A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

Jason's Wedding

sunny 73 °F

On September 1st, I attended the third Chinese wedding I've been to in the past seven years. My first was in 2005 here in Shanghai when one of my students from 1998-1999 got married. The second was in March 2010 when I went to a small town in the countryside of China to see a friend get married (I met him when he was a guard at a friend's apartment complex in Beijing and I was staying at her apartment to take care of her dog while she was in America). This third one was my friend Jason's wedding. I met him when he was a student at my current school, and although he and a couple of other students and I used to hang out a lot, Jason wasn't in my class more than one or two times.

He told me he was getting married around the time that I found out my brother was also getting married and Jason originally told me to plan to attend his wedding in October. When I told him that my brother is getting married in October and I'd be going home for that, Jason cried out, "but you have to come to my wedding!" A few days later he told me his wedding would be on September 1st. While I don't necessarily think that he changed the date just for me, these are the facts as I know them.

When Jason hand-delivered the invitation to me a couple of weeks ago, he told me that he wanted me to go with him to pick up the bride and do all of the other traditional things before the wedding. I made some non-committal noises and comments and heard no more about it until Friday afternoon. At that time, he sent me a message saying he'd pick me up at 7. Since I knew the wedding reception started at 6, I responded with a question: "7 pm?" He replied, "7 am," so I messaged him back and said "no way, that's too early." For a bit of background information here, my work hours are 10:30 to 7:30 every day and the absolute earliest I get up is around 8, usually more like 9. There was no way I'd be showered, dressed and ready to go by 7. And as much as I'm sure that I missed out on some great picture opportunities, I had to refuse.

Instead, Jason told me to be at the reception site at 4 because that's when he'd get there. I got there early and most of the pictures I have here are from prior to the dinner ceremony.

This little girl is one of the two flower girls, both are daughters of different cousins of Jason. I'm not really sure if they had any duties other than looking cute. Most of the Chinese wedding is just the reception rather than the ceremony. They may have had some official duties, but if they did, I didn't see them at work.

This is Jason with both of the girls. This is one of my favorite pictures from the reception.

Here's Jason with his dad. I got a couple of pictures of his mom, but none of just her and Jason together, unfortunately.

I really liked the chandeliers, but oddly enough, they were only on the bride's side of the reception hall. I don't know if all Chinese weddings are like this but at this one, half of the tables were on one side of a raised walkway and half on the other side. Like the seating in a church, each side was also for either the bride's or groom's family and guests.

This is the seating chart for the guests. Guess how many non-Chinese people were there? That's right, just yours truly. I asked Jason why he didn't have my Chinese name printed on the chart and he said that he didn't know which characters were in my name. Hopefully, since I wrote a note for him and his wife in Chinese, he'll remember in the future.

If you remember from my entry about the "Shanghai Film Park," I told you that taking wedding pictures is big business in China. The future married couple takes a day (sometimes an entire weekend) and travels from place to place having their pictures taken. They wear several different outfits from several different decades and centuries. In addition to giving one picture pride of place in their apartments, it's common to show many of these pictures at the reception. This is one they had taken at Shanghai's riverfront, the iconic "Bund." By the way, Jason's wife is Jessica. Perfect names for a young couple, Jason & Jessica!

When I lived in Atlanta, I attended a Chinese church. In my three years there, I was a guest at many weddings. I remember the first one I attended, just a couple of months after moving there. After the ceremony and before the reception, the couple engaged in a curious event: they had their pictures taken with nearly everyone attending the ceremony. At the time, I thought it was a strange thing to do, but I also thought it was awesome. I've been to countless weddings where the ceremony ends, everyone shuffles out of the church so that the bride and groom and wedding party can run back into the church and pose for various pictures. Once the reception begins, you're lucky to get to talk to the couple for one or two minutes and maybe even get a picture with them.

Jessica and Jason with her parents and his parents.

Jessica and Jason with just Jason's parents.

This is just one of 5 dresses Jessica wore during the reception. Unlike Americans, Chinese brides usually rent their dresses, therefore it's much more affordable to have 5 here than it would be back home.

What I thought was a speaker on stage turned out to be a bubble machine.

Posted by feiheli 21:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Fenghuang by the Numbers

A very short trip to a very picturesque town

77 °F


Two years ago while watching the weather report at the end of the news, the station showed pictures of different locations around China. When I saw the picture for Fenghuang (凤凰), which means "Phoenix," I think I gasped out loud. From that moment on, Fenghuang was among the top of my list of places to visit in China.

