Memories are Made of This

When it’s a slow, lazy Sunday in Shenzhen and the wallet is running dry, my Chinese girlfriend Catherine and I opt for a low budget picnic and some “wedding spotting” in Hongshulin nature reserve, a coastal park that features acres of manicured rough grass, fledging trees, a seaside view of Hong Kong across the water and a promenade.

I've always enjoyed it for its relatively uncluttered and clean space and especially for the lengthy list of “Temporary Regulations” which greet visitors. The signs are a standard list of universal “don'ts” with this final pronouncement: “Whoring, gambling, drug taking, feudalism and superstitions or other illegal activities are strictly forbidden.”

Whoring, gambling, drugs...yes, but “superstitions?” Maybe fortune telling I suppose but can someone tell me how, exactly, one commits feudalism in a public park?

Hongshulin is most popular on Saturdays and Sundays when dozens of couples flock to commit commercial pre-matrimonial rites in the form of assembly line photo shoots.

With a makeshift picnic in hand – usually fresh fruit, spicy KFC wings, banana chips and beer – Catherine and are often able to grab a select shady spot from which to watch the bridal dream factory and are often soon outnumbered by throngs of nearly identical brides and grooms in rented dresses and white tuxes accompanied by photo crews.

It's big business in the new China. Presumably each couple has shelled out as much as US$900-$2,500 to stand around in the same park assuming the same poses and wearing pretty much the same wedding costumes for what would, depending on their budgets, become full blown photo albums, either large or small, and various garishly framed prints to decorate their love nests until reality sets in.

On a recent Sunday, with the exception of one groom whose jacket looked like it was taken from a quilted mattress pad, all the guys were in the same stock white tux. Not even a paisley cummerbund to revive the eyes.

All the brides were heavily made up, causing Catherine to comment that “all the girls look the same” and indeed it was startling how interchangable, except for the length of the bridal trains, veils and some small color details, the women looked. Even their busts looked identical all enhanced with the same B-cup padded bras.

“Did you have your pictures taken when you were married?” she asked.

Well, my first was an assembly line service at the US embassy in Seoul in 1974 at which my first one-and-only wasn't required to attend. The more formal union to my second old-time-used-to-be, I explained, was documented by a photographer from my then-newspaper who shot some great candid black and white photos.

"Do you still have them?"

"No. I think she did."

"Where are they?"

"I think she probably destroyed them." I didn't mention the wedding video another newspaper pal shot and how much I had enjoyed watching it in the months following the marriage and how it would make me cry now. There are some things one doesn't share.