned on me that I had note checked whether the train was in fact leaving from Nanjing South and not from the older Nanjing railway station in the a North if the city. And sure enough, there it was, printed in big and mocking characters on my ticket: departure 9.13am, Nanjing railway station. My heart began to race and so did I; out of the metro as soon as it pulled into the next stop.

Oaf that I am what I do have going for myself is a big portion of luck, but don’t ask me what I did to deserve it. The metro line no 1. In Nanjing runs directly from one railway station to the other and as I noticed my mistake I had about one hour before my train was due to leave.

Baidu maps did nothing to calm my hyper-ventilating self as it announced a 44 minute trip lay ahead of me; including the walk from metro exit to station entrance, security check and the trip to the right platform, this was cutting it awfully close. Thank heaven, Baidu maps is rarely right when it comes to estimating time of arrival, often adding 10 to 30 minutes onto the actual duration, which does make you wonder about the validity of its existence, but in my case it was a welcome misrepresentation of the facts. Plus, due to the older train station being a lot smaller in scale than the mammoth that is NJ South, in fact the largest train station in all of Asia by area, it only took me about five minutes from exiting the metro to arriving at my gate. Had the station been the size of the aforementioned, it would have taken about 20 minutes to get from point A to point B. It was 8.40 and I thanked my transportation paranoia for having left ridiculously early. Ironically, I glanced at my ticket earlier to see that my seat number was the number 13, which I consider my lucky number as I explained in an earlier post. Well, in the end I was incredibly lucky not to miss my train, so there you go.

I even had enough time to sprint to the loo and do my make-up, something I had originally intended for the train ride. In hindsight, that was probably a terrible idea; with the rickety environment of a vehicle moving at around 300 km/h, my face would have quite certainly ended up looking like a Picasso. As it was, and without wanting to sound immodest, I managed to do one of the best jobs with my make-up that I with my limited skills could have done. Maybe I should make a pit-stop at train stations to apply my face paint more often.

Arriving in Shanghai reminded me once again of the difference between the southern hub and the Northern capital. Where Beijing is wide and sprawled, Shanghai is tall. You almost get a crick in the neck as you crane it to try and see the end of the seemingly limitless skyscrapers as plentiful as there are stars in the sky (not that one gets to see stars a lot in Chinese cities; due to the heavy smog it is usually impossible).

The next feeling that enveloped me was severe homesickness as we pulled onto the bund and I saw the city’s Christmas decorations. As much as I am critical of Shanghai, and it of me (all I will say our Facebook status would be complicated, since I have terrible Shanghai charma), what Shanghai has down to a tee is creating a genuine Western feeling. The baubles and green twigs winding their way along rooftops were incredibly stylish, another reminder of how backwards Nanjing can sometimes be. As much as it pains me to say it, but the festive decorations here come about as gaudy and cheap as they get.

All of this splendor culminated in the lobby of the Peace Hotel, aka the former Cathay Hotel. What must have been a 10m high Christmas tree with what can only be described as gingerbread villas at its foot greeted our group of media representatives in the Art Deco interior of the Majestic piece of Gothic architecture with Egyptian elements, that was the tallest, grandest and most expensive construction in its time. Walking the halls of this historical place, whose original interior has been preserved, was an incredible feeling, a mixture of humility and pride.

The Southern Chinese Wedding Part 3 – The Ceremony

Wedding jinling hotel Nanjing bridesmaidThinking back to the wedding I had attended in Jiaxing, the bride and groom as well as their parents, the bridesmaids and best men had all lined up neatly in row to greet their guests, so I expected that it was going to be the same for us. However, the groom and bride had chosen to take pictures with the arriving guests while their parents were standing at the entrance to the celebration hall. The rest of the bridesmaidal crew disappeared to the toilets to take a rest, while I, worried I would miss the cue to go on stage, was left to wander around aimlessly while the guests trickled into the hotel, feeling like the most useless bridesmaid in the history of weddings.

There was a registry book laid out at the reception table where all guests signed their name after handing the obligatory red envelope to the relative behind the table. Then they moved on to have their picture taken with the newly weds; the image was immediately printed out on site as a lovely memorandum for the guests.

