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Valentine's Special

я делаю, 我做, मैं करता हूँ, I do
Do not worry, this is not that kind of post. No photos of smooching or 'love you forevers' here. Simply, with Valentine's around the corner, we thought we'd share some stories and pics of the love, romance, weddings and wedding dresses that we've experienced on our trip so far.
I love weddings. All weddings. It's definitely an exceptionally special feeling of happiness and excitement when you actually know the bride or groom but generally speaking all weddings are brilliant occasions. This is especially true abroad, when everything is new and fun, the culture and traditions are unusual and interesting and the food is unique. On top of that, the guests are at their most relaxed and hospitable.
So, you can imagine how chuffed I was to have sneaked my way into a wedding already on day 8 of our trip. A hotel restaurant back in St. Petersburg right on the river lured us in with its cosy set up, nicely laid tables, flowers and decently priced food. We were just going about our own business - I was sipping on my first borchst (I don't see the deal with this average beet soup!) when noises from the room across the corridor caught our attention. After food, I used the excuse of a trip to the toilet to make my first move. Naturally, I took my camera to the loo too.
Suddenly, I just don't know how (?!), I found myself in the middle of the wedding reception room. Most people had left the wedding (it was around 10pm) so it was just me and the immediate family. The bride's father was delighted to have an English visitor. He was also as drunk as a skunk. The bride was giggling a lot and when I did my,'I love all this laughter but why? face', she shyly pulled up her dress to show me her trainers underneath. Not being a lover of high heels myself, I appreciated this a lot.
After some photos of the couple, the father of the bride suddenly sprung into life and showed me his moves. There was a flurry of hands clapping on thighs and above heads. I was positively beaming by now. I watched for five more minutes before I thanked them for having me and wandered back towards the restaurant.
We were still there when the wedding party attempted to leave. It was brilliant watching the bride drunkly try to rescue the dozens of bouquets from around the hotel. She clearly did not want to have to part with any of them. Her husband, realising that they had enough flowers to keep a small florists ticking over, showed his new wife out the door before dashing back into the restaurant where we are sitting and presenting me with my own bunch of roses. Chuffed I was.
On our train from Ulan Baator in Mongolia into Jining Nan in China, our cabin was packed to the brim with boxes of sweets and coffee. We could hardly squeeze in but, once settled, we met the two young blokes who were flogging the goods across the border to sell in China. Eager to practise my Chinese immediately, we start chatting about all sorts. I asked if they were married and talk turned somehow to how MIke would go about finding his perfect Chinese wife.
It's hard luck he was told. He'd need a car, a good job and decent salary, a house and savings for a Chinese girl to even look at him. Assessing his current situation, he decided he'd better stick with me.
Chinese weddings and in particular the ridiculous photoshoots that come with them, are a big deal. During a wedding, a bride can change her dress three times or more. The changes happen in the intervals between a six or sometimes seven course meal.
Photoshoots are taken before the wedding itself and involve a team, a vehicle, lighting, hundreds of props, multiple outfits and sometimes, just sometimes, some llamas. Many couples travel to Taiwan for their photoshoot but across China; on beaches, up mountains, over lakes and in cities, you'll see dozens of couples.
One of our most random days in China was when we cycled around Erhai lake in Dali. It was morning and we happened across a big lunch that was being put on for the occasion of a wedding the next day. The bride and groom weren't there, but people were busy preparing food, stirring huge cauldrons of pork, eating and drinking Baijiu (40%).
We were invited to sit and eat, and of course drink. Little kids sat spinning the pedals on our bikes whilst I chatted to some Chinese guests and Mike was introduced to none-other than the bride's father. It was a jolly event all round although I wasn't sure how successful our 20km cycle was going to be that day, with Mike already on his fourth shot.
