05/14/14

The Perfect Finnish-Chinese Wedding Part 1

Finally after a few month’s preparation our wedding day was here. On the day before we had made offerings to the ancestors by burning ghost money and offering them food and drinks. We also fired some small firecrackers, but nothing compared to those on the morning of our wedding day.

My parents-in-law also prepared our new bedroom with red bedding with dragon and phoenix embroidery. Auspicious items, apples and red pockets were placed on the bed in order to bring a child to the family soon. We also decorated both the new and the old house with red and blue fabrics and decorative items. Blue to represent Finland and red to be the symbol of China.

I slept surprisingly well the last night, right next to my husband against the tradition in many countries. It was out of the necessity as we already had all of our rooms full because of family members. And we couldn’t use our new bedroom before the wedding day, it had to wait behind a closed-door.

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I woke up before 6am and got ready for the hair brushing ceremony that brings good luck to the new couple. Traditionally it should be done by my own mother, but because she isn’t familiar with this Chinese tradition, my mother-in-law gladly took her place.

After a few strokes of a brush and auspicious words, I was ready to start my make-up. I had invited a professional make-up artist to make me pretty and she also took care of my sister (maid of honor) and the two mothers. I almost fell asleep again when she asked me to close my eyes while applying eye shadow.

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I had decided to wear a lace qipao during the Chinese wedding and it fit perfectly, the only problem being sitting down and some very interesting attempts to sit down or stand up were seen on that day. My make-up artist had chosen to create a very simple hair-do for me with three red and golden flowers. After all of this beautifying and dressing up, I felt such a confidence during the whole day that I have never felt before. Wow, I actually looked pretty good!

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At 8.30am it was time to come down the stairs and let my husband to see me for the first time. It was also the first time for me to see his handsome suit that fit him so amazingly. Blue and red together just like I had planned months before.

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While others started to get ready as well, we went to the old family house (our new home) to take pictures. I remember thinking it was the right choice to hire a professional photographer, as the photos will be one of the lasting memories of our wedding day.

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Many Chinese couples, if not everyone, take pre-wedding photos in photo shops and dress up in multiple outfits posing for the camera in different settings. As me and my husband usually prefer something more simple and down to earth, we wanted to have photos at our new house instead.

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The picture above is one of my favorites from that day as we are posing in front of our home. I think this photos illustrates how our two cultures go together and our appreciation for preserving the old.

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Our photographer Andy had great ideas and tips for our photos, he was always giving as directions on how to pose and be more relaxed. Being a wedding photographer is his second job, but still last year alone he photographed more than 50 weddings. If you are planning to get married in Guangzhou, I would love to recommend Andy for you.

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Posing for the photos wasn’t easy for me, but the beautiful outfit and the newly found confidence helped a lot. These photos are from the first batch Andy send us and we will receive the finished pics later when he comes back from his one month trip of cycling around Tibet.

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At our new home we opened the door to our bridal chamber thinking how this room will be the hearth of our home for years to come. Of course I didn’t think how hot the second floor is during Summer and as we don’t have AC yet, we have been sleeping on the cooler first floor for now.

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Smiling comes naturally for my husband, but the photographer had harder time to get me show my teeth! Later that day I needed to ask my little brother to tell some jokes to get me laugh.

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My husband Alan is usually the one to make funny jokes and poses!

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The rainy season had started in Guangzhou before our wedding on 2nd May, but on that very day it seemed the heaven wanted to bless us with sunshine. I’m not a religious person myself, but my mother-in-law it must be a match made in heaven or something to have such a wonderful weather for our wedding day!

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For my wedding bouquet I went for fabric flowers as real flowers don’t survive long in the humid Summer weather, I wanted to have one more lasting memory of the best day of my life. I finished the bouquet with silk ribbons, red and blue of course.

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At 10am it was time to start the important tea ceremony. First we offered tea for Alan’s grandparents that had passed away. We burned incense, asked for protection and blessing and poured their tea on the floor.

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After that we offered tea to all the elders of the family, including my mother. Kneeling down was really hard on my red qipao, but with my husband’s firm had I managed to do that without falling down. On the right my sister and one of my bridesmaids are helping us to give tea to Alan’s parents.After giving tea and wedding candy to the elders, they gave us red pockets filled with money and some gifts.

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In China a wedding is not a real wedding if some firecrackers aren’t involved!

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Ready, set, go!

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After the tea ceremony it was time to get to our cars and head to the wedding banquet. I had chosen a beautiful lace umbrella to match my outfit and following the tradition my little sister in blue hold it above me from the front door to the car. My mom and little brother are following us in the background.

