Tag Archives: wedding venue

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!

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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.

TSCW Part 2.1 – The Rehearsal

imageAfter lunch, the whole group returned to the hotel. It was time for the bride to switch outfits for the first of many times in the coming hours. While the dress she wore in the morning was more practical in terms of skirt length to enable her to move around easily, dress number two had a train any peacock would envy. We were allowed to rest for an hour in the meantime, during which the bridesmaids decided to take an afternoon shower and a nap. The thought of having to reapply my make-up was too terrifying for me to have any desire for a shower and after all, we had mainly frozen throughout the day, there was no sweaty work-out involved as far as I remembered, so I was happy to just lounge about on a chair and stare into space. This was also a time to sort out the question of the red envelope. According to most of my sources it was not customary for bridesmaids to give red envelopes to the couple; however, I had been receiving conflicting information as others said they did give money. Luckily, I had prepared some just in case, since suddenly a red envelope frenzy broke out as two of our party of four announced they had not brought a red envelope and began plying open those they had been previously given in order to recycle them for their own purposes. Then of course there was the question of the amount to give; in Beijing it is customary to give about 1000, whereas in Nanjing, where living costs and salaries are lower, the money present will also be lower. In addition, the amount will vary depending on how close one is to the bride and groom. My foreign ignorance of what was appropriate in this situation did not help either and I broke into a small panic for a short while, envisioning the end of my friendship with Cherry if I offended her with too little money. Luckily, Mr. Li was at hand (or rather on We Chat) to calm me down. After our short respite it was time to go down to the main hall, in which the reception would take place. We met downstairs at 4.30pm to practice our grand entry. Bridesmaids and best men were partnered up and had to march onto the stage, instructed by the host of the evening on exactly how to walk, where to stand and how to position the hands during the ceremony (crossed and just below the bust in case you were curious). The poor devil was highly disappointed in our ineptitude at synchronicity; the day before he had hosted a military wedding.

“Those guys were perfectly in sync during their entrance. You guys are ok,”

he announced, barely able to hide the disappointment from his voice. The practice session came with its own little drama, as three out of four bridesmaids (including myself) slipped on the slick surface of the stage. Delightful images of my being unable to hold my balance and landing on my backside in front of the entire hall of hundreds of people to make an utter fool of myself popped into my mind, filling me with immense dread. I had been less nervous going into my final exam at university. I further managed to earn a portion of extra disapproval from Mr. Host, as I was wearing shoes with an ever so slight indication of a heel, as opposed to my three comrades in their killer plateaus. While they had spent the majority of the day suffering the hell that is a high-heeled shoe and were switching back and forth between a comfy second pair and the vanity footwear, I was still jumping about the place like Bambi. But of course this meant that I, with my naturally stumpy statue, looked like a dwarf compared to the already tall Chinese girls in their even taller shoes. Now, this is no news, at 1.56m I generally find myself at the short end whenever I am in the presence of almost anybody in this world; but it did unleash great disapproval from el maestro that I had not even attempted to conceal my shortcoming by wearing a pair of break-your-necks (or your ankle, at least).

“No I do not have a higher pair of shoes with me,”

I said decidedly exasperated and possibly ever so slightly grumpy. Ah well, there was nothing to be done anyway. After a couple of test runs, Mr. Host decided he had done all he could for us, handed us a flower coronal to be placed on top of our heads and sent us on our way. The aforementioned head ornaments were received with scepticism among our group of young women but after a few minutes of pulling and tugging, they had been more or less aesthetically arranged and the show could begin.

Missed the previous post in the Southern Chinese Wedding Series? Read it here.

Want to continue reading? Find the final part of the series here.

The Venues

Another tricky one.

Initially Mr. Li’s father announced that he would be in charge of booking the venue in Inner Mongolia; this to me sounded like I was not going to be given much choice on my wedding venue in China, but would just have to go with what the future father-in-law deemed appropriate; almost certainly a room in the best hotel money could buy in Hohhot. Comments from my side directed at my future mother-in-law that it really needn’t be a very flashy hotel were met with

“Of course it needs to be a top hotel! For our son’s 12th birthday we booked the best available hotel in the city, naturally your wedding is no different!”

Again, mainly a question of face to impress; I thought the matter was sorted.

