Chapter 8. Clothes, Photos, Swords, and the World's Most Unsubtle Spy.
The big photo shoot was on Friday and Saturday. Thursday was busy. The recently ordered a traditional Chinese red shirt to match my darling's qipao and a black Mao suit were both supposed to be ready on Thursday evening. The wedding studio had strict rules against bringing cameras to any photo shoots, so I arranged to meet a dear friend and former student at lunchtime to prepare her for a spy mission.
(Cue theme music from Mission Impossible
My agent, code-named Cantonese Twin 2, was to get to one of the outdoor photo shoot locations early and take pics from a discrete distance, taking full advantage of the 12x zoom on the camera so that the photo crew would never notice her. I met her, took her to the historic buildings were the pics would be taken, showed her how to operate the camera (my camera even has an EASY button - some day I'll read the friendly manual and turn that setting off), and carefully explained the full mission details, making it very plain that she needed to make full use of the plentiful cover so she could take the photos while remaining undetected.
(This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.)
I then went home to finish up work while waiting for my darling fiancee to get done with her workday.
The plan for Thursday evening was simple - dinner in town, collect the clothing, then go to the photo studio to make final selections and reservations for clothing.
We had dinner at one of the snack stalls near Women's Street. I was a little suspicious of the origin of some of the meat, but decided that Don't ask, don't tell
would be the best policy. There are some Chinese cuisine mysteries best left unexplored.
The dressmaker/tailor shop was only a short walk away. We came in, presented the receipts, and were met with a questioning look by the guy who was there (he wasn't in the shop the night the clothes were ordered). While I was contemplating the best options for absolute panic (I'd mostly narrowed my choices to having a fatal heart attack or making something to wear out of the clerk's skin), my darling decided not to take "I'm clueless" for an answer and started aggressively digging through the rack of custom ordered clothing. She found my suit and the white shirt that came with it quickly, but the red Chinese outfit was still missing.
I tried on the suit. I think the pants are a tiny bit too long, but decided they would do. Everything else was perfect. While this was going on, another clerk came in and examined the receipt for the red shirt and sent the first clerk scurrying down a nearby alley (perhaps to the Instant Clothing Manufacturing Center?). Five minutes later, my shirt arrived. One less problem in the universe.
We then went to the wedding studio. After a
begging crying wheedling
discussion, my darling finally agreed to my request to wear the really
cool matching uniforms that looked like they came off the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover for one of the 7 photo scenes. She kept debating about what she'd wear for some other scenes. I went through EVERY white suit they had, trying to find a round-collared Mao suit large enough that I could breath while wearing it and a regular white one for to match the white wedding dress she would be wearing in the other outdoor photo shoot.
Final choices were:
Scene 1, park with traditional old buildings downtown. Our matching red outfits, plus our beautiful daughter in a red qipao.
Scene 2, park with a lake and some bamboo groves (maybe other things - had only seen a few pictures that place). White wedding dress for her, white suit for me.
Saturday (inside the studio):
Scene 3, Fake backdrop with Chinese doorway decorated for New Years. Traditional red outfits from studio collection for both of us.
Scene 4, Gold gates with darkened background. Silly uniforms for both of us. Our darling would be in some with a short white dress.
Scene 5, The loooooong blue sofa. White dress for her with loooooong train on it. A different uniform (only slightly silly for me). Our darling would still be in the white dress from Scene 4.
Scene 6, White bed with white lace canopy. Different white dress for my fiancee. Me in a white Mao suit.
Scene 7, dark and plush building interior set. My darling in a qipao. Me in my black Mao suit.
All the clothing was supposed to be reserved and put in a separate location so we wouldn't be fighting with others for the outfits or have to figure out which ones fit.
The shoes at photo studios look like normal dress shoes from the front, but are open in back like slippers. This means that you need to wear black socks with black shoes and white socks with white shoes. My only white socks have Nike logos, so I had to hunt some plain white ones down at Trust Mart before finally getting home and trying to get some sleep. My darling kept telling me that since Nike is a truly famous American brand that I should be proud if their logo showed up in our wedding photos. I told her we might as well both wear Mickey Mouse t-shirts.
I could just hear the beginnings of a VERY bad idea forming in her head and said "That's NOT going to happen!" before she could even suggest going shopping for some rodent-emblazoned clothing.
Friday morning we showed up and changed into our matching red outfits. The hair and makeup session for my darling was supposed to take 90 minutes. It took almost 2 hours. In the meantime, I read a book and exchanged text messages with Cantonese Twin 2. She was in position and getting bored. I went to check on my darling to see what was taking so long and was shocked to find what appeared to be someone else sitting there wearing her dress. The makeup was so heavy that I wasn't really sure it was her until she spoke.
They decided to try some makeup on me and managed to get it in my eyes.
At least the makeup girl gave up quickly and didn't cover me too badly.
Finally, I, my darling, and our lovely daughter piled into a van with a driver, photographer, photographer's assistant, and a prop girl. I let Cantonese Twin 2 know we were on the way. The driver promptly got into the wrong lane and drove past the park on an elevated section of the road so I had to let my spy know I'd be a little late.