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The every bride’s best wedding planner, Pinterest, gave me an idea to have a finger print guest book. The two red ones forming a hearth are mine and Alan’s. The guest book was placed on the table where the guests would give a red envelope to my mother-in-law. She also did a great job in ordering everyone to leave their finger prints and it turned into a beautiful piece of art we will hang on our home.

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When all the guests had arrived and we had taken group pictures with almost all of them, it was time to “walk along the aisle to the altar” or more like follow the red carpet to the small stage.

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With the classic wedding music and colorful confetti we walked past our family and friends to the stage.

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There is never enough colorful pieces of paper in a Chinese wedding!

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At the last minute one of the bestman’s had decided we should have a exchanging the rings ceremony in front of everyone. That was already the third time we had exchanged the same rings, but it did make some nice photos. (First time was when we got engaged last year, second time during the official wedding ceremony).

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A kiss to seal the happy marriage!

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What is common for both Chinese and Finnish wedding are the speeches. Us, Alan’s parents and my mom all gave speeches that were translated to Cantonese and English for everyone to understand. I broke up to tears when listening to my mom’s speech and had to squeeze my husband’s had very very tightly.

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After the speeches it was time to eat! Of course we as the newly weds only had a few minutes to eat and then we separated for our own responsibilities. Alan went with the red wine to cheer with all the guests and had his bestmen to follow him. O course he couldn’t have drunk the real thing from the first to the last guest, so they have prepared a mixture of tea and wine for him.

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At the same time Alan’s mom lead the way for me and the bridesmaids to offer tea for everyone. What was new to me, was that all the guests would give small red pockets of money to the tray as well. The sums were small, but the most important things was the tradition.

Our Chinese wedding banquet ended after 1pm and I was already exhausted. But this was just the beginning, the Finnish party would start in a few hours! But that’s another story for the next blog post.

04/24/14

How to get a marriage residence permit in China

Getting a marriage visa in China is an easy process, once you have managed the hurdles of actually getting married to a Chinese citizen. I didn’t apply for a visa as I was already in China, but applied for a residence permit instead. If you apply outside of China, you would apply for a Q1 (long-term reunion visa) visa first and  then you would change that to a residence permit during your first 30 days in China.

Documents needed for applying the marriage residence permit in China:

  • Registration form of temporary residence for visitors: When you come to China with your visa, you need to register at the local police station in 24 hours. If you stay in a hotel, the staff will do this for your. If you are a student, then your university will help you with this. Every time you get a new visa or residence permit, you have to register and get a new form. You need this form when applying for a new residence permit.
  • Official photos with the official receipt: You can take photos at the Entry and Exit Administration Division, which is where you apply for the residence permit.
  • Chinese spouse’s hukou, ID card and copies of each of them: The original documents will be inspected also.
  • Your marriage certificate (aka the red booklet) and a copy of it: The original document will be inspected also.
  • Physical examination record: In order to get this you will need to do a full health check at appointed place in China where you live. In Guangzhou it’s at Guangdong International Travel Healthcare Center and the health check costs 593RMB. Bring official photos, can be taken at a photo shop next to the center, your passport and a copy of it.

With all of these documents you go to the Entry and Exit Administration Division which location you have to check according to the city you live in. In Guangzhou it’s located at Jiefang South Road 155 (解放南路155号), closest metro station is Haizu Square.

The following step by step information only applies to Guangzhou:

  1. If you need to, take photos first at the second floor. Most probably you still have photos left from the physical examination so you can use those, just remember to have the official receipt.
  2. Go to the fifth floor and apply through the online system with the computers provided. There is an officer to help out foreigners, but she is often very busy. Be patient as their system isn’t the friendliest to use. At the end you will be given a long number, write it down. No need for paper application.
  3. Take a waiting number on the fifth floor and wait to get your documents checked. The officer will ask for the number you wrote down first.
  4. After checking the officer will give you a pass to the sixth floor and a new waiting number. There your documents will be checked again and you will be given a receipt with which you can receive your passport with the new residence permit on in two weeks. The date will be written on the paper.
  5. When you come back to get your passport get a waiting number and pay the fee on the fifth floor with your Chinese bank card. The fee for 1 to 3 years residence permits is 800RMB.
  6. After paying you will be given your passport back and you can go home. But don’t forget to re-register at your local police station!

How long can you stay in China with a marriage/spousal residence permit?

When filling out the online form (step 2) the system will ask you how long residence permit are you applying for. I asked the officer helping out and told her “the longer the better” and she told me to apply for two years. And two years I got.