The opportunity finally came last weekend. One of my Shanghainese friends and I were planning on taking a short trip to South Korea, but when she had problems getting a visa, we decided to stay in China. I suggested Fenghuang and I had our plane tickets in hand just a few days later. While four days might be enough time to really enjoy all that Fenghuang has to offer, you also need to factor in travel time outside of those four days. We neglected to do that, so it meant that out of our four days, we only had about one day in Fenghuang itself.

I'm calling this entry "by the numbers" because it seems like a great way to show just how busy these four days were. First are some numbers you can find on the internet:

  • the whole county has a total area of 676 square miles (we only visited the old town which is much smaller than that),
  • the population is 416,900 (for the county, I have no idea for the old town itself),
  • 50% of the population belongs to the Miao (also known as Hmong) and Tujia minorities (Most Chinese are from the majority group called "Han," actually 91.51% of the 1.3 billion people in China. Among the minorities, the Miao count for 0.72% and the Tujia 0.62%. That means together, the two minorities in China number around 17,420,000 people! By contrast, my home state of North Carolina currently has a population of around 10 million - 0.72 and 0.62 don't seem like such small numbers anymore, do they?)

Actually, it's hard to find a lot of information about Fenghuang in English on the internet. So here are my numbers:

  • one four-day weekend,
  • one subway ride travelling 8 stops from my apartment to the airport,
  • one misplaced airline ticket that was later found in the bathroom at the airport,
  • one 2-hour delay at the Shanghai airport on the first day of our trip,
  • one flight lasting about an hour and a half to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province,
  • one "black taxi" (translation: private car) from our hotel to the restaurant,
  • one dinner with a former student and her husband,
  • one protest regarding the contested "Diaoyu Islands" on the walking street near our first hotel,
  • one 6-hour long bus ride from Changsha to Fenghuang,
  • 26 tunnels on the bus ride from Changsha to Fenghuang,
  • 24 hours in Fenghuang (about 9 of them sleeping hours),
  • 7 bridges of various sizes, styles and conditions in Fenghuang,
  • the same 26 tunnels back to Changsha from Fenghuang,
  • another bus ride back to Changsha (this one longer than 6 hours since the bus had some mechanical problems and the driver stopped every 30-60 minutes to get out and check the back of the bus),
  • two taxi rides in Changsha where we got ripped off by drivers with "faulty" meters (the charges were double what they should have been),
  • one more protest about the Diaoyu Islands that prevented us from staying in the same area as Friday night's hotel,
  • 4 squattie toilets (only when there were no other options),
  • 7 meals,
  • 4 snacks that had to substitute for meals,
  • numerous bottles of water,
  • countless packets of tissues,
  • 200+ pictures (not so many for me!),
  • NO Starbucks,
  • one temper tantrum at the Changsha airport (mine, I'm sad to report)
  • one more hour and a half long flight back to Shanghai,
  • one more 8-stop subway ride to my neighborhood,
  • one short, hurried taxi ride to pick up my cats from the kennel,
  • one ruined skirt, and
  • one more short taxi ride home =


My former student, Ginny. Although her hometown is Changsha, I first met her in 1998 when she was studying in university in Shanghai. My friend and travel mate Sylvia unknowingly paid me a compliment when she said it didn't seem like it had been 12 years or so since Ginny and I had last seen each other.

Sylvia at the riverside our first hour in Fenghuang.

Sylvia in front of Fenghuang's "Hong Qiao" (虹桥) bridge. Interestingly, we flew out from Shanghai's Hong Qiao airport at the start of our trip. Notice how much nicer the light is in this picture than in the previous one. It's better in this direction because the sun was behind me.

Me with Hong Qiao bridge

I've mentioned the "Diao Yu" (钓鱼) islands (known as the Senkaku islands in Japan), but perhaps the Americans reading this may not know why they're in the news here. China is currently in conflict with Japan over these islands, which may have a reserve of natural resources below them. I have no idea how new these signs were on the outside wall of this bar, but I thought it was interesting that the same English translation has been applied to all three signs. If you don't read Chinese, you don't know that the first sign means the bar has air conditioning and the second says that they have wi-fi. Also, the English isn't even translated correctly. I haven't included this picture to offend anyone and I have no vested interest in which country the islands belong to, other than the desire that the situation would be resolved quickly and without violence. (Sylvia's dad called to tell her that the biggest protests in China were happening in Changsha, the same day we headed back there. Fortunately, we were safe and the protests seemed to have stopped after the weekend.)

