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By Mike Cormack |
A wedding is as much a celebration of culture as a celebration of love. So when I, a Scottish man, and my fiancé Shelley, a Chinese woman, decided to get married in Tianjin, we wanted to honor our national traditions by having a mixture of both in our wedding.
This, however, proved far harder than we anticipated. Cultures might travel and almost everything might be for sale in modern China, but it seemed there were limits. Yet even if everything had been easily available, unexpected difficulties and snarl-ups arose to make it the single most wearying task I ever undertook in China.
We moved to Tianjin in August after I got a job there, and planned to get married on May 1 the next year. We met with a number of wedding planners to get a sense of what we liked and disliked. We would have a Christian ceremony with a pastor from a local church, as Shelley is religious.
We wanted to have a Scottish dance, as is traditional after the meal and toasts. We didn't want anything too fancy or ostentatious, like champagne fountains or the bubble machines. Our rule of thumb was that it should be simple and fun, for us and for the guests. So, being new to the city, we explored all the suitable venues.
But swiftly a problem arose. None of the hotels seemed to be equipped for having a dance afterwards. They all had great reception rooms, but none were suitable for a dance. Eventually we settled on the Astor Hotel, overlooking the Haihe River. It was beautifully elegant, and it had a reception room we could have for the wedding and for photos, and a dining room which could later be emptied and redecorated for a dance. So we put down a deposit and got on with arranging everything else.
But two months later, a phone call came - the Astor, they suddenly remembered, would be shut down for refurbishing at the date of our wedding, so they couldn't offer us their hospitality.
Grimacing, we resumed our search. Soon we found a hotel nearby, also overlooking the Haihe. It had a very large reception room, which could have dining tables on one side and space for dancing on another. But it was marred by several large marble pillars throughout, which would get in people's way. However, it was the best we could find, so again we placed a deposit, hoping that would be the venue sorted.
No such luck - a month later, the nice events manager lady called us to say the hotel was closing down, but not the restaurant: would we like our deposit returned in vouchers for the restaurant? Funnily enough, we preferred cash.
In despair we resumed our search, getting desperate now. One hotel events manager tried to offer us a business conference room, with thick grey carpet and glass walls, saying that they could install a wooden floor if we wanted a dance, for just 5,000 yuan ($753). I almost admired her nerve. Finally we found the Tianyu Hotel, and, with great rejoicing - and after double-checking their dates - booked them.
Next we had to get a wedding planner. One of Shelley's colleagues recommended a company: knowing no better, we visited what turned out to be a tiny office, with no sign of any wedding equipment. This was a minor alarm, but we spoke to them anyway, going through a list of what we wanted and how we wanted it; they would then send us an itemized list and bill.
When it arrived, however, we quickly saw we were being scammed. They had nothing themselves, so everything they would hire from someone else, then charge us 20 percent on top of that. The three-tier wedding cake, the kind we could see at our local bakers, would set us back 4,000 yuan. The wedding dresses, decorations and labor costs were similarly inflated. We felt like we were being taken for fools. Funnily enough, when we turned them down, the prices instantly tumbled.
So we searched through Tianjin wedding planners until we found one we were sure actually owned the equipment, and would be able to run the ceremony.
Come the day, everything ran smoothly enough. But bringing a Scottish wedding to Tianjin, and relying on someone to deliver parts of that, was perhaps more than someone should expect. Perhaps I should have just accepted that in China, weddings will be Chinese. But since all the guests loved the whisky and the dancing, the kilts and the music, I can still feel proud that there's a part of Tianjin that's forever Scotland.