Online I have heard of marriage residence permits between one and two years depending on the city you apply. Always ask your local Entry and Exit Administration Division what are the requirements in your city.

What can you do with a marriage / spousal residence permit?

Working is not allowed with a marriage/spousal residence permit. If you want to work in China, you need a Z-visa and a work residence permit. Before writing a contract be clear that the company must give you all the documents and help you need in order to apply for a Z-visa before you come to China.

Because of work permit issues I’ve had to turn down offers to work for small companies that doesn’t have the right to employ foreigners.

But according to my knowledge you can study with marriage/spousal residence permit no matter if it’s short-term or for a whole degree. I have friends that don’t apply for student visas/residence permits, as they already have a different kind of visa/residence permit (Q1 or S1).

Have you applied for a marriage/spousal visa or residence permit? How did the process go in your city?

03/13/14

Getting Married in China: Combining the two cultures

International Marriage

Being in an international relationship is all about making compromises and respecting each others cultures. We wanted to honor our backgrounds on our wedding day,  complemented with our personal tastes. Having both Finnish and Chinese traditions on our big day will also hopefully make our family and guests feel comfortable and happy.

What we personally don’t like about modern Chinese weddings is that how it’s become an occasion to show off your family’s wealth. I don’t want rows of golden bracelets on my wrists or line of expensive cars for transport. Instead we want our wedding to be truly something we like, with some compromises to keep the family satisfied as well.

Our wedding day will begin with worshiping gods and ancestors. Then we will continue to the tea ceremony where we pour tea for our parents and other elders in the family. It is a custom to give golden jewelry to the bride at this point, but as a modern independent woman I wish that not to happen.

As this is an unique opportunity to show Finnish culture to our Chinese family, I want to bring something Finnish to the tea ceremony. My mother-in-law already agreed that we can use a teapot designed by Marimekko, something I fell in love with when I visited Finland this year. It will also be an amazing keepsake for us to use during our tens of years together in the future.

Our Chinese ceremony will end with a lunch banquet at a restaurant near our home. The food will be all Chinese, but perhaps I could find a way to bring something Finnish to the table as well in form of decoration or small gifts for example. I want the Chinese family to experience something new and to bring my own culture to the mix.

Of course at the same time it’s going to be very exciting for my own family to attend a Chinese wedding and see what kind of culture is affecting my life now and onwards. I will have one of my bridesmaids to help interpreting the ceremony for them so everyone knows what happens in each step.

The Finnish, or I should probably say Western, part of the wedding starts afternoon. We originally wanted to have a house party at the old family house, but the renovation might not be ready in time. After thinking of different options, I decided to book a 2-bedroom plus living room apartment at Ascott Guangzhou. I think it’s perfect for our small evening party because it’s beautiful, doesn’t really need decorating and is something totally different than what you usually see in Chinese or Finnish weddings.

At the party apartment we will have a buffet dinner prepared by the restaurant where we first met. We will also have a friend who will be making drinks and cocktails for our guests. Cutting the wedding cake is of course an important part of the Finnish wedding as well as dancing all night long. There will be other Finnish wedding customs as well, but I want to keep those secret for now.

During the party Alan’s family and friends have a chance to experience a totally different kind of wedding. At little sister’s wedding they did cut the cake, but no one ate it. The emotional first dance is also something new to the Chinese.

I wish that our wedding day will successfully combine the best parts of both cultures. I hope that after that day both families have a better understanding of the other culture and that this won’t be the last time for everyone to meet each other.

p.s. An article in a Chinese newspaper Information Times was published today about me and Alan. I hope to translate it to English as well.

02/17/14

Getting Married In China: Wedding Ceremony

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On February 14th 2014 came the most important day of my life so far, me and my Chinese fiancé got legally married. Alan has been away for business for five days and I was worried if his flight would be on time on Valentine’s Day. I had all these terrible scenarios on my mind of what could go wrong. But you know what? Everything went so perfectly that it’s hard to believe!

My fiancé Alan was the first to arrive at the Guangzhou Foreign Marriage Registration Office and I arrived by taxi just a few minutes later. After that Alan’s parents, sister and brother-in-law arrived as well.

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I will write more about the paperwork side of things on a separate blog post, but in short, it was very easy to get our marriage certificates. You would just get your number and let the staff point you to the right directions for filling out forms, paying, taking photos and for the official ceremony.

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After filling our forms we had about fifteen minutes to take some photos at the decorative hallway. As this is an office that only deals with foreigners marriages, I think they want to make a good impression on us on how smoothly things go and Chinese elements were to been seen everywhere.

