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Wedding Supplement: A Bride's Eye View of Shanghai

Perhaps you’re not wedded to the idea of getting married in Shanghai. Tying the knot here poses its own peculiar problems, including some wacky Chinese bureaucracy, but it can also make a memorable introduction for friends and family to the life you’re forging in your chosen city. We asked a ravishing new bride how to get it done.

In a playful Nicola Finetti dress, Khoby Rowe walked down a loosely formed aisle of friends standing in the garden of Yongfoo Elite, gathering their looks along with the late afternoon sunlight. Having arrived at the foot of the striking art deco venue’s steps, not far from its large magnolia tree, Ms Rowe parked her father and, smiling insanely, joined her fiancé, Roel van den Berg.

After a brief introduction by friend and officiator Jack Lambert, Mr van den Berg slid an antique onyx and diamond ring onto his bride’s finger and Mr Lambert announced, “By the power vested in me by the Universal Life Church dot com” that they were married.

By all accounts, the wedding was a wild success. Yet coordinating a wedding party across three continents – Khoby is from Australia and Roel from Holland – takes some doing. Was she sure it would be worth it? Although Khoby considered Australia, Holland or even somewhere new altogether, she settled on Shanghai. “All the people who know us as a couple are here,” she says. “Our life is here and we didn’t want people from Shanghai to have to travel.”

Of course, it’s a big ask for other friends and families to find the time and money to travel halfway around the world. For that reason “we really wanted to make it clear to our guests that there wouldn’t be any grudges for people who couldn’t come,” Khoby explains.

There is, however, an unspoken benefit to marrying so far from your homeland: only the overseas guests who mean the most to you are likely to attend, either keeping the guest list trim and helping to contain costs or opening up spots for others.

After choosing a date for the wedding – in Shanghai, spring and autumn are probably best – Khoby and Roel weighed up the merits of venues including a Shama Luxe penthouse, Kee Club, and URBN before deciding on Yongfoo Elite.

Sending out invitations as soon as possible gave guests more time to arrange international flights and allowed the couple more time to arrange group bookings at hotels and help visitors with the more difficult aspects of travelling here for the first time.

To ease the burden of communicating with 70 guests spread over five time zones, Roel created a website with all the essential information: how to get visas and flight deals, plus the weekend’s events, including relevant phone numbers and key addresses in Mandarin and English.

Having emptied their bank accounts for the occasion, Khoby is adamant what the biggest benefit of marrying here isn’t. “It’s not cost.” But there are other advantages. “Our benefit is that this is where we live and I’m really excited about showing people our life here.”

Let’s Make it Legal, Baby

The wedding at Yongfoo Elite was the second time in a week that Khoby and Roel had gotten hitched. They had already received the chop of approval from the Chinese Government’s Marriage Administration Office, the only way to make things official here.

To marry in China, men must be at least 22 years old, and women at least 20. Having leapt that first hurdle, you’ll need confirmation from your consulate(s) that you’re free to marry. You’ll also need your passports, your residents’ permits, and three copies of a cheesy two inch photo of you and your partner, squeezed in cheek-to-cheek.

When you’re ready to do the deed, you can make an appointment at the Marriage Administration Office. There they’ll give you a red plastic heart with a number on it and, when your turn comes up, process your documents. All up, on-site registration takes 30 minutes to an hour, including a quick ceremony in front of the PRC flag where you promise to be kind to each other (mei wenti) and look after both sets of parents (zhende?). The fee for all this is a whopping RMB 9.

The Marriage Administration Office, 3F, Shanghai Everbright Exhibition Centre, 78 Caobao Lu. Tel: 6432 5087. Two staff members speak English. Opening hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-11.30am and 1.30-4pm.


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