As most of you know, the plan for celebrating our wedding is a bit unconventional due to the international nature of our marriage. In fact, from beginning to end, it will probably take over a year to celebrate fully. It started in June 2010 when we went down to Wuhan to get formally registered, and then it continued a week later in Xiaogan where we held a big reception with all of Tian’s local family a friends. Then in August, about 40 family members from both sides converged on Beijing for 8-days of fun and the formal ceremony. Next year, we hope to hold another fun reception in Minnesota for all of our American family and friends.
So at the same time as we were renting an apartment this July, we also were planning madly for the August wedding. By this time the biggest pieces had already fallen into place like where to hold the ceremony, which hotel to rent, and who was coming. But with two weeks to go, literally hundreds of details still needed to be figured out from arranging a DJ for the dance to picking the restaurants for the rest of the week. While we knew it would all be worth it, we also were beginning to question our sanity for planning eight days of festivities when most couples settle for one weekend.
A lot of people in China (and the US!) hire a wedding planner to take care of all their details, and many people were stunned to learn we weren’t using one. In fact we considered this option. However, we decided against it because a) it was expensive; b) we were planning eight days of events not one; and c) our vision for a bicultural wedding would not be the same as Chinese event planners were used to arranging. Finally, for as much work as it was, we also enjoyed putting our own personal touches on everything.
As we were planning, we faced many challenges:
- I was teaching English summer camps during the day, which was good for the pocketbook but also meant that I was not able to run as many errands.
- We were trying to create a very custom experience, not just for our wedding ceremony, but for the entire eight days. This meant that at every turn we were trying to ask businesses to do something a bit different from what their industry was used to accommodating.
- In China, prices are always negotiated. This is good in one sense because you can usually bargain down. But it’s challenging in another sense because you have to spend extra time on getting a good price for things. When time is in short supply, it can get frustrating. It also is frustrating because the prices usually go lower for a Chinese person than for a foreigner.
- In China, taking reservations far in advance is uncommon. In some respects, this is good because it means a lot of places, people, and services are available even as things get close to go time. However, it is also challenging when you want to lock something in but cannot. We heard the words, “We’ll talk again in a month,” or some variation of them, quite often. This cultural difference also means that no matter what we did, a lot of the details had to wait until the last minute.
- Some venders have no problem not following through with an agreement (especially a customized one) and also not telling you about it. So as it gets closer to the time you need a particular service, it’s critical to check in with all of them proactively.
- The language barrier for me was significant when discussing most of these planning issues. I found myself being able to understand a lot of things better when listening to Tian and the venders talk, but I definitely could not communicate our needs effectively.
- All of the above challenges meant that a lot of the logistical planning challenges fell on Tian to navigate. She was the one who had to share our vision with venders, communicate their needs back to me, finalize a plan, and then bargain them down in price. At points she would understandably say, “I wish you had to make this call.” I wish I could have too.
One thing did help make our planning go well. Dan, my brother and Best Man, came back to Beijing after a trip to Vietnam around July 20th. He was excited to help us refine our ideas for all sorts of things and to run errands. He also planned an awesome bachelor party (more on that later). We really appreciated his energy and his help.