We made it in. In my experience, Chinese seem to think that glasses are something that shouldn't ever be part of photos, so I wasn't wearing mine. This should have made spotting Cantonese Twin 2 difficult, since she should have been no closer that 10-15 meters most of the time. I did catch a quick glimpse of her on a second floor balcony as we passed beneath. So far, so good.
The plan was to have photos taken at various points around the park. After a couple of photos with me and my darling, some pics were being taken just of her. A couple of girls came by and were taking my picture. (Later information revealed that they'd never seen a foreigner dress up in a Chinese outfit for any reason and were very impressed that I'd do it for my wedding). Since I'm
always willing to totally prostitute myself for attention
such a friendly person, I even posed for a couple pictures with them. I then got pulled back into the official photo shoot and saw my spy at a less than subtle distance behind the photographer. Had it been a quick couple of photos while walking past, that would have been fine, but she was standing there for several minutes at least. There was no way to signal her to back off without pointing her out to the photo crew. Other than that, the main issue was that no matter what direction I faced, the wind shifted to be from behind me so that my hair would do all sorts of unpredictable things.
We moved on to another spot. Now Cantonese Twin 2 seemed to have made friends with the other 2 girls. They were happily taking pics of each other with the photo shoot in the background.
Just when I thought things had hit rock bottom in the "how blatantly obvious can this get?" department, my spy started chatting with the photographer.
Amazingly, it worked. The photographer seemed flattered by the attention and even gave his phone number to her. The other 2 girls also continued to hang out, and we all moved around the park together. This resulted in the main photo shoot, pics of the main shoot, sometimes including others, sometimes not, and side pics of the extra people posing with whoever wasn't in the main photo shoot at the moment. I now have an extra 200 pictures to sort through while waiting to see what the wedding studio has. There are even a handful from another couple's wedding photo shoot that were taken by my spy before we arrived at the park (those appear do have been done from a distance).
After leaving the park (and leaving Cantonese Twin 2 and the 2 extra girls behind), we went back to the wedding studio for lunch. Lunch was takeout. The studio kept a menu for the Kung Fu fast food chain handy. After 3 bites I shoved mine aside and went out (still in my traditional red shirt) looking for a convenience store to buy some snacks from. I don't know what that restaurant chain's problem is. They seem to have a firm policy against serving food that's even close to warm, much less hot. The time of day and the amount of business of the restaurant don't matter. The food is always seems to have been allowed to cool for 2 or 3 hours. They've now earned a permanent place on my "I'd rather just eat a bag of stale potato chips from a convenience store than pay them for yet another disappointment" list.
After eating my
bag of stale potato chips, it was time to change. The white jacket I'd picked out had not been set aside, so I had to try on each and every white jacket again (and run between the rack with the jackets and the room my darling's hair was being redone in to get her opinion) to find the best fit.
Per prior agreement with my darling, I let them tie my hair back for that scene.
Our dearest daughter had something to do, so didn't follow us to the second park. That park is about 30-40 minutes from downtown,, is some sort of botanical garden and I saw a sign pointing to a monastery as we drove through the front gate. Beyond that, I'm not sure where it was or what it's called.
The amusing thing was large the number of other couples getting photographed there. There were wedding photo traffic jams a couple of times. It looks like white suits for grooms are very much in fashion this year. I didn't see even one groom in any other color there. My dearest one asked my opinion on which of the other brides was the prettiest. I told her that without my glasses on they'd have to get a lot closer for me to tell, but did point out a surprisingly plump one to her and whispered "She's at least twice the woman you are."
I've finally resolved the mystery of the amazing airborne bridal trains I see in so many Chinese wedding photos. I thought maybe they brought along a portable fan to keep it afloat (or maybe only did those photos on windy days). Sadly, the explanation isn't quite as interesting. Either the prop girl or the photographer's assistant lifts end of the train up, waits for the signal from the photographer, and tries to crack it like a whip before leaping out of the frame.
Finally, we went back to the studio, recovered our clothing, had dinner, and I got my camera back from my failed/successful spy.
Since I was already planning on a couple of uniforms for 2 scenes on Saturday, I needed something to go with them. Even though you can buy swords in China and many are made here for export, when I moved I was told that I couldn't bring my collection with me. "Sharp objects intended to slice people into pieces" wasn't a good way to describe them on a customs form if I ever intended to see them again. Mixing them with golf clubs and labeling the container as "sporting goods" did the trick nicely (but the look on my face when that box was almost opened by the customs inspector must have been truly priceless). Amongst my collection are two US military dress sabres with great sentimental value. One belonged to my grandmother's brother and one I got from my father. My father's is in extremely good condition, but lacks the chain for attaching the scabbard to a sword belt. The other is a bit rusty, but had the (easily detachable) chain.
So, Saturday morning, I walked out to the street carrying a sword and a couple of belts (make loop and adjust - instant sword belt that fits under a uniform). My taxi driver seemed a little nervous.
