Wedding Wednesday: 122 Days

Planning a wedding is a little like pregnancy. There is no rushing things then all of a sudden there is little time left and so much to still accomplish. However, unlike most pregnancies, the wedding is pretty well set in stone. Venues need to be discussed, and usually nailed down with a small retainer as early as possible – just try waiting until spring when planning a long weekend summer wedding. Although, come to think of it, two potential alternates were available if the paddle wheeler plan sank. Fortunately that was only a tiny possibility with everything quickly patched up. As the days continue to count down the much larger chunk of change looms to keep the venue.

Of course this also means checking and rechecking the guest list. With that second payment it is important to have an idea of the number of guests who will be in attendance. Which also means seeking a friendly way to track down anyone who has not responded. However, when an RSVP by is on the invitation when is it appropriate to begin a follow up? Who does the following up? Some wedding research indicates it is expected that roughly twenty percent of the invitations will be declined. Of course I did not read that it is a good idea to invite at least ten percent more to make up for those declines until I started to write about this! As if my daughter is not busy enough she now has to remind her fiancé to come up with his work related list, including full names, spouses and mailing addresses as well as doing her own local list. From what my daughter has intimated there are probably at least 10-12 more possible guests. I am standing by my estimate of 88 guests including the wedding party. Today is the deadline for those invitations. Not that this helps with the no responses.

My self-made role is to be her Personal Assistant – I have a little more time, am generally quite organized, and can act as her gentle (pretty sure at times she thinks pushy) reminder. She likes it when she can cross items off her list. A list that has to be worked around her busy work schedule, various appointments, and of course her family – including her teenager. As March approaches much has been accomplished. Which is important to acknowledge. With the dress and venue chosen early everything else should just fall into place, and despite some bridal party dress hiccoughs, this is the case. Two dates are set for alterations to the wedding dress. The first for raising the lace to shorten the front hem. The second for any fitting issues. Which must mean a third appointment to fit in a final fitting. I wonder if I will be there by then. I seem to recall this is usually done very close the the actual wedding date. How frightening!

Shirts and ties were selected for the groomsmen. All I know for the groom is that everything seems to be taken care of. A photographer has been booked. My daughter was fortunate to arrange for her win of engagement photographs to be switched to cover some of the photographer’s fee instead. It sounds like they had a great discussion, with the photographer making suggestions as to how the cost can be kept fairly reasonable. Hair, make-up, possibly even nails, have also been booked. (I may seriously consider taking advantage of these if possible – as one of the MOBs I want to look nice) Several vases, and glass pieces, were purchased. These must be bought in Kingston, there is no way I could carry thirty plus fish bowl 🐠 vases on a plane! (Just a little hint of decorations – after all, the wedding is on a boat) We keep cleaning out the stores for the DIY centrepieces so my daughter has to go back to buy more. Even chair sashes have been discussed! That was a yes. A room for the bride and groom has been booked. My daughter has chosen family and thriftiness over ostentatious. Many of us will be staying at the university. Funny note, my daughter who graduated with an MA from there will not be!

Of course, at times it does seem that crossing off one item, or moving it to another list, only makes room for something else.


Wedding Wednesday: 136 days

Although I cannot share too much – photos etc. – I thought part of the blurb on the wedding website my daughter is using was a perfect way to introduce when she and her fiancé met 25 years ago. “A long time ago, on a beautiful island in British Columbia, a young man from the East Coast laid eyes on a young West Coast girl.” It is only fitting they are getting married onboard a boat.

Some recent updates: a pair of shoes I think will be suitable arrived at me door yesterday. Wow, this ordering online is great! As my second daughter pointed out the pumps are higher than a kitten heel, and lower than stilettos, yet look subtly elegant. The only bit That do not like is the little logo stud on the side of each shoe. Which means I will mull things over for s few days before making a final decision. Until they had arrived I was still unsure they would be suitable with my dress. So I am basically ready unless I return the pumps.

Colour hint of my already purchased dress.

As for the bride’s shoes…. actually she called me to have me add to my growing list a reminder she must have shoes before March 26 when she will have her first fitting. My only concern will be how high a heel she is considering. She has to climb stairs to the top deck where the ceremony will be held. As mentioned recently the fitting for the dress this will be done in two stages. The $30.00 hourly rate sounds astronomical although it really is not. Unstitching lace, moving everything up, and hand stitching back on while still maintaining the integrity of a dress is not easy. Fortunately I still think only the lower front half of the skirt will need work. Dresses should not be made for 6 foot women only!

