As most of you dear readers probably know, Mr Wang and I got married last year. However, since we just did the government-document-y marriage license stuff, most of the folks here in Inner Mongolia don’t consider us to be “properly” married yet. We’re having a wedding this July, which means there are roughly nine hundred billion things to plan and organise, and one of the most important of those things is getting our wedding photos taken.
In China, wedding photos are a Big Deal, you see.
First of all because you get to be literally plastered in makeup and then get to prance around in ridiculous clothes for an entire day. Boys too. And second of all because the photos are then shown as a cheesy slideshow on a ginormous LED screen throughout your wedding (just like in the olden days! Or not).
Plus you’ll have all those precious memories immortalised on a USB stick to show the grandchildren/the neighbours/Facebook.
Today Mr Wang and I got our wedding photos taken, and so now that I’m home and my false eyelashes have been peeled off, I’m going to explain how we did it, and how you, dearest readers, can do it too.
Firstly, you’ll need to find a wedding photo studio and book a day to do your shoot. If you live in a Chinese city this won’t be difficult as there are at least twelve photo studios on every street. If your Chinese husband happens to have a coffee shop which happens to have a wedding photo studio opposite, you can probably negotiate some kind of discount by smiling sweetly at the reception lady and saying something vague about free coffee.
When you’ve booked the day and that day arrives you should go to the studio and have a look at the example photos they have, and choose the styles you want. You might decide on three sets of photos: “Ye Olde Chinese Emperor-Type-Thing/Rock ‘N’ Roll Sunglasses and Alcohol”, “Extremely Serious Giant-Hideous-White-Wedding Dress and Snazzy Tuxedo with Pointy Shoes” and “Proper Authentic Mongolians in the Proper Authentic “Grasslands””.
Once you’ve decided, you can go and have a look at all the amazing clothes you can wear. Although you will initially be amazed at how indescribably hideous some of them are, don’t worry – by the end of the day you will have completely lost sense of what is tasteful and what isn’t. In Inner Mongolia, this attitude towards fashion isn’t just accepted; it’s encouraged.
The next step is to get your face done. If you are a girl, you’ll probably have to sit there for at least an hour while a lady applies foundation and pressed powder to your face with hundreds of different brushes and sponge things. And after a while your husband, overcome with boredom, might wander off and you’ll be left to make awkward Chinese chitchat with the makeup lady.
When you’ve exhausted all your Chinese vocabulary you might be just sitting there listening to the background music, and then you might find yourself singing along to a particularly catchy song. You might then think to yourself, “Hang on, isn’t this Denmark’s entry from the Eurovision Song Contest? Why are they playing this in a wedding photo studio in Inner Mongolia?” As you ponder this, you might then hear your husband’s voice on the tannoy system.
“HELLO SUSANNA!” The voice might shout. “THIS SONG IS FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!”
Your makeup lady (and all the other makeup ladies) might start giggling and tell you that they wish they could understand English, because they want to know exactly what your husband is saying. Interestingly, they probably won’t seem the slightest bit concerned that your husband has hijacked the studio’s online music player and tannoy system.
And then the voice might continue. “YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO WEIRD AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. BUT DON’T CRY. AND BY THE WAY THEY HAVE A CAMERA AND I AM WATCHING YOU.”
And you might kind of want to cry a little bit but then you’ll start worrying that the tears might mix with the false eyelash glue and fuse your eyelids together forever. So you keep listening to Denmark’s Cliché Love Song and feel glad that you married a guy who appreciates Eurovision.
Finally your makeup will be finished, and then your husband will also get plastered with foundation, eyebrow pencil and a teensy bit of mascara. You will watch his face in the mirror and secretly laugh when you realise how excited he is by all this.
Then you’ll be helped into your Ye Olde Chinese Emperor clothes (complete with red silk platform shoes and loads of sparkly, dangly hair accessories) and escorted to a room with a red backdrop and lots of spotlights. A photographer with a very fashionable haircut will give you all kinds of bizarre props, like a gigantic red bow, a fancy cane, some 90s mirrored sunglasses and some bottles of Bacardi Breezer, and position you and your husband into all kinds of bizarre poses. Sometimes he will shout SMILE in English, and other times he will shout NO SMILE. BE COOL.
You will have so much fun.
Then it will be time to change. Your husband will go into a mysterious tuxedo cupboard and return looking ridiculously handsome. You will be taken behind a curtain and helped into your massive-hideous-white-wedding dress. If your hideous dress is strapless (which it really should be), you’ll have to first attach a very strange piece of apparatus to your body. It resembles two raw chicken breasts, with a little plastic clip to connect them, and it’s self-adhesive. Try not to be alarmed if the makeup lady removes your bra without warning and enthusiastically sticks the raw chicken to your chest. Repeat the mantra: This Is Inner Mongolia, and This Is Normal.
This time the photos will be very serious and “romantic”. You and your husband will have to stand very close to each other and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. You’ll also have to do some cheek-kissing and face-stroking. When you get the final photos back you’ll probably have forgotten how agonising it was for these “spontaneous” moments to be created. The photographer will instruct you to bend back a bit, lower your head, turn a little to the right, raise your left hand a tenth-of-an-inch. Then, finally, when you look perfectly spontaneous, he’ll shout GOOD! DON’T MOVE! And take some photos. Your entire body will be aching when this is over.
At this point, dear readers, you will probably want to eat, you may want to sleep, and you will definitely need to pee. However you must remember that right now absolutely none of these things are possible. The shoot must go on. Your lipstick will be re-applied, your husband’s drawn-on eyebrows touched up, and your Mongolian clothes taken out of their plastic bags, ready to be put on.
You’ll have a burst of fresh energy once you see how amazing you look in your extremely over-the-top Mongolian gear, especially the ridiculous beaded headdress thing. Your husband will look pretty good too.
The makeup lady and the photographer and you will wait outside the studio while your husband goes to fetch his best friend’s car to drive you to the “Grasslands”. While you’re waiting, approximately fifty passers by will stop and stare at you and try to subtly take photos of you on their phones. The makeup lady will hang onto your arm and gush about how beautiful you are for the nine millionth time.
When you arrive at the “Grasslands” (i.e. a very big park in the city), you’ll get out the car and immediately be surrounded by more random people who want to look and you and tell you that you’re beautiful. You should fight your urge to punch them and just smile. The day is nearly over.
The photographer will find a nice spot of grass and trees and direct some more arty poses, this time including “looking off into the distance pensively” and “pointing enthusiastically at nothing in particular”. He might ask your exhausted husband to pick you up, and your husband will oblige but almost pass out afterwards from hunger (and probably also the need to sleep and pee).
Finally, you will drive back to the photo studio, put your normal clothes back on and say goodbye to all the staff. Before you go, the staff might insist on taking loads of group photos because you’re just so damn beautiful. You’ll be told to come back after a few days to get the finished, edited pictures.
Then you and your husband will be free to pee to your heart’s content and then have dinner. You will be so excited when the food arrives that you probably won’t talk at all.
Then, later, your husband might ask if you noticed the other husbands having photos taken at the studio.
“Not really…” you might say. “Why?”
“Because they were ALL staring at you the whole time. And their wives were staring at you too, but the wives looked really angry! Hahahahaha!” Your husband will reply.
“Hahahaha!” You will laugh too, and feel almost proud in a weird, mean kind of way. Because you did feel quite beautiful today. But as strange and as fun as it was, you’re much happier now you’re at home, makeup-free, in your pyjamas. In fact, after this, you might think you kind of just want to have your wedding ceremony in your pyjamas. Would that be okay?