From August 1 to 10, Suzanne and I headed off to photograph what was expected to be, and certainly did turn out to be, the destination of all destination weddings: China. And not just normal China, but China during the Olympics.
SuSu and Dan live locally here in the San Francisco bay area, but about a year ago decided they would travel back to SuSu’s home town of Quanzhou, China, to have their wedding. They also decided to make a two week adventure out of it for their family and friends: the first week traveling from Shanghai, then onto Huangshan, visiting the famous Yellow Mountains, then onto Quanzhou for their wedding on 8/8/08. Thereafter the group went onto Beijing to see the Olympics and some other sights (unfortunately, Suzanne and I had to return home after the wedding).
We traveled with the group as their personal paparazzi, but more so as their friends. All 25 of us quickly became family and had the most fun experiencing the sights and cultures of China, as we built up towards the big day, 8/8/08. Below are some of the sights of SuSu and Dan’s wedding. Later, I’ll be posting some of the adventures that came before the big day.
It is difficult to put into words what we all experienced. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it! So, it is best to read SuSu’s words about it. SuSu has written a detailed account of everything on her blog, here: http://susuanddan.wordpress.com/ or specifically the wedding day, here: http://susuanddan.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/our-big-fat-chinese-wedding/ .
The experiences we had on their wedding day were unlike anything we’ve encountered before. I’ve photographed Chinese weddings before, but this was over the top. Despite all the planning SuSu and Dan did during the previous year, and despite how much we all pre-flighted the wedding day with SuSu and Dan, we were met with surprises and changes at just about every corner. Most notably was the celebrity status. SuSu and Dan were followed by TV news crews for several days. On the day of their wedding, there were no fewer than six TV crews and random photographers following their every move. They were in the local papers and on TV just about every night. And, all of this while the Olympics were taking place.
Of course, the saying “when in Rome…” is important to follow in any destination wedding, and even more so in China. The trend in China is to have a “western wedding”, but SuSu and Dan specifically requested a traditional Chinese wedding. So you will notice that the photos below are of, and have a look that is, different than most weddings I’ve photographed. With that in mind, and considering most Americans are unfamiliar with Chinese wedding traditions in the heart of China, I’ve explained below a little bit of what is going on.
Meanwhile, I’ll be working on getting the pre-wedding adventure photos processed and some blog entries made – so stay tuned for that.
One thing is for sure: an enormous “thank you” to Dan, SuSu, and their friends and family for sharing with us an experience like no other. This one goes down in the history books!
Our lovely bride SuSu, in her two wedding dresses…
One of the (many) Chinese traditions is that the groom has to earn the brides family’s permission to see his future wife on their wedding day by passing a few tests. In a mix of traditional and modern Chinese traditions, the family has a bit of fun with this. They ask Dan some “SuSu trivia” (while she is hidden in the back), and for any answer he gets wrong, one of his brothers has to put on a pair of granny panties. Shockingly, Dan’s knowledge of SuSu was not that good that day. I’m sure his brothers are still thanking him for that!
Despite Dan’s 100% failure on passing the “SuSu Trivia” test (and all his brothers are looking dead sexy for it), he was granted permission to see Susu. Next tradition: SuSu serves Dan a traditional wedding day meal of egg and date soup, in a double happiness bowl. It’s kinda slippery and quite an unusual concoction. They have a bit of trouble!
Here we are, at the Tea Ceremony, Chinese paparazzi in tow. This was only a hint of what was to come…
These camera crews stayed during the entire tea ceremony (about 4 hours) and filmed every move Dan, SuSu, and their American crew made. Several of us (including yours truly) were individually interviewed. We were in the papers and on Chinese TV for three nights — and, keep in mind all of this found air time even during this little thing going on up the street called The Olympics.
An unbelievable surprise. We were all treated to a performance by the Chinese Opera. This troupe only performs for political figures, dignitaries, and VIPs, usually outside of China (they travel to where the big-wigs are). As I understand it, locals can’t even get tickets for their show. Again, SuSu’s father pulls some strings, and again, everyone is surprised by the unplanned and the unexpected.
Dan and his frat brothers. Talk about love; these guys traveled all the way to China to be with Dan on his wedding day.
SuSu goes from being an only child to suddenly having four great, supportive brothers…
Tea ceremony done, now time to get ready for the wedding…
Dan sees SuSu in her white wedding dress for the first time…
Another unexpected “surprise”… someone in SuSu’s family had an enormous billboard made out of one of the engagement photos, to be used as a backdrop, to themselves, for the greeting line. In true Chinese fashion, it reads “The flowers are in full bloom and the moon is full ideal time for wedding”.
Left: Another Chinese wedding tradition is to hand out “double happiness” cigarettes to all the guests.
Right: Dan, SuSu, and Dad about to enter the wedding. Interestingly, they don’t really know what they are walking into… there are over 500 people in there! Also, even as the lights went dim, the spotlight came on, the music was cranked up, the doors started to open… another news crew suddenly shoved a mic and video camera in front of SuSu and started trying to interview her. In so many words, she let them know that this wasn’t the best time for an interview.
Left: I wasn’t kidding about spotlights.
Right: Fifteen foot tall indoor fireworks. Again, an unexpected surprise. Particularly for Suzanne and I, who were positioned almost directly above some of them when they went off, and SuSu and Dan who were so close that sparks were landing on them. All four of us had to do a quick “is my hair on fire?” check. Again, not kidding.
In one of the most touching moments, Dan, in front of 500 Chinese people, asks SuSu, in Mandarin, to marry him. She responds in English, and 25 people off in the corner go nuts. She then responds in Mandarin, and a deafening roar of 500 people ensues.
Behind the scenes photo: A small sample of what we were dealing with. Can you pick me out? Not pictured: Suzanne (who took this photo) and the paparazzi surrounding her at her vantage point.
The cutting of the cake. This is a “west meets east” situation that hasn’t really got the bugs worked out. The cake is just symbolic. Only the top of the “cake” is cake, the bottom is cardboard, but with the most amazing “frosting artwork” you’ve ever seen (intricately detailed Chinese dragons). The couple makes one cut, then whole thing is thrown away. No cake is actually served at the wedding.
Table for 35? No problem! (SuSu left her wedding at this point to go change dresses).
One of the Chinese wedding traditions is to go to every table, and toast every one. Given that there were over 500 people at this wedding, a majority of Dan and SuSu’s time was spent doing this. In fact they have Dan and SuSu toast with water, or else they would be drunk off their rockers by about 150 guests into it. Here is Dan and SuSu toasting one of the two American tables (last! — ha, sorry guys!) and in true American fashion, the frat boys sneak Dan real alcohol.
Mom, Mom, and Dad amungst the 500 toasts…