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Shanghai: brides, photos and the weird wedding book

This is my first visit to China and I have landed plonk in the middle of Shanghai via the Air New Zealand bird. First sights and sounds in any new place can be overwhelming and my eyes are very round (oops, no pun intended) in wonder as I twirl in circles and try and take everything in.

Tai chi

Tai chi on the Bund

It’s overcast with a hint of drizzle that isn’t bothering anyone. We walk along the concourse beside the Huangpu river that they call the Bund. It’s German for embankment or quay. It is edged in ornate stone buildings across the busy road but the concourse along the riverside is wide, lending itself to sightseers, groups doing tai chi and men flying kites early in the morning.

It’s also one of Shanghai’s most photographed spots and it is here I learn about the Wedding Book.

In China, having your wedding photos taken is no simple exercise. You don’t take them on the big day, you start weeks, if not months, before in different locations wearing different hired wedding outfits.

Western Chinese bride

Creating the Wedding Book

Now that I am looking, I see brides and grooms dotted like confetti all over the city, embracing and posing in front of various iconic buildings, bridges and sights.

The first couple I saw, I thought was a photo shoot for a magazine as she was in full western wedding regalia with strapless white dress and big poofy flower in her hair, he in a tuxedo, canoodling beside a popular cafe on a leafy street in the French Concession. I also took photos.

The next bride I spied was in red – the traditional Chinese wedding colour. He was in a black suit with black cummerbund and a white dragon looking tie. They were trying various poses sitting on bridge railings as the photographer instructed.

I was intrigued and as we had a Chinese tour guide, I asked all my nosey questions…

Chinese bride

The lady in red

What is the Wedding Book all about?

Umpteen different outfits are hired to put together for this pricey Wedding Book. This crusade can start up to a year before the wedding day as couples hire a photographer to go out each weekend and ‘catch them unawares’ in fabulous places. Typically the bride will choose 5 or 6 dresses. But it’s not all formal. I spied a couple in a bus stop with matching Will You Marry Me? T-shirts on. No photographer in sight so they were either extras on their way to the shoot or maybe they’d just finished and were happy to wear their love T’s in public.

On the actual day, more dresses will be worn. This time purchased. One will be a western gown and another a traditional Chinese gown.

The book is then bound beautifully and shown at the reception. It costs about NZ$2000, but don’t worry about finding the money. Each wedding guest is asked to give $500 as their gift.

I’m sorry, but I think I’m busy that day.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!