& geeky stick boy
My Wife, Our Wedding, Our Plans, and More," by Jody (June, 2000, from China)
Lei and I

I met a woman here in China, right after I got here last fall (September 1999). She is Chinese, and she works at the college. Her English name is Lei Shen Baumgartner, from her Chinese name Shen Heng Lei.

Lei is 25 years old, and her hometown is Urumqi, the capital city of the province of Xinjiang, which is in northwest China. This is where her parents, university instructors (semi-retired) live. (Her father's name is Shen Da Zhi, her mother's, Wang Meng) She has one older sister (named Shen Heng Ying), she and her husband live in Urumqi also.

Lei has been in Beijing for about 7 years now. She attended and graduated from the university that ICB (where I am teaching) is part of, the China Agricultural Engineering University, with an engineering degree (in electronics). She has almost no interest in this field. After college, partly because of her English language abilities, she started working for ICB as an administrator. Right now she is responsible for a many things, not least of which is academic affairs (programs, schedules, etc.). Yes, that means that technically she is my immediate supervisor.

We began seeing each other about the middle of September. On our third date we ended up spending the night in Tiananmen Square, a very Chinese thing to do. Things progressed from there, and we got engaged on April 20th. There was a fairly bureaucratic procedure which we had to go through in order to get married, but after about a month of hot cab rides throughout the city, not a little money, and a bit of worry, we finally tied the knot on May 31st. Afterwards we went to Tiananmen Square, where we headed to the middle and found a guy who looked like a photographer and asked him to take pictures while we exchanged rings and kissed, and then flew a kite in the Square.

We had a reception for about 70 people on July 8th (a lucky date). Because the wedding itself is such a bureaucratic affair (and, since you can only get it finalized on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon, at least here in Beijing), it's not unusual for the reception to be at a later date. I met her parents and several of her friends that weekend. The reception was about 3 hours long, a dinner, with a few speeches and games (you'll have to ask if you want details on this part...), and MANY pictures. Actually, we didn't even get to finish our food - every 2 or 3 minutes we had to get up and have another picture taken. In general though, it was pretty much like a wedding reception in the U.S., with a cake, flowers (what a trick this was for me - by myself - ordering these and having them delivered, all with my very limited language ability), gifts - family, friends, and colleagues gathered to wish us well. Very very nice day.

Wedding pictures? Oh yes, and to beat the band. It's very popular here (for those who can afford it) to go to a studio and get these taken. Our package, for about $475, included one poster-sized framed picture of us, one normal portrait-sized framed picture, several cards, and two identical albums (one big - 12" x 24" - and one smaller) containing about 20 of the shots from the photo session. The session? Nine hours on a Saturday, including six costume changes and makeup for her. The results are great, although the big framed picture is REALLY big (almost embarrassing).

There was really no official honeymoon as such, partly because we were in the middle of the semester when we got married. We had taken a vacation in May (Laborer's Holiday, this year one full week) to the Three Gorges area of the Yangstze River (beautiful), and in August, we went to Xinjiang to stay with her parents for almost two weeks.

What's next? An Alien Spouse visa. The reason for getting married as soon as we did was so that we could apply for this (for that matter, why NOT get married soon?). We put the application for the visa into the Beijing office of the U.S. I.N.S. in late July; next there is an interview, and after that another one - the major one - in Guangzhou. They say the whole process takes about 6-12 months. I'm not expecting any problems (neither she nor I are government employees, it's a legitimate marriage, etc.). With any luck we will be back in the U.S. by late January or February. In the meantime we will both still be at ICB.

When we get to the States we will plan another (unofficial) wedding "ceremony" of sorts and reception, probably in Florida. Then the plan is to take an extended (a month?) period of time and travel the country so she (and I in many cases) can see her new home. Then, who knows? Lei wants to go to school (she is thinking along the lines of business school).