Friday, May 25, 2012

Wang Family Portrait

One night after the wedding, esther's mom pulls me aside and shows me a few photo albums. They were mostly pictures of her, esther, her side of family, friends from her work, and a few with esther's dad too. It was really sweet of her to share it all with me. The faded and lively photos helped me remember a time before people used iPhones as their main camera. Most shots were your standard "1, 2, 3... Smile!" setup, with some pretty flowers or non-descript landmark in the background. But they still showed a little of the family history. And, they were her photos, and it was one of her ways of inviting me into the family.

Esther's dad must have heard about this, because the next day he brings over his photo album. Turns out esther's parents maintain separate photo albums (as well as separate bank accounts and bedrooms). The contents in each album are from same time period, meaning 20-30 years ago, but most of the photos are different. They had pictures of his side of the family, his friends, more of him and esther, and also a few of their immediate family.

I flipped through more posed pictures, but then... this gem.

I. Love. This. Photo.

I spent about 5 minutes studying it, and i'm still finding things i love. Esther doesn't understand why i like it so much... i'll try to explain.

We've got a traditional Chinese dinner, with a dozen dishes laid out. Mom and Dad are flanking their little girl, the center of their world. Grandma is on the left, happy as can be. Everyone is wearing bright smiles, with their attention focused on the action: Uncle pouring beer into Mom's bowl. But the innocent girl in the middle... she is the real focal point. She is ignoring the action, instead looking at someone just barely visible out of the frame.

The composition is perfect. The energy is contagious. You can actually feel the emotion in the room.

Also, my little esther has a red bow in her hair.


p.s. happy 25oth post!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Wedding

Two days before the wedding, my reinforcements arrived. Joe and Amy missed the train in Beijing. True story: Alex stood at the door of the train commanding they delay the departure 60 seconds.
Alex: My friends will be here in 3 minutes.
Angry Lady: The gate closes in 2 minutes.
Alex: Please. They are in the station right now. They will be here very soon. I know they are here.
Angry Lady: The gate closes in 1 minute. Will they be here in 1 minute?
Alex: I need, quite literally, 2 minutes. An extra 60 seconds. Please please let them in, this is for my friend's wedding. They have to get on this train.
Angry Lady: Do not care
The oldest and meanest female train attendant knocked him on his ass after only a few moments. He even tried to prop the door open with his duffle bag, an action which was looked upon with great scorn. China's train operators are NOT messing around.

Alex, Jim and Nina showed up on time, around 11pm on Saturday. We immediately killed a bottle of Jim Beam and went out clubbing. It was raining hard, we had no umbrellas, and we were soaked. Alex dove repeatedly into the wet grass outside the bar we were at, and we ended the night at the seedy nightclub Coco. Joe and Amy arrived early the next morning.

We all just hung out on sunday, so fast forward to the day fo the wedding. The six of us, plus a few of Esther's friends, all went to Xiaoshan, to Esther's home. There were three tables of Esther's family there for lunch, plus a table for my/Esther's friends.

Traditionally in China, the groom would arrive at the bride's home with his crew and pick up the bride. While at the house, he would serve her parents tea. Then he would whisk her off to his home, signifying the transfer of their daughter to his family.

We didn't do any of that, mostly because i don't have any family in China. I just showed up with my posse and ate lunch. Afterwards, we all spent an hour getting prepared for the wedding that evening.

Again, traditionally in China, there is no wedding ceremony. You get married days earlier in a courthouse, and they don't exchange rings. There are no vows and no church. Therefore, wedding is really just a party: dinner and drinking.

Here's what we did:
  • 3pm - Arrived at hotel/reception location. Ensured everything was ready/planned what we wanted to do.
  • 4pm - Drank beers by the lake out back/took some wedding party pictures.
  • 5pm - Greeted guests as they arrived.
  • 6:18pm - Jim, as our MC, began entertaining the crowd by interviewing Joe, my best man, and Jia Jia, Esther's maid of honor. Jim's chinese is excellent, and so was he. I also set my laptop up and video conferenced my parents on Skype, so they could watch the ceremony.
  • 6:28pm - Esther and I walk down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon and much fanfare, notably smoke machines and bubbles.
  • 6:30-6:40pm - Jim interviews us, we talk about how we met, we exchange rings (weeping openly), and pop some champagne and cheers everyone.
  • 6:40-6:48pm - The Slideshow.