Meanwhile, what were worries are now being nailed down and a calm period seems to have arrived. The guest list seems to be under control, and the deadline I have set to remind the bride and groom to hand deliver invitations that had to be held back while waiting for RSVPs is approaching. I suppose I should let them know when that is. The other worry was decor, what is the budget, what will work on a moving venue, what is or is not allowed, has the colour scheme been finally decided? Of course, once we had bought out a few stores to gather everything according the bride’s ‘look’ the colours and decor was decided. Adding to my reminder list will be for the glass receptacles to be purchased. Which reminds me, I now have a whiteboard and an erasable calendar.

Not having candles opened up more choices of what can used. Bottom heavy vases in the event of the boat rolling. (Hm, is this really a good idea? I get seasick. Fortunately, I have been on the vessel a couple of times) Rather than candles, not even LED, my daughter chose fairy lights, and they really are quite lovely. The colour scheme will enhance the look of an aquatic connection without appearing kitschy. I keep going back to subdued elegance. As I go over what seems to be included in decor for weddings I can see how the cost rises. The only pressing decisions now seem to be a runner for walking down the aisle and chair swags.

Then the topic of transportation came up. My fault, I mentioned that Harry and Meagan (I am not fixated – their nuptials just keep being in the news) will have a carriage for after their ceremony. I thought my daughter’s idea of a trolley to the wedding was far more fun, if not (we discovered) original. She then informed me she was looking into a carriage! Very Victoria. Perhaps both will be used. Or she could arrive on the back of her father’s motorcycle.

What is important is that, despite some early OMGs, the next 136 days are fun. After all, it will be a celebration of two wonderful people who want to share their special moment 25 years in the making.

Wedding Wednesday: Dress shopping for the rest of us

Planning seemed to be relatively quiet over the holiday other than confirming a weekend in Toronto to shop for dresses for the wedding party, have a ‘girls’ weekend and see a show. We spent about five hours at the Easton’s Centre Mall checking out all of the dress shops. I was rather disappointed in the lack of choices. By the time we made it to Le Chateau I was exhausted, the bridesmaid (another daughter) had ducked into a make-up shop, and we thought we were done. However, another look ended up with us taking up another hour I. The store. My daughter had been waffling over her colours until her sister found a dress she liked. Plus shoes! With that decision made there is no going back. I hope. The matron of honour also picked a dress then returned it some hours later after looking at photos of her wearing it. Although she did look stunning in it I did understand her concern about it rising too high when she moved – and she had not even tried to sit down. We are now looking, as originally decided, at a shade lighter than navy with silver as the complementary colour. I think it will be quite elegant. Not wanting to take away from the bridal party I chose to only take a cursory look for a dress.

Little did I expect to find something in Kingston! I was on my own so shared a photo with my youngest daughter who was still in Japan but at the airport to return to Canada. (She did not like the cold – good thing we live on the westcoast) She approved and said I should just buy it without her sister’s approval. Sticker shock had me convinced I really should get the opinion of the bride. It also provided me time to decide if I could really afford it. My youngest did offer to buy it for me, we even looked into ordering it online – the final difference, with delivery, would have saved me perhaps $30.00. I told her she can buy the shoes. The bride loved it, I bought it, and will wear it every year to justify spending around $290.00, with tax, on a dress! I do understand that is not unreasonable. It s now hanging up in the closet in Kingston. I do not have to worry about packing it now and can most likely find shoes in the week leading up to the event. No photos allowed yet.

As for other activity leading up to the big day I think I might have suggested they could always elope. When my already married daughter had her wedding there was not time to panic – we had two weeks to plan after they decided waiting a year was ridiculous. (She swears it was three weeks) The wedding dress had already been purchased so it was a matter of finding a venue for a cozy ceremony and reception, ensuring the parents, siblings and a few very close friends could attend, then figuring out the budget. As with that wedding the upcoming nuptials are being paid for by the couple. The bride seems to have all of that under control although she does worry at times. January has been her minor panic month.

What do brides worry about? Turns out, a lot! Even in the 21st century. We packed in a lot during the very short time I visited. The wedding dress – I had seen pictures of it but not in person. One late morning, as I was doing something in the kitchen I turned, and there was my daughter in her dress – with an ever so slight worry line and lots of smiling waiting for my reaction. I think she looked beautiful in it. Being from a family in which the women are on the short side it is of course too long but otherwise it is a gorgeous dress and she will be stunning. Then my daughter started to worry, what if her fiancé did not like it, did it flow enough (I admit that has me somewhat mystified), did I really like, would it fit properly by the wedding…. oh my, I had not expected such doubt from her.

