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China IV: hunting elