November 1, Baotou
Time for another letter from China and yeah, why not just start this letter where I left you at the end of the last one; Lisa and I are getting married!
Both Lisa and I would be perfectly happy with a simple wedding held in a tasteful but low-key setting. Of course this ambition is totally out of the question as there are certain matters of tradition and family pride to adhere to. We have to hold the wedding at a suitable venue capable of holding some 90 or 100 people. Too many you say? Damn straight, but tradition dictates that we invite the extended family as well as a wide selection of friends, class-mates, co-workers, the kitchen sink, and God knows what else. Still it’s bound to be an interesting experience; after all not every one gets to marry in China and I DO look forward to the fireworks :)
The wedding is in December as I believe I mentioned but the wedding pictures are taken long before the actual wedding. There are several shops in Baotou specialized in wedding photography and let me tell you up front; this is NO SMALL MATTER! We went to the shop one Saturday morning at about 9. The manager politely offered me a smoke (which I declined) and the free use of his extensive DVD collection (which I accepted but soon found to be made up exclusively of "Bollywood" song & dance flicks with Chinese subtitles). The main reason for distracting me in this way was to put my sanity in a sort of dry storage so that I would retain at least a fraction of rational thought while waiting for the horde of make-up girls and costume designers to finish working on Lisa. I'll spare you the full account of the cruel and unusual punishment; suffice to say we went through four successive shoots each one with differently themed costumes and each one with a multitude of poses that I'm not even comfortable doing alone in front of the bathroom mirror, much less in front of a madman with a digital camera. Lisa was possibly even more exhausted than me, having to "sit still" while the make-up girls assaulted her with hair extensions, fake fingernails and various plastic jewelry. In a situation like this I'd be used to a policy of "the customer is always right" but these people adopted a more proactive policy of "we know what we're doing and need no help from damn amateurs, thank you very much!"
All in all we were in the shop for about 7 or 9 hours but that was just the beginning. A week later we returned to do the outside pictures. This involved a quick make-up session (45 minutes; "quick" is of course a non-empirical value) and then a road trip to different more or less scenic spots in the Baotou area. It was time by the time we returned home but we were not done yet; about five hours of editing, post editing, cutting, cropping and decision making were needed before the finished product was delivered. The process was slowed down considerably by two factors. First, the girl in charge of the computer had IT skills just sufficient to operate mine sweeper but not much more. Second, the people who were in charge of our account kept changing; we would give comments on about half the pictures but then the girl would get called away on some important make-up related crisis leaving us with another girl. She would then insist to start the process again from the top and of course when we were halfway through the original girl would come back. This happened more than a few time until Lisa informed them that should their rather careless spending of our time continue it would be considered an act of war... It was tough goings for a while but we finally got the results and I must admit that the pictures did come out great. If nothing else they are very different from what a western wedding photographer would produce which is nice. Browse the pictures at your convenience and notice among other things how I seem to have grown an extra tooth in post-production. Yeah Photoshop!
Another problem in getting married, specific to our situation was getting all the right paperwork in order. The first hurdle was to get a certificate of marital status from Denmark to China, translating that to English and Chinese and then having the Danish embassy in Beijing certify the translation of the certificate. Sound confusing? Don’t worry it got worse. The Chinese mail service being what it is, people in the know use EMS or another kind of courier service for important documents. I was not in the know so I send the letter by normal mail resulting in a delay of about ten days before Beijing got it. That’s ok I guess but when they send the documents back (duly stamped and approved) by EMS the letter somehow got lost in my school. Basically, the “inbox-people” by the school gate signed for my letter, filed it under “I” for “irrelevant”, and then forgot all about it. The helpful people in the English department tried their best to locate it but it wasn’t until Lisa and I went to the mail office ourselves and had a chat with the people in charge that the letter mysteriously resurfaced in the art department.
Finally we had the documents and as everything seemed to be in order we went to the office of internal security (I know; it sounds like a secret police but apparently they do weddings too. I guess it’s true what they say about the modern market; you have to diversify your business operation!). The lady there scrutinized our documents carefully, glared intently at my passport, before finally realizing that she spoke neither Danish nor English and settled for the Chinese translation. It took her a few minutes but finally she delivered her verdict; you need more documents! I swear, sometimes I think these people make decisions based on the amount of pages present. Less than 400 grams of paperwork cannot possibly be a proper application. There was some discussion first, some law books were consulted, colleagues were called for second and third opinions and so on and on and on. Fortunately the good people of the Royal Danish Embassy had our backs covered. I called the vice-consul in Beijing who quickly diagnosed the situation correctly as bureaucratic bullshit (though in more polite language befitting a senior diplomat). There was a short standoff, ending abruptly when the embassy people asked for ID codes and the phone numbers of local superior officers – after that, things went swimmingly…
Long story short; we are now married at least in the eye of the government :) The next step is applying for a Danish visa and getting the move to Denmark sorted; I wish I could say that it’s downhill from here but I guess it’s a well known fact that immigration to Denmark is not exactly a walk in the park. I counted 35 pages of paperwork that I have to fill out for the application alone! Still, I’m reasonably confident that we can pull it off; only concern is how long it will take…
That’s it for this time as I have classes to prepare. I’ve updated the website with several new galleries; among others one of my father and Marianne’s visit here in Baotou and the grasslands. Enjoy!