The guest list was another concern, she was worried people were not responding soon enough. I refrained from saying that Prince Harry is getting married in May and those invitations will not go out until about eight weeks before. Of course there is venue to consider when counting numbers, I believe a 60% positive response is pretty good. However, being a practical mother I asked if she has a back up plan. Well, sort of. There are two smaller boats she can choose from instead of the paddle wheeler. I suggested she not worry about that until one month before the next deposit needs to be put down.

Brides need lists. They need spreadsheets. They need a personal assistant. Brides need to put a big sign on their workspace and repeat, like a mantra, Keep Your Sense of Humour.

Suzhou: Two nights

Day One

The most frustrating part about travelling is trying to capture the trip by carefully writing down highlights, along with the not so pleasant aspects, with everything still fresh in the memory bank. Of course with pictures. Which I may have deleted. Imagine, after using up several hours overnight at an airport finishing a piece to share with anyone interested, discovering that it is not there! Seems I forgot to save my draft about my visit to Suzhou. Which is why I have always take notes! 

I started out with good intentions to take the subway to the train station. Once I carried my pack down the first set of stairs I quickly changed my mind and walked back up to find a taxi. It was here I decided that saving money should never mean sacrificing my back. It also meant less likelihood of falling over and landing on my back like a turtle – sometimes that fine balance between remaining upright and tipping is wobbly.

‘Darkened forbidding hallway – Doorbell unanswered – Modern technology call’

I have no idea why I am wanting to think in a simplified haiku form – perhaps a need for less chaos? The above had me momentarily rethinking my choices for accommodation. I had the number for the hostel, I had my new Chinese number, I was at   the door and it was still relatively early – no real need to panic. Once I connected with the owner I was able to go up to drop off my bags but had to wait a few hours before checking in. That seemed reasonable at the time. Divested of my bags I walked, in a drizzle, to the Suzhou Museum. I had forgotten how grossly people here underestimate distance – plus the fact I thought the man at the hostel was stressing blocks, not km. However, although it felt like 5km a look at my tracker showed it was indeed about 3km. So this time it was not out of range. It is also far too common to be given the wrong directions rather than be told ” buzhidao” – I don’t know. The best way to avoid being incorrect but still helpful is the hand wave in whichever direction is thought to be correct.

Suzhou, China’s Vienna, the city where Marco Polo is said to have spent much of his time. Like where I am from, Victoria Canada, a city of gardens. It is in the setting of gardens that the museum was built. I had wanted to see the Suzou Museum after watching the documentary, “I.M. Pei: Building China Modern” about the architect and his dream for the museum. It is a simple design, fits into the area and invites the outdoor & indoor environments to be enjoyed. Designed by I.M. Pei, who was well into his seventies during the construction,  this was like a gift from him to Suzhou. He is perhaps best known for designing the Louvre Pyramide. However, the Suzhou Museum was also a work of love.

Pei incorporated elements of light, air, water, and fauna to create spaces that invite visitors to linger. The entrance looks onto Lotus Pond and has two wings for exhibits. Yes, it did seem the standard artifacts were in abundance in addition to local finds, but, the lack of a mish-mash of items thrown in to fill space shows care in what is included – and what was not. I was quite taken by the simplicity of the scholar’s study, it was not just crowded into a corner like so many other displays I have seen. This was s room of its own, just as a scholar would have had – albeit most likely a relatively well to do scholar. The choices of calligraphy and scrolls of art were selected with care, and everything is displayed for visitors to really look at the items as a whole and as individual pieces. The small windows in several rooms draws in the outdoor without causing damage to artifacts. A small courtyard to one side with a single pomegranate tree; another with with a stand of narrow bamboo; the Wisteria Garden and of course the stunningly simple Lotus Pond provide a calm, reflective space.

By the time I made it to the thatched Song Pavilion, that duplicates a scholar’s studio from the Song Dynasty, (960 – 1279) it was raining quite heavily. This made the effect of entering the pavilion magical. I doubt it would have been cozy during chilly days in December of January – it does snow, although rarely – when the only warmth would have been most likely from a brazier. The scholar’s room I mentioned was not displayed here. The quiet, the rain tapping of the thatch and simple garden had me wishing I could either hide out there for a while or have something built at home. Not likely to ever happen, I do not even have a garden.
It was a nice way to spend a rainy late morning to early afternoon despite many others having the same idea. Of course, being free and adjacent to one section of the famous Administrator Garden makes this a popular spot. It was not exactly a walk in the park sort of day so the buildings in this section of garden were appreciated. These were where the owner of the gardens resided. When I visited there was a lovely exhibit of fans by an artist who still uses the methods from hundreds of years ago.  I had no idea that the craft of fans was so intensive. 