View of the rooftops near the vehicular bridge over the "Tuo Jiang," (沱江), the name of Fenghuang's river.

The bridge here in the foreground appears to be new - I never saw any people on it and I never saw pictures of it online when doing my research. But ain't it a beauty?

As my Australian friend and former colleague Michael would say, here's another beauty - Sylvia in front of the aforementioned bridge.

When Chinese people travel around the country, they love to try local foods and every city, town and region has its specialties. One of the specialties here is ginger candy, which you can see in its early stages being repeatedly pulled and stretched from the hook on the wall.

Some of the fresh food on offer at the outdoor barbecue grills. I don't know if Sylvia wanted any, but it would have been fine by me if she'd bought it and chosen not to share.

IMG_0077.jpg Hong Qiao by night. I'm not exactly sure why my daytime pictures aren't much to look at, but I'm extremely proud of my nighttime shots. Even though I left my tripod in the hotel, I was able to brace and prop my camera on railings and beside posts so that many of the shots are still clear.

Lanterns hanging from the ceiling in one of Fenghuang's many souvenir shops.

A pretty nicely renovated area of the old town.

Sylvia bought a necklace at this spot.

These are tiles on a roof adjacent to Hong Qiao bridge. I liked the look of how they just keep going and Sylvia pointed out their similarity to Xian's terra cotta warriors. I'd never had a desire to see the warriors before but now I'm anxious to see them with my own eyes and my own camera. By chance, I even caught an episode of a show about them on TV earlier this afternoon. I have to admit, they're pretty impressive. Even more incredibly, no two of the figures are alike.

Again, Hong Qiao bridge. The lower floor is lined with souvenir shops and the floor above that was a tea shop. I'm not sure what was on the top floor. Maybe an incredible vantage point for taking pictures that I missed. Oh darn, I guess I'll just have to go back...

Our hotel/hostel was to the right of the pagoda behind the trees. This section of buildings here was basically the end of Fenghuang proper. Incidentally, it didn't seem that you could go to the top of the pagoda - I didn't actually go inside but I walked past it several times and never saw any stairs.

If you look on the left side of this picture at the point where the buildings and river meet, you'll see a small boat that looks remarkably like a slipper. For all I know, the resemblance is intentional.

I'm not actually sure what this building is, but the way it's lit up, it seemed to be floating - this is actually one of my favorite shots from the weekend.

Sunday morning came with a persistent drizzle, which you should be able to see if you look at the surface of the water. Once again, my rudimentary photography skills have resulted in a washed-out scene.

This little (dead?) guy was stuck to the window of our brunch-time cafe.

Sylvia striking a pose that's worthy of the catwalk.

A local Miao woman waiting patiently to sell her wares.

No, this isn't the same bridge from the day before. It's actually at the far eastern edge of town, closer to our hotel.

I believe these are cormorants. When we first saw them, they were all sleeping with their heads contorted and tucked into their backs (!). While I took pictures, first one, then another one woke up to stretch. A third woke up long enough to send waste streaming from his bottom into the river.

You can see the third one in the front row is awake now. Later, the one directly across from him also woke up.

My last parting shot of Fenghuang on our way to the bus station - perfection!

Posted by feiheli 18:49 Archived in China Tagged fenghuang hunan_province Comments (0)


One of Shanghai's most fashionable shopping areas

sunny 86 °F

It's the 27th of August and if I didn't get out and about today, I wouldn't have anything to show you for my touristy thing this month. Since it's still summer (translation: hot) and I didn't want to go too far away from my apartment, I decided to go to Xintiandi (it sounds like "sheen tea-in d," hereafter referred to as XTD). I love the buildings and atmosphere at XTD, but I almost never go there. Although I'm trying to see the touristy places, I don't like looking like a tourist, so I tend to avoid the most popular tourist sites as a rule. And even though it was a Monday afternoon, I saw at least one tour group following their flag-bearer through XTD's plazas. I read online that nearly all international and domestic tours in Shanghai include sightseeing time in XTD.

