In December, the thought was "No problem, it's next year, plenty of time."
Oh my. The wedding is now only 10 or so weeks away. Insanity aplenty awaits. Lucky for me that I'm a certified Lunatic!
Chapter 1. The Dress
I didn't move to the other side of the planet and fall for a lovely Chinese girl to see her in a standard white wedding dress. I want this to be a proper Chinese wedding party. That means a RED
There were 2 obstacles. First, there doesn't seem to be a place to buy
wedding dresses in any color, at least not one that I found. You can use the dresses at the wedding photo studio, and some will also rent you one of their dresses for the wedding dinner. For a country that's so proud of its heritage, the selection of traditional outfits at most photo studios is surprisingly limited.
Finally, we went to find a shop that could make one. After much
discussion, my fiancee and I settled on a pattern and a fabric. The fitting is later this week.
Chapter 2. Wedding Photos
China has a ratio of 1 photo studio for every 4 or 5 potential customers. Yes, I'm quite convinced that more people work in wedding photo studios than get married in any 4 or 5 year period. The only greater employee:customer mystery is the ratio of phone stores to people buying new phones.
I thought this would make life easy. There's a huge concentration of these along one side of People's Park. Simple task. We'd just need to go to half a dozen and write down the packages, prices, and what any extras we would like will cost. I wanted to make sure the shop had a decent selection of outfits, and that the area with the backdrops wasn't so crowded that it would be like rearranging everything in a small apartment between shots (the one where our lovely daughter had a photo shoot recently was like working in a walk-in closet).
Shop number one was very cooperative. My fiancee was even kind enough to write in English so that I would have some clue about the conversation. For what was offered, it seemed very expensive, but I'd already braced myself for the need to
sell my internal organs on eBay
spend a lot of money on this. Things were going fine until the sales girl said that the pricing structure was confidential and we couldn't take the piece of paper out. When asked why, she said it was so that people couldn't go from shop to shop to try to find and bargain for the best deal.
livid infuriated homicidal apoplectic
less than pleased. The last time I checked, shopping around for goods and services was a major part of how things worked in China. We left.
Rather than take a chance of wasting any time, as soon as we were out the door, I jotted down as much as we could recall on another piece of paper. Rather than take the chance of wasting time on this again, for the next shop, I kept a piece of paper and my pen below the level of the table while my fiancee questioned the sales girl and translated the pricing details. Studio #2 had a significantly better package and the extras cost less. The only problem was making a graceful exit without signing a contract and leaving a large cash deposit.
We almost turned around to head the other way - towards a larger group of studios, but it was lunch time and the nearest restaurants were ahead. As we went in to eat, I saw another Studio next door. As we left the restaurant, we looked at the outside of Studio #3 again. It was MUCH fancier than the other two (which were both pretty nice as far as such places go), so I almost voted to skip it. Since we were there already, we decided to take a quick look. The initial presentation was very impressive. We asked about prices, but the sales girl wanted to show us the outfits and the studio itself first (ah yes, first we'll make you fall in love with our costumes and sets and then it will be too late when we hit you with the HUGE price
The selection of outfits was excellent. A couple of items I thought were just backdrops or photoshopped in were real props. The only odd thing was than a male employee was following us on the tour and never got more than an arm's length away from me. I was really wondering what was up with that. It turned out he was a brand new employee and was observing. I was very impressed with what they had, but was worried how I'd deal with my fiancee's growing enthusiasm when the price was finally revealed.
We went back down to the sales area and a sheaf of papers with packages was produced. I couldn't understand very much, but the 13,999 RMB price tag was painfully obvious. The other studios started with their lower end packages first and then worked upwards, so I was very worried about what I'd see next when she turned the page. To my relief, the next page had a lower price, so I resisted the urge to grab my fiancee's hand and run away screaming for a moment longer. A few pages in, there was a package with two prices. I asked what was up with that, and it turns out to be the big sale package at half off. That put it close to the price of the other 2 studios. I asked for details. 7 outfits, 5 in studio plus 2 outdoors (1 at a place that would have cost and extra 200 RMB at studio #2), a poster designed for the entrance of the restaurant where the wedding party would be held, 3 wall portraits, a couple of albums with 35 prints, a DVD, a CD, and a few other odds and ends. Even better, the CD would have ALL the pics taken. The other Studios wanted 25+ RMB per pic for adding any to the CD.
I'm thinking that this can't get any better. Then my fiancee decides to start negotiating. Some more extras get thrown in. More negotiations and the sales girl retreats to the manager's office. When she returns, I hear one of the words for "foreigner" a half a dozen times. I'm wondering is this is something like "Why would some rich foreigner not be able to pay the already generously discounted price?", but it turns out that the manager decided to knock a few hundred RMB off as a special deal since they don't normally get foreign clients.
I'm happy with the whole thing, but we wanted to check one or two more places just to be sure. Hey, if this gets better with each shop, why not? Escaping from the sales girl who is VERY eager to get a signature and a deposit proves challenging, but is finally managed.
Studio #4 manages to come close to #3, but can't quite match them. Studio #5 does the same. Each place has some unique sets and outfits, but we're only getting this done at one place. Finally, Studio #6 can't even come close in price. They do have the best outfits and sets, but the price is the highest of all of them. Before we get too far away, Studio #3 has called and taken another 200 RMB off the price.
Now we let the sales girl at #3 sweat for a couple of days, then hit her up for another little extra or two before signing.