I even found sustenance, if a thick slice of sweetened cheese ‘toast’ can be called a good choice. Weird stuff served in China. The coffee was decent. I was also able to recharge my phone battery to 40% – it seems to be sapped far too rapidly. It was time to head back to the Hostel to officially check in. Except I couldn’t – or certainly not officially. When I had called the owner she had been at the Public Security Bureau where she and other similar owners of hostels in a specific area were being told they could not have foreigners staying for about a month. Was I willing to take a chance, hang out until evening and maybe have to be moved to another hostel. I figured why not? My belongings were put in the room where I hoped I would be staying and I waited. By 9:00pm rolled up I was ready to sleep and the PSB had not come knocking. Or ringing.

Suzhou: Day Two – Chinese tour

The tour booked was going to be in terestng was all I could think. However, it was also s lot less expensive than anything I would find for foreigners with a translator. I was the first to be picked up. I also had little idea of where we would visiting after not really paying attention, it sounded like I would enjoy it. I believe one garden, a canal cruise , Tiger Hill. The cruise goes to Shanghai Taxi to train station 21; Breakfast 25; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10;Water 2; Lunch 30; random tour fee 20; Taxi 22 (I was irritated to discover the tour bus would not be dropping me off where I was picked up)the hill from what I understood. For the equivalent of about 20CAD. However, I do know the pace of Chinese tours and can only hope I can keep up!
So where did we go, one garden in the morning before we parted ways to do our own thing according to what we had paid for. I opted for a return to the museum. That took up about two hours, visiting gardens in Suzhou, and many parts of China is serious business and are not simply a plot of land planted with flowers and shrubbery. They are carefully planned, often over many years, places for reflection, creativity and meditation. Rockery, water, plants and walkways play an important part in making the gardens accessible at all times of the year. Dwellings were always considered when the gardens were built, and I use built because they certainly needed some manipulation of materials to fit into the space available. There were many sections to each garden, all with lovely names to suit the space. If only I had thought to take photos of some of them!

Bats bring good luck in China and stepping on the stone plus the centre where there was a coin means lucky in wealth.

We also visited the Beisi Pagoda, also known as the Bao’en Temple, which was wonderful to see for its pink and brown colouring alone! Unfortunately for us it is undergoing massive restoration so we could only manage to walk some of the grounds and attempt to get some pictures. What I found fascinating is the colours are exactly the same as a house I lived in for a couple of years as a teenager! I could not find any reason for the colour scheme.

Lunch was a matter of pay or starve unless, as some did, smart enough to prepare a picnic. However, I thought it friendlier to join everyone even if few of them spoke English. Wo bao.le! (I’m full) Noodles in broth, cabbage/mushroom/tofu mix (like a small salad or soup garnish), one boiled egg (should have saved it) & glutinous steamed rice something – ate two, sampled the other two. This after four xiao bao. Thank goodness we would have plenty more walking to do! And my first squat toilet this trip.

Funny story: on the bus waiting. Tour guide tells me to follow her. No idea why. We go into a store so my immediate thought is that I am expected to buy something. Silk. No, I was given a gift of a scarf – as were the other ladies. Incentive to spend money. I did not. Not even 1:00 and I was exhausted – the humidity remained high throughout the morning and part way through our afternoon activities.

Thank goodness for some cooling rain by the time we headed to our canal boat ride. Our group ended up being split up, leaving four of us, including the guide, behind. As often happens in China it was s matter of hurry up and go nowhere. By the time we were aboard I think we were all wondering if maybe there had been a jam upriver. Nice respite though. We were headed to Tiger Hill where there is an ancient Pagoda. Well worth the trip. There were a few precious seconds of awed silence as we rounded the corner, we were on open air carts, to have our first close up view of the pagoda. The Pagoda leans, has done so for several years. 

I was tired but happy by the time I was dropped off and caught a taxi to my hostel. Still no PSB. I packed everything – bed around 10:00, and slept relatively well.

Shanghai Taxi to train station 21; Breakfast 25; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10;Water 2; Lunch 30; random tour fee 20; Taxi 22 (I was irritated to discover the tour bus would not be dropping me off where I was picked up)


Although I may have used this title in a blog on a previous trip to China, and perhaps I need to take a closer look at the definition, but it just seems to fit. For instance, Jing’An Temple in Shanghai underwent major renovations at various times since it was, according to various written information, built in 247AD, with the most recent construction finally finished in 2010. I thought I would never see what is behind the walls. When I lived in Shanghai the gates were closed and the ever present ugly green shroud common on every construction site in China was the only view. When I visited the temple seemed to have s pending opening date. Last year I managed a glimpse before the gates  closed at 5:00PM. I thought I was fated to never see inside.