The pictures I have from there are nothing special - the heat kind of sapped my energy so I didn't feel too much like walking around to look for the best sites and angles. Also, there was at least one retired local man trying to take my picture. He lowered his camera after I said "no" twice, but I didn't want to stick around very long in case he decided to try to get my picture again when my back was turned. I figured out long ago, one of the reasons I love taking pictures so much is that it gives me an excuse for not being IN the picture. Also, who knows what he plans to do with that picture after he gets it - show off a "fat foreigner" sighting to his friends? Put it on the Internet? Something else?

IMG_0375.jpg Wikipedia says that 3500 families were relocated from XTD. When places downtown are redeveloped, the people being dislodged get a choice: a lump sum of money that isn't enough to keep them in the area or a new apartment on the very fringes of the city, usually at least an hour's subway ride away.

IMG_0378.jpg If and when I have enough money to build my own place, I want to model it on a house like this one. Although I only want one floor instead of two, I just love the look of the different colored bricks and how closed the first floor looks while the second floor has large windows and a balcony over the entry door.

IMG_0383.jpg Another beautiful brick building.

IMG_0385.jpg This is the site of the "First National Congress of the Communist Party of China." Some people say that since Shanghai is relatively young compared to other cities in China, it has no history. Nothing could be further from the truth and in fact Shanghai has several claims. In addition to being the current financial and fashion centers of China, the former "Paris of the East" and "Pearl of the Orient," Shanghai is also the birthplace of the Communist Party.

IMG_0386.jpg A worker taking a break in a quiet side street of XTD.

IMG_0388.jpg This is just gorgeous, isn't it? I waited and waited for a shot without people, but that's a fruitless endeavor in Shanghai.

1IMG_0394.jpg This square appears to be the largest open area in XTD. Much of it is tiny little alleyways and offshoots, like you see in the first, fifth and sixth pictures.

When I left XTD, I had one more place to visit: an antique camera museum. I'd seen a short segment about it on the art and lifestyle show (City Beat) a few months ago but hadn't been yet. Since these two places aren't far apart on the map, I decided it wouldn't be worth it to take a taxi, so I started walking. However, it turns out it wasn't in the location I thought it was. When I checked the map, it showed the museum at an intersection less than 1 km away (0.7 km, to be exact). When I finally got there, though, it ended up being 1.4 km away at an intersection farther south. I had to stop and ask for directions twice (I'm not a man, after all) and finally got there, only to find that the museum is closed on Mondays! I was hot and sweaty and must have looked amazing at that point with my frizzy hair forming some kind of messy halo around my red face. There was nothing else to do except take a picture of the closed door and the sign with the hours and phone number, then cross the street to get a taxi home.

Taxis were few and far between this afternoon, so I waited 5-10 minutes for a ride. While waiting, I did something that I've always been tempted to do and happily, it worked out. Right when I got up to the zebra crossing to look for taxis, a middle-aged Chinese woman put a piece of gum or candy in her mouth, then let the wrapper flutter to the ground. I got her attention and pointed at the wrapper (I would have picked it up myself if I could trust my back) She gave me a look that asked "what do you want me to do about it?" so I continued pointing at the wrapper and said "you dropped it." I was impressed that she didn't ignore me and actually picked up her trash, so then I suggested she give it to me since a trash can was a mere 10 feet away. Instead, she took it to the trash can herself and disposed of it properly. A Chinese man walking by saw this exchange and gave me a wide grin to show his support.

I wish I could say that someone dropping their trash on the street or ground was an infrequent occurrence, but in fact the opposite is true. Last week I actually got hit in the shin when the toddler in front of me chucked his drink box to the ground. He had shaken it a few times to see how much drink was left and when he realized it was empty, he tossed it. Since it hit me, I inadvertently made a noise and his dad realized what he'd done, so they turned back to pick it up. Unfortunately, some parents wouldn't do the same. Whenever I've asked students and local friends why some people do things like this, the standard response is "people here don't have enough education" or sometimes "it's someone's job to clean the street, so the trash won't stay there." While that's true, I don't think that's a valid excuse. Long story short, I was glad that the woman did the right thing.

Well, it's time for me to get to bed, so I think that's it for today. I would have finished this earlier, but some days my internet is REALLY slow and won't let me upload any pictures. I went to a wedding this afternoon and night, so when I got home I turned the computer on to try again and was successful this time. Hope you enjoy!

Posted by feiheli 23:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

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