We'd only cycled on another half an hour or so when we were pulled into a photoshoot. The couple themselves didn't seem bothered either way but the photographer was loving making Mike and I pose and do ridiculous things. Oh, and there were llamas. We still aren't sure what they were doing there but they added to the experience nonetheless. I mean, who doesn't want a spitting llama in their wedding photos? Many great China memories were made that day.
Chinese wedding are huge and often hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people attend. Everyone is fed a six course dinner off swivelling round glass plates in the middle of tables. During one travel adventure, we stopped off in a small town called Pu'er in Yunnan. We wandered past a big hall and I was intrigued by the big handfuls of peanuts being given out at the front door. As I got a bit closer, we were invited to join the events inside and were thrilled when we discovered it to be another wedding.
This time the couple were present. They ate on stage before coming around to all the tables (around 180 of them!) to say hello to the guests. We enjoyed rice, pork, beef, noodles and more before joining in for a traditional walnut milk shot with the couple. They were as bemused to see us at their wedding, as we were to be there.
All in all, China was fruitful for us when it came to love. Two wedding celebrations, one wedding photoshoot, 2 llamas and countless brides and grooms strutting their stuff in front of the cameras.
Like China, Indian weddings are an equally big deal. The poorest of families save for years and years to afford a wedding and if they have a girl, her dowry. The families in the villages we met estimated they'd need 30,000 rupees (£360) to put on a wedding. This can be crippling for an already struggling family, yet weddings (and deaths), are hugely symbolic and each and every one will be done 'right' to ensure good fortune. They are often marked with days of celebrations and feasts.
We have been past many weddings whilst on the road. You hear them from about a mile away. A truck fully equipped with a mega sound system blaring music out. Often there will be people following the vehicle playing the drums too. Then trailing the musicians are the guests and the wedding car, dancing and parading their way through town. They are wonderful sights and like everything in India, every parade is colourful and full of life. They remind me of that scene in Love Actually when Colin Firth proposes to Aurelia and the whole village joins him as he goes to get his girl. By the end of an Indian wedding parade, I swear towns worth of guests suddenly materialise and join in.
The one wedding we have formally attended was a Muslim one in Nagpur, where we were watching the T20 cricket. Outside our hotel window we could see streams of red and white cloth being draped across bamboo structures in the alleyways opposite. Why spend money on a wedding venue when you can simply give the streets a makeover for free?! Naturally, we wandered in to find out what was going on. A nice man, told us it was a wedding and when I jokingly, but not really jokingly, asked if we could attend, he told us to come back at 7pm.
Nothing really happened for a long time. Between 7-9 guests sort of appeared and wandered around, eating the mutton curry that was served from steaming cauldrons. No sign of the bride or groom. Guests were separated, with women in one section, where we knew the bride was waiting and men in another section. We were a bit awkward, being one of each but they let me stay in the men's section with Mikey.
I was also lucky enough to meet the bride. Her Uncle took me around to the women's side which was buzzing with excitement and colour. The bride herself was tiny, her eyes staring straight at the ground. She was incredibly shy and only managed a tiny wave and smile. I took a quick picture and left. The last thing you want on your wedding day is some tourists rocking up and shoving a photo in your face especially if you've never met your husband to be. No wonder she looked timid, if not slightly terrified. Today, was a big day.
I creep back over to the men's side and Mike tells me that the groom, dressed in white and covered in flowers from head to toe, has just ridden in on an exceptionally decorated white horse. Apparently the horse bucked up and down, like some sort of dance, as the groom clung on to it's back.
We stay long enough to see the groom getting blessed by some imams before the Uncle says 'OK, you leave now.' This works for us, we've seen the groom and bride, although not together yet, and had some grub. These things are always slightly awkward so it was good that they weren't too shy to tell us when our time was up.
At this stage in life, when so many of our friends at home are starting to tie the knot, we feel privileged to have seen how people celebrate around the world and experience some amazing local hospitality along the way. We are bursting with excitement thinking about our loved ones at home getting married this year and cannot wait to celebrate with you all - the English (and Scottish) way.

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