We were told that the wedding would begin at 6.18 pm (or 18.18 o’clock) as the wedding has to not only be on an auspicious date it further has to start at an auspicious time. In case the guests were late, which in Chinese culture is often the case, we would have to wait until 18:58 hrs to start the proceedings. This is exactly what happened to the dismay of our growling stomachs. In the meantime, after the photo session with the arriving guests, the bride had to drag her fluffy train to the changing room in order to put on her veil for the show.

Then the doors to the hall opened, we walked along the slippery stage luckily without incident and the host of the evening welcomed all the guests. The lovely bride managed to maneuver her way up into the centre of the stage gracefully; no easy feat considering the dress she was wearing. Her father handed her over to her husband and they performed the ring exchanging ceremony; this Western tradition has found its way into Chinese weddings, however the irony is that the rings are rented and need to be returned afterwards. After all, the show must go on.

If memory serves, at this point in time the bride and groom rushed off for yet another outfit change, she slipping into a more practical but very glamorous caramel colored dress covered in shimmering Rhine stones.

Then the parents came to the stage; speeches were made and hugs exchanged, very similar to Western fashion. The food had already been served and so the guests were munching away at Chinese gourmet delicacies and drinking over 1000 RMB a bottle baijiu (Chinese schnapps).

Later two of the couple’s good friends performed one of my favorite Chinese rock songs on stage; live singing seems to be a very typical part of Chinese weddings, during the first wedding I attended it was the groom who blasted out a love song for his new wife.

Then it was time for the Chinese equivalent of throwing the bouquet. Only the bridesmaids were asked to come to the stage and the bride held four strings in her hand, one of which was attached to the flower bouquet, also in her hand. The four girls had to step away until all but one string had dropped; the girl holding it is due to marry next.

After this there was a little wedding entertainment as the host asked a number of guests questions about the couple. Upon giving the right answer they received a small present. I won a blue, very cosy cushion which had been part of the wedding decor for remembering where the two lovebirds had met. I am resting on it while I am writing this article.

The couple was off again for dress change no. 4 of the day; now it was time for Cherry to slip into something red. It is a must for the bride to wear one red dress, often a Qipao amongst the more traditional-minded, since red is considered a lucky colour. With all the dress changes Chinese brides have to go through it is a common joke at the bride does not actually take part in her own wedding; in any respect she never gets to eat her wedding dinner  (well, I might just end up in the Guinness book of world records for being the first bride at a Chinese wedding to actually eat her food; you didn’t think I was going to miss out on that did you?!

Upon their return they had to start drinking the “happy alcohol”; this means they have to go to every table in the room (probably about 20 – 30) and toast the table usually with Baijiu. Anyone who has had Baijiu before knows that the stuff could probably kill you if you had to drink 30 shots of it; I am not joking (okay, maybe a little). Therefore a number of coping mechanisms have been developed in order to give the guests face but not end up in danger of alcohol poisoning. For one, the parents can go around the tables and drink for the couple. The best men are also frequently given this task. Some brides who don’t drink alcohol might pretend they are drinking baijiu while actually the clear liquid in her glass is just water. Another tactic is for the bride to bring a towl with her and once she sips the liquor she keeps it in her mouth, pretends to cough and wipe her face with the towl and spits the alcohol into the towl. The groom however is usually not so lucky and so most of the time, his “wedding night” is spent being passed out on the bed from too much alcohol.

Luckily for the drinking couple, an average Chinese wedding only lasts about three hours. The guests come, the guests eat, the guests get drunk and then leave as soon as the food does. So therefore, after they had done their rounds, this was the end of the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony.

One final part that is worth mentioning is that the video shooting done throughout the day, which I described in an earlier post, had been speed edited and was broadcast on the big screen giving the guests who had not been there in the morning the lovely opportunity to be part of it after all.

Since Cherry is a person with a very Western outlook who enjoys a good night out on the town, the couple booked at club for after the wedding with free flow alcohol. Suffice it to say I have no idea when I got home, unlucky for me I had to get to work the next day, in a right state. But it was a brilliant night.

Well, that’s it folks, my bridesmaid experience of a Southern Chinese wedding. Coming up soon, I will explain some of the differences in comparison to a Northern Chinese wedding.

Read you soon!

Missed the last part of the Southern Chinese Wedding Series? Read it here.