Therefore, this trip had a few specific places I planned to visit. Jing’An Temple was at the top of my list. To keep my thoughts I recorded on my phone – now to remember how to record so that it writes at the same time. On problem with staying in hostels is lack of quiet and privacy. My thoughts at the time were mixed. It was quite busy for a weekday morning. Entrance fee, the wicket was tucked away near the gates – just a 12’x12′ opening where visitors basically only hear a disembodied voice, hand over their 50CNY and get a ticket. There was a more elaborate ticket booth, I believe for anyone wanting to make offerings to the fires burning. No photos are allowed from inside the actual temples where the various gods are seated (or standing). Which meant I forgot to take photos of what each place was! In the first shrine, holding eight standing Demi-gods, piled boxes of incense shared the space. I found this a sad state of affairs when a shrine is also used as a warehouse of sorts. I do get it though, the two places for burning incense and making offerings are also there. 

Secular and sacred spaces can form a bond.

 If anyone thinks temples are for quiet reflection they have not been to a Chinese Buddhist Temple! To paraphrase my daughter from one of her papers, Buddhism is a living, and lived, religion. Adherents were praying,monks were chanting while striking gongs and wooden clappers, gawkers trying to take photos from outside. It was a very active environment. I wish I could include the recording I have of me attempting to describe the scene, my voice is nearly drowned out. Twenty years ago, when I first came to China, was still a time when young people scoffed at ritual, choosing instead to mimic and laugh when visiting once holy sites, especially when they saw their elders bowing in deference to the various gods represented. What I see now is young people, in their twenties, joining in ritual and prayer with reverence. Having faith, or an outlet, is important. 

A little blurry but I love the look on this dragon’s face and the feet!
I like the humour in this; there is likely a deeper meaning behind the image.

Offerings were being made for, I assumed, the recently departed, at both of the burning altars. Red bags of gold or silver ingots  – rapidly being folded in various corners – were dropped into the fire, one family seemed to want to ensure their ancestors would never go without in the next world. At one point one family was made to move to the less busy altar (sorry everyone, I really do not know the correct term) rather than have any crowding. I could not see a difference, perhaps the winds were friendlier at oneover the other. However, that slight change meant so much to the family when the assistant/security? somewhat roughly took the bags and dropped them unceremoniously into the fire. When he made to take a very small offering an elderly lady was holding cupped in her hands she snatched her hands away. She did appear visibly upset – either with him or the event I could not tell.

I did feel rather like a voyeur. At another shrine – these are usually massive structures that house a specific god related to Buddhism – also highly decorated, a couple was making offerings, following the direction of a monk who was chanting in harmony with others who played cymbals and bells, all in view of onlookers. When the woman left I could see she was trying very hard to hold back her emotions. Knowing a little about Chinese cultures I did wonder if these two had recently lost a child or were so far unable to have children. The culture of the past and now has not changed so significantly. The difference is that even with a loosened restriction on the one child only policy couples, and their families, still prefer boys. 

However, life goes on, and it certainly was at the temple. I discovered that, like many Buddhist Temples, a vegetarian lunch was being served. After some hemming, walking around a couple of times and some complaints from my travel companions I de died to partake of the meal. For 10CNY I was given a bowl of rice and a bowl of soup. It was quite tasty, with mushrooms, cabbage, and cauliflower in a light broth. Just what I needed to continue on with my day. I was quite impressed. 

For dinner though I was less than satisfied. One of my favourite street food places does lamb kebabs – only that and flat bread – which I did not buy because it came out of a bag rather than their circular clay oven – more expensive, less tasty, too much gristle. Add in the lowering of already lackadaisical service at my go to hostel and I think Shanghai has lost its lustre for me. I was ready to leave.

A note about posts: although I had intended to post twice a week about this trip I am finding that access to Internet is so spotty it does not make any sense to wait. Besides, I rather like letting readers know what is happening in the moment. 

Expenses (CNY) taxi 253; hostel 180; 120 transit card (20 deposit); 100 Chinese phone number + internet (not enough GB so very poor service; 50 Temple; 10 lunch; 11.50 breakfast; 28 dinner and leftovers for breakfast, water. I think my expenses in Shanghai was a staggering 700CNY (at the time of writing I the hostel I was st had no power so can only estimate that is about 120CAD) for the two nights. At that rate I will rapidly run out of funds for China.  Must watch the wanton spending.

Steps: over 17,000