Thursday, April 9, 2009

My big fat BJ wedding

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My big fat BJ wedding

Spring is around the corner. Love is in the air. Wedding bells are ringing. But where are they coming from? It turns out more and more of these sounds of connubial bliss are wafting from grand hotels.

On a recent Saturday morning, a father was walking down the central aisle of a chapel, holding the arm of his daughter. She was dressed in a glorious bridal gown and the aisle was strewn with white rose petals in the shape of a heart. The music was not Wagner's wedding march, but a Hong Kong love song. Well, she was from the Pearl River Delta and met her husband at the Canton Fair, which was recounted in a video clip that drew cheers and laughter from the audience.

Under the guidance of a middle-aged lady, the couple exchanged vows and rings. The lady broke down before she could finish her usual questions. Smiling through her tears, she said it reminded her of her own wedding. Many in the audience were clapping their hands and wiping tears at the same time. Those were happy tears.

No, the lady was not a minister, and the chapel was not in a church. It's part of the Ritz-Carlton Beijing.

The Ritz-Carlton Beijing is the only hotel in the city with a chapel, and most people who celebrate their marriages here are not religious. That morning's ritual did not mention God, but the atmosphere was just as divine.

My big fat BJ wedding

After the ceremony, all the guests filed down the staircase to the banquet hall. Had it been May, they would probably have poured out into the garden.

Speaking of gardens, Regent Beijing on Jinbao Street has two. The one on the fifth floor is perfect for a cocktail party. Legendale Hotel Beijing across the street has possibly the largest enclosed garden of its kind, all 550 sq m of it, where a wedding couple can erect tents and put on a party hidden from gawking neighbors.

While a garden is for guests, a grand staircase is for the bride to make a dramatic entrance. Both Regent and Ritz-Carlton have their stairways right next to the foyer; the former is lined with steel tubes, adding a hint of abstract beauty, the latter full of classical elegance. The Legendale has a flight of stairs curving up one side of the lobby, where many newly-weds make special requests for a photo-shoot.

All three hotels are top-notch, yet differ considerably in style. Regent Beijing is quite modern, but with a touch of feng shui, the traditional Chinese art of obtaining harmony between man and nature. A key element is water, which flows from a stream outside into the lobby in a continuous bronze circle and bubbles in a square-shaped granite centerpiece. Hanging above it is a Czech-made chandelier that looks like a funnel. It manifests the age-old concept "Heaven is round and earth is square".

Legendale seems to have been airlifted from a European city. Though it's based on a 19th century building in downtown Paris, the Baroque architecture is inspired by the palatial style of southern Europe. Besides, all furniture is imported from France.

My big fat BJ wedding

Legendale has four "treasures", antiques collected by its owner. A 6.5-ton fireplace from the 19th century is said to be one of only three from an old castle in France. It took the hotel owner nine months to ship it out of its country of origin. A 300-year-old clock, designed during the Louis XIV era, is now placed next to the hotel's elevators and chimes at certain times of the day. Four bronze wall lamps, made in the 1880s, adorn the main entrance. And a bronze chandelier from the same period, with 2000 Baccarat crystals, hangs in the ballroom.

But for me, the most eye-popping thing about the Legendale is its atrium, which extends 17 stories and fills the lobby with natural light. Which means, if your photographer is ingenious enough, you can have bird's-eye-view images in your wedding album.

The Ritz-Carlton Beijing is like the LV of hotels. It's high-class; it's classical; it's luxury without overstating it. In China, where the rich prefer a really high life, putting on the Ritz simply cannot apply to Ritz-Carlton.

For many couples, the Ritz-Carlton Beijing is known for its creative ideas and attention to detail. "Every wedding is unique because every romance is different," says Deric Wu, director of catering & conference services. The Ritz has a special wedding planner who discusses with the clients at great length, learns their stories, and then helps hatch a plan that is like nothing else.

One couple first met in a caf. To reproduce the magic of that moment, The Ritz recreated part of that setting on the stage of its grand ballroom.

Another couple got to know each other online when she was in Paris learning music and he was in China doing business. They met up one year later, but she didn't feel much chemistry. To woo her, the previously tone-deaf guy took piano lessons secretly. They dated for six years before agreeing to tie the knot.

For their wedding, The Ritz built a special barrel on the stage, hiding him and a piano inside. When the ceremony started, the bride got anxious because she could not find the groom. Just then she heard music. As she stood wondering, the barrel was lifted, revealing who the player was. Imagine how moved she was! (I think they got the idea from the Chopin biopic.)

A lot of newly-weds are particular about certain details such as numbers. But that's not why the couple in the third story chose eight. They dated for eight years before the big day. So, eight became the leitmotif for their nuptial rite. At eight in the morning, by prior arrangement with The Ritz, they got their marriage registered at the government office. Then a Rolls Royce took them around the Olympic venue. Back at the hotel, they continued with their daily workout sessions and then had a massage. The hotel had attendants every step of the way. I'm wondering if they had eight attendants in the retinue.

My big fat BJ wedding

At the Legendale, some guests bring their feng shui master before ordering the wedding service. One couple from Shanxi ended up booking three rooms all ending with the digits "01". It was not clear whether it was the number or the location of the rooms that was considered auspicious.

Different cultures have different symbols for good luck. For example, white is the color for weddings in Western countries, but here in China it is red. Young couples often clash with their conservative parents about these choices. Hotels in the wedding business have to be sensitive to these cultural and generational nuances to make everyone happy.

Regent once had such a guest who was torn between different opinions. The parents insisted on red as the dominant color and the Westernized youngsters preferred white. The Regent team explained to them that the carpet in the wedding area would be a compromise of purple - both the color of royalty in the West and part of the Chinese saying "purple air from the east", meaning great fortune. Both parties were satisfied.

Customs differ even within China. In Beijing the wedding banquet is held at noon. If you move it to nighttime, it implies it's a second marriage. But in southern China, this implication does not exist and many prefer dinner as it segues naturally to the Chinese ritual of nao dong fang, a kind of bachelor party depicted at great length in Ang Lee's comedy The Wedding Banquet.

"We hope Beijingers' habits will evolve so that dinner will also be a choice. That way, we can have two wedding parties in a single day," says Den Navarro, a manager at Regent.

taken from : China Daily

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