Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

On the Tea, Horse, and Wedding Photo Trail

Nov. 17, 2013

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

By Tom Fearon

I leaned against a faded brick wall, arms folded and eyes softly fixed on a second-floor teahouse. Even though it was early autumn, summer's sting lingered in the air and sweat raced down my torso, sweltering inside a three-piece suit.

The National Day holidays had turned the normally sleepy town of Shuhe into a hive of holidaymakers staying in nearby Lijiang, Yunnan Province. As the sound of plastic suitcase wheels rolling on cobblestone came to a grinding halt, I felt tourists' eyes and cameras burn into me.

I kept grinning like an idiot and staring skyward. My wife Xiaojing, dressed in a silk qipao with a cashmere shawl draped over her shoulders, offered a few words of encouragement.

"Don't wipe your brow," she urged, concerned I would smear a thick layer of foundation.

Lunch was still an hour away and we still had two more costume changes, but my cheeks already hurt from all the smiling.

As anyone who gets married in China discovers, an extravagant wedding shoot is an essential step before walking down the aisle. On the matrimonial timeline, the shoot falls somewhere after newlyweds register at the Civil Affairs Bureau and before the actual wedding ceremony.

We had chosen Shuhe, once a bustling Naxi outpost on the Tea and Horse Trail, for its quaint appeal. Our photographer's studio, one of several dotting the town's only street, was a frantic scene when we arrived early in the morning.

As a makeup artist set about adding hair extensions and fake eyelashes to Xiaojing, I picked out my outfits. The first was a simple black suit, gray vest and trousers that ended above my ankles. The second was the Chinese groom special: an all-white tuxedo. Last but not least was a simple red satin shirt and black trousers to coordinate with my bride's flowing red dress.

After an hour or so of making Xiaojing unrecognizable, the makeup artist beckoned for me. As a man, it's hard not to feel awkward having makeup applied; all you can do is stare into the mirror and be grateful no friends can see your new, thickly penciled eyebrows.

The lake's backdrop was scenic, but we stood on muddy ground still damp from recent rain. Both of us were dressed in white, which meant the signature shot involving me gently lifting Xiaojing's veil as we lay on the ground was smartly saved for last.


Our photographer, who looked like an aging frontman of a glam rock band, kept spirits high with his endless, unnecessary praise.

"That's it, put a little lower and … stop! Awesome! You're a star," he gushed in between snaps. 

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at the daisy field. After paying a farmer a small fee, we continued our charade of staring deep into each other's eyes and shooting lustful gazes at the camera. We spotted several other couples and exchanged bemused looks of empathy as our photographers jostled for the best shots in the rapidly setting sun.

The wedding shoot might not be the most fun part of getting married, but years later when you're flicking through a heavy glass-plated album with photos of your spouse next to Chinglish phrases like "happy time," "romantic heat" and "fragrance shadow," I can promise it will all be worthwhile.

See the original article here.