Esther and i had about 3 minutes to eat dinner. After that, we went around to each table toast everyone. Esther had to give a cigarette to each man, and i had to toast everyone. Every. Single. Person. Normally, they'll make the groom drink whatever person being toasted is drinking, often bai jiu. I played the foreigner card and drank only beer. Still, probably 3-4 bottles of beer in about 30 minutes. Lucky for me, Chinese beer is only about 3%. It was fun though, i got to meet people like chuchu de mama de baba de meimei (esther's niece's mother's father's younger sister).

The night ended with karaoke. Esther and I got sang one song, as is customary, but her cousins and relatives sang one after another, meaning that we actually had no use for a DJ. At 9pm, the party abruptly ended, and we all hurried to pack up and vacate the reception area.

Here are some pictures.

That's our names in lights below, and Esther's parents.

I know this is what the room actually looked like, all decorated and awesome...

... but this is what it felt like. Especially during the toasting... esther's mom was just dragging us from table to table, moving fast. Half the tables were cleared out by 8pm. I wasn't drunk, mind you, but i did meet 160 of her relatives in a matter of 30 minutes.

And just like that, we were married.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Kevsther's Wedding Prep

On April Fools day, Esther and I decided on and announced our wedding date. We called her family so they could begin the arrangements, and we told a very small group of my friends who i asked to represent my side of the family. As much as i wanted to invite 40 of my closest friends to the wedding, the logistics would be a nightmare. We had decided on April 30th because it was a holiday weekend, which carry with it pros and cons. On the plus side, we could have the wedding on a Monday since Tuesday was also a holiday. On the other hand, the holiday meant that trains and hotels would be really difficult to secure. In the end, only 5 friends from Beijing came down: Joe, Jim, Alex, Nina, and Amy. But that's a story for my next post.

In the next three weeks, Esther and i prepared what we could in Beijing, like wedding gifts for our guests, her wedding dress, my Marriageability Affidavit from the embassy (Do you swear you are not already married? Yes, of course. Ok, that'll be $50.), my ring, and logistics for how we wanted to run the actual wedding.

Esther was the calmest bride-to-be i could ever imagine. She was wonderful. One day we were out and saw a store selling wedding dresses. One hour later, we had bought one. At one point we learned we would need an MC for the wedding, someone to stand on-stage with a mic, introduce us and keep people entertained. Jim agreed without hesitation.

Her mom was great too, helping to sort out invitations and book a banquet hall. There was a lot to get figured out, of course, but everything just seemed to fall into place without much trouble.

Esther and i spent the week before the wedding in Xiaoshan taking care of any last-minute preparations. But really, there wasn't much to do. On Monday, we spent about an hour at the banquet hall/hotel, which is within walking distance of their home. On Wednesday, Esther and I went to Hangzhou to register, which meant we were officially married, but it was so anti-climatic we didn't really feel married until the actual wedding. We had to fill out some basic information about each other, education level, occupation, date of birth, etc, and read it aloud to each other. It felt like reading out the ingredients to a recipe. True story: on the marriage form where it asks for your current status, the options are "Divorced, Widowed, or Spinsterhood."

We wanted wedding photos, but we didn't plan far enough in advance. In China, you take your wedding photos weeks or months before the wedding, on a day when the weather is perfect. Not doing it was our one regret leading into those final days, so we decided to call a local place, cuz, y'know, it never hurts to ask. Amazingly, they had only one slot available due to a cancelation but we had to go the next day, Thursday.

... and I am so happy we did. All together, we had 5 different changes of clothing, over 10 hours, in 15 different scenes. They had a huge wardrobe of clothes to select outfits from, and 20 different set designs for backdrops. They gave Esther a different hairstyle for each clothing change. They took us out to a beautiful lake nearby to take some outdoor shots as well.

The whole experience was pretty entertaining too. The workers are used to seeing unenthusiastic and dull guys. I show up, a foreigner speaking pretty decent Chinese (and even a few words in their local dialect), picking out my own clothing and joking around. We turned their somber operation into a lively place for that day. They loved us.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are our favorite of the 180 they gave us. Enjoy!

The Xiang Lake Set

Our Actual Wedding Clothes Set

The 1930's Set

The Ming Dynasty Set

The Fashion Model Set

Yeah. There won't be a day in my life when i will regret taking these photos.