Then the German venue happened. Initially it looked like there was going to be a show-down between amazingly romantic and historic castle ruins in a village a twenty-minute drive from my parent’s town, and a restaurant just a five minute walk from the registry office. My parent’s place of residency being rather quaint to put it politely, options are slightly more limited than in big cities, so it all came down to these two places. The castle requiring a lot more work , time and money in terms of organizing decoration, catering and transport, and the restaurant being an incredibly beautiful location that embodies the feel of the little German town perfectly, on top of serving delicious cuisine, I thought the choice was made.

Especially since Mr. Li, upon hearing this, said:

“Oh we don’t need an expensive castle in Germany, we can just choose an imperial summer residency in Hohhot; my mother knows someone.”

This was very promising indeed; the Chinese guanxi (a form of networking and connections that is so much more powerful than in the west, as it dictates one’s entire life from getting a wedding venue at a discount to finding a job) could help us obtain a fair price. But before I could get too excited, it turned out that the acquaintance had fallen victim to a certain anti-corruption purge currently raging on in our realm, and so there went my China dream (harr harr) out of the window.

Back in Germany, the restaurant also fell through, due to a 10.30 pm curfew for their spacious outside winter garden, the limited space in the interior which would not even have allowed for 35 guests and a buffet to fit in, and cobblestones plastering the aforementioned outside, which mixed with high heels would have not been very beneficiary for dancing. After all, we don’t want the “something blue” to be the ladies’ ankles. Back to the castle ruins, then.

The current difficulty is that, being removed from both wedding locales, I am unable to go see any venues for myself, which is quite a frustration considering how deceptive professional photography can be. Working in the media business I learned that early on…

Plans of my flying home for Christmas are also turning out to be tricky due to ludicrous costs of plane tickets these days; an equivalent of 1.5 month’s salary will only get me as far as Frankfurt, another 2 hour train ride from my actual destination, and while my parents are offering to pay the bulk, I feel very uncomfortable about this, as a presumably independent grown-up individual.

Where I stand now, I think it will be the castle after all, as I definitely want a location where we can dance. The reason for this is that it is not customary to dance at Chinese weddings, as opposed to eating heaps of food and “d2d”, or drinking to death, as I like to call it; a predominantly Northern Chinese custom. Therefore, having a dancefloor at my German wedding is one of my top priorities (especially since part of my deal with Mr.Li as previously mentioned is me accepting unimaginable superstitions and him learning to dance for our first dance).

As for the Chinese venue, as much as I would love an imperial summer residency, I am finding that struggling with one wedding venue is already enough to keep me up until 3am in the morning pulling my hair out and writing blog posts; so I think I will leave the second one to the pros.

The Wedding Location(s)

The number one question that international couples need to ask themselves when it comes to weddings is where to hold the ceremony; in cases where both countries are so far apart as to require an 8-hour flight the dilemma is even more serious as you cannot expect that friend you have not seen in a year to pay hundreds of Euros/thousands of RMB simply to fly to your wedding.

So, China Or Germany? Neither or both? In my personal case the matter was even further complicated due to my dual nationality, also throwing the UK into the mix.

Apart from financial decisions to be made, there are practical and emotional ones too.

In terms of practicality, there is the visa issue to be acknowledged. A marriage certificate is most useful for a visa application if it stems from the country you want to stay in, unless you are keen on going through all the bureaucratic bull**** (pardon my language) in order to get it recognised by the authorities of another country. Hence, it makes practical sense to marry in the country you and your partner would like to stay in to save yourselves the time and effort of convincing the surly-looking woman behind the counter that, yes this document with words or characters you cannot read does mean we are legally man and wife.

On the emotional side, if you have a wedding in one country, in my case China, maybe some of your closest friends cannot attend. In my case, I might also find that the wedding follows Chinese customs, which, while fascinating to someone whose life profession is writing about Chinese culture, might not feel like “my wedding” since some of my own traditions will not have any place in a local ceremony. Finally, there is just that sentimental side to me, a desire to have a wedding in my native place, a way of paying tribute to the country I grew up in. The thought of not having that stung a little. My parents moved close to the Black Forest a few years ago, to a small town (I was instructed to steer clear from the word village, as this constitutes an offense of supreme magnitude), where we used to go on holiday every year since I was born. To me, this place is magical, a remainder of my carefree childhood days, an incredibly idyllic location in the way German villages are that seems to have been built for the sole purpose of having a romantic wedding (okay, I admit that is a little overboard, let’s settle on it being an outstandingly beautiful  location).