The order of Saturday's scenes was partly dictated by my hair. I was going to wear it down for scenes 3 and 4, then up for 5 and 6. Scene 7 would take a little more work.
Happily, this time they set aside most of the outfits so I didn't have to go hunting for the few that would fit me.
Scene 3 was with the roll-down backdrop of a Chinese doorway decorated for New Years. Originally, we'd been told that photoshopping it to say "Happy Wedding" wouldn't be a problem. That morning we were told that such an alteration might not come out too well. The good news is that most of the writing atop the doorway should be covered by our heads. My darling's head wouldn't have been in the way of the writing, but she didn't want to look so short next to me, so was standing on a box for most of that scene. The traditional Chinese outfits came from the wedding studio. I think I like some of the stuff in my personal collection better.
Scene 4 was the hardest to convince her to do. The uniforms even had epaulets, and the lower half of hers was a white wedding dress. I got hold of some super-stiff hair gel and curled my mustache properly before strapping on a sword. The metal gates were on the first floor. Makeup and costumes were on the second. The outfit was hot, so I ended up hanging out on the slightly cooler first floor, impressing (or frightening) the other clients while waiting for my darling to have her makeup and hair done. The lower half of her outfit was enough to hide the box under, so she got a height boost from that and a pair of high heels (and kept almost falling off the box). Our darling daughter also isn't too experienced on high heels, so the two of them sometimes looked like they were having a contest to see who could come closest to falling over.
Since the background was rather simple, the photographer wasn't sure what to do after a few shots (personally, I was relived to stop getting the translated "Turn your head. No, the other way. Lean forward. More. More! Kiss! Wait, don't touch lips, just get close." that had been in all the other scenes. Me, my darling, our lovely daughter, and a sabre are more than enough for coming up with poses.
Scene 5 was the looooong blue sofa. When I first saw it in other photos during the sales presentation, I assumed there was a normal length sofa and some creative photoshop work. It turns out to be real. Our beautiful daughter stayed in white. My darling changed into a short while wedding dress with an insanely long train. I switched into a slightly less silly uniform. My plans with the sword belt didn't work so well with that uniform, so I detached the chain and just carried sword and scabbard with me. There's one scene of me kneeling and presenting the sword to my darling. I'd a little worried about how the slipper-shoes will look, since it's impossible for me to get in that position and have the soles of the slippers stay aligned with the bottoms of one's feet. I decided I really didn't want a wedding album without some proper kisses, so repeatedly ignored the "Close, but don't touch" instructions. There was also another set of airborne bridal dress chain photos taken in that scene.
As soon as we were done, one of the studio girls seemed unusually anxious to get me out of my clothing. Sadly, what started as a great boost to my ego turned out to be that another client wanted to wear that uniform.
Our lovely daughter needed some help getting out of her dress. The funny thing was seeing this huge while cascade extending out from the dressing room curtain when my darling went in to help our daughter before changing out of her own dress.
We then had a lunch break. Takeout from a different place was nothing to brag about, but at least it was an improvement on the prior day's Kung Fu food disaster.
Scene 6 was in a lovely white canopied bed. I was in a white Mao suit that barely gave me room to breathe. My daring was in a different white dress. At this point, we were all (me, her, photographer) getting a little tired, so I'm not sure how well those will come out.
Scene 7 was in a lovely, plush, yet dark setting. Velvet curtains and a huge gold padded chair - almost, but not quite a throne. Most people use that scene with a frilly dress for the girl and a uniform for the guy. I had something a little different in mine. At another studio, I saw a VERY cool looking 1920's Shanghai gangster-style portrait done in a background not too different. Our studio was sadly lacking in pinstripe suits, so I put on my black Mao suit, had my hair slicked straight back and slipped on some black gloves (had to bring my own - the studio doesn't seem to carry these things). My darling was in a very slinky qipao and I think they finally did her hair right to match with a scene. We made up for the short time spend on Scene 6 and kept going for quite some time in Scene 7. I'm not quite sure what the photographer had in mind. He dropped a neutral gray background down and took some more photos with us in front of it. He also asked (via my darling's translation) if I ever got angry before having us do some oddly ridiculous things (ever try jumping on command with your legs crossed?). Maybe it was just a little playful vengeance for me placing my artistic visions above his.
Going back home was fun. Our little darling slipped out after lunch to collect a homework assignment from a friend. She ended up playing in People's Park and was still there when we were done. This resulted in me getting to stroll down a major thoroughfare carrying a sword. We reached the back gate of the park and she still wasn't there. I ended up standing there with a slightly annoyed look on my face while holding my sword as I stared at the back gate. For some reason, people who would normally brush past so closely that I'd have to check my wallet were giving me plenty of space (it was hard to maintain the annoyed look after I noticed this). To avoid any chance of scratching the scabbard, I held the sword with the handle resting on my shoulder in the back of the taxi going home. I kept getting curious stares from nearby cars whenever we got caught at a traffic light. I kept wondering why Chinese people don't seem to have ever seen a guy carrying a sword before.
On Wednesday evening, we get to go back and select which pics go to the portraits, the albums, etc.