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Getting married in this special office was very nice for two other things as well. First of all there was no rush even though it was Valentine’s Day. They did say it was their busiest day of the year, but still the staff had time for us to have a special ceremony, something that Chinese-Chinese couples don’t get. Secondly the staff took many pictures of us and in the end we could buy a cute wedding album with nine photos. The album also has pockets for our marriage certificates (the red booklets) as well.

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Above Alan is demonstrating how there’s no change for me to run now! (Or was that to show how he can’t lift me up?! Which he actually can. )

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After some more cute photos, it was our turn to start the official ceremony. Us and our family members were asked to the ceremony room where we started taking a lot of photos according to the staff member who guided us for different poses.

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I had no idea that the wedding ceremony would be this interesting as I thought it would be more like a “sign the papers and get the booklets”. It was a very nice surprise to see that us Foreign-Chinese couples got some special treatment and attention. After all, at least for me this was the actual wedding day which will later be celebrated on anniversaries. For Chinese it might be just getting the paperwork done and that’s it, the wedding reception is much more important for them.

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After posing for photos the marriage officiant came in and said a few words that I really don’t remember.

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Then we had to read our “vows” from the forms we had already filled and that were printed out. As I had filled mine in Chinese, I also had to read my vow in Chinese! I was super nervous but my dear Alan read quietly along me so I could pronounce all the words. It was the first reading aloud I’ve ever done, but luckily there is no recording of that!

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The vows included things like we vouch that we aren’t relatives by blood, that we are getting married by our own will and that we are clear of each others health situation. After reading we both signed the paper to make it legal.

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Then we exchanged the same rings we bought when we got engaged. We took the rings of at the beginning of the ceremony and now it was time to put them back on our fingers.

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In the photo below you can see as both very touched to receive our official marriage certificates. In that moment it really felt real that we are now husband and wife.

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We of course also had to take a photo with our new red booklets! Alan was surprised that we don’t have marriage certificate in Finland that look like passports, according to my knowledge it’s just a document in black and white. But in China you get these red certificates that includes a photo of you two and your information.

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A kiss to seal the marriage!

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Finally was my time to surprise Alan and we hopped into a taxi without him knowing our destination. He was super surprised to see that we get off at the Westin Pazhou Hotel! It was time to celebrate with excellent food, five-star service, Finnish sauna, swimming and luxurious room.

Even though we are now legally married, there is still a lot to write about getting married in China! Future posts will include the paperwork to be done in China, changes in addressing family members and planning the Finnish-Chinese wedding reception.

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01/28/14

Getting married in China: Choosing the date

Choosing the date for your wedding is important in both Finnish and Chinese culture. In Finland we usually choose a Saturday during the three Summer months June, July and August. The weather should be nice and guests are usually free on a weekend. The date might also have a special meaning to the couple.

It’s a lot more complicated in China. Of course you want to have your guests available on that date or perhaps choose an anniversary date for your wedding. Dates like 8th of August are also popular as number eight is a lucky number in China. There were lots of couples getting married back in 8.8.2008.

Then you have to check the lunar calendar that states which things or life events can be organized on a certain date. It also states which things you should avoid on that date. Sometimes it can be very hard to find an auspicious date for your wedding that fits your other needs as well.

So how did we decide our wedding date or should I say wedding dates?

Valentine's Day Chinese Calendar

First of all we are going to get our marriage certificates on Valentine’s Day. I think it’s a romantic day and perfect for getting married. It’s also easy for my groom to remember later on! Luckily it’s also an auspicious date to get married as you can see from the lunar calendar above. Under 宜 (suitable, appropriate) there is a word 嫁娶 which means to marry.

WeddingDay Chinese Calendar

Then comes our wedding reception a few months later on 2nd May. Why to choose this date? We wanted to wait for my friend Linda to get back to China, but we wanted to arrange the wedding before the hottest Summer months. Luckily most of my family can also be there for us and it happened to be during a sale period at Finnair so they got nice discount tickets.

Unfortunately according to the Chinese lunar calendar, you absolutely should avoid (忌) getting married on that day. Because for Chinese the wedding reception is more important than getting the legal papers, my fiancé’s parents aren’t really happy that we chose an inauspicious date for our big day.

We, or should I say I, have three months to plan the wedding. This will be our only wedding, we don’t plan to have any second reception in Finland as most of my family can arrive to Guangzhou in May. I want to include both Chinese and Finnish elements to the wedding, but stay true to our vision of the day.

More wedding posts will surely be on its way during these months!