So, all these considerations meant that I wanted to have a German wedding; for my friends, my sentimentality and the added bonus that if we decide to move to Germany, there is only a little less bureaucratic hassle (anyone who has experience in dealing with visas will appreciate that any ounce of hassle saved is a bunch of grey hairs less on your head).

When Mr. Li and me had a discussion about where to get married, our decision was surprisingly unanimous; after having recently attended a lavish Chinese wedding with iPhones being handed out as prize-draws, the entire ceremony being one big show and the over 800 guests running off the minute the last phone had found its new owner, we were scarred. We did not want all the pomp and circumstance of the Chinese wedding, spending this special day of our lives with people we barely new, who were really just there for a nice dinner and possibly a new phone; we wanted an intimate ceremony. So, off we went our separate ways, I with a feeling that everything was falling into place and the weight of a looming Chinese wedding lifted off my shoulders; or so I thought.

The next day, the inofficial fiancé, Mr. Li, caught me on Skype at a most inopportune moment, waking me from an early evening nap after a busy week, to tell me that he had changed his mind; we had to have a Chinese wedding. Those of you, dear readers, who know me personally realise that sleepy, hungry and stressed were are not really frames of mind during which you want to break any news to me that is not sensationally good. There is a reason my zodiac is Leo, I will turn into a lion in my private life if the moment of telling me big stuff is not acutely timed. You have been warned.

Mr. Li, however, has recently become a lot smarter in terms of dealing with me and so, when he saw the onset of what he has nicknamed my “German Face” (when I look grumpy, I really look grumpy, people), he immediately dragged his mother on screen.

“Talk to my mum about it”, he said.

But first, a little bit of background information. While in Western countries there might be some disappointment and guilt from some relatives such as the grandparents if a couple decides not to get married in their hometown, non-traditional wedding locales and weddings in a different country are nowadays more or less accepted. Not so in China. The idea that one does not hold a lavish ceremony in one’s hometown is pretty much as ludicrous to more traditionally minded Chinese – as people in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, where Mr.Li is from, would be – as England winning the FIFA World Cup again (there, I said it, sorry folks). Due to the Chinese concept of “face”, and the gain of face that comes with an expensive, luxurious wedding ceremony, but also due to the close-knit ties of the Chinese family, there is little understanding for people going off and having their weddings elsewhere.

Which is not to say that this does not happen.

“If you really don’t want a Chinese wedding, we can just tell people here that you got married while traveling; young people in China do that nowadays, it is becoming quite common”,

said my future mother-in-law, after Mr. Li had put her on the Skype call. Yet, I could hear the slight tinge of disappointment in her voice. She would not communicate to me directly that she wanted this ceremony, her son’s big day as all his close relatives gathered around him to celebrate, and once again I felt immeasurable gratitude that she did not force her opinions on me, as some Chinese mother in laws might.

But as I saw her sweet face, I felt a wave of guilt crashing down on me. How could I deny this lovely woman, who had been nothing but kind to me, had treated me like her own daughter and always took my side when her son was being silly (which I don’t even imagine many German mothers-in-law do), the opportunity of seeing her only son get married in his hometown? How could I subject her to the criticisms and incomprehension she would have to face from the wider family and the local community. You see, while Hohhot is a city of almost 3 million people, its set-up is not that of a metropolis, but rather it consists of a multitude of urban villages, little communal districts, where everyone knows everyone and rumours spread at lightning speed. Being a fierce opponent of malevolent small town gossip, I felt I could not with a good conscience subject her to this odious practice through my actions.

Moreover, I always placed so much importance on our two cultures being equal in our relationship; if I now insisted on not having a Chinese wedding, that would make me a hypocrite and fraud, if ever there was one. So I decided to practice what I preach and go through with the Chinese wedding; to make my future Chinese mum happy, which in turn makes my fiancé happy, which makes me happy. Plus, I get to see the Chinese wedding from the unique perspective of the foreign bride; if that’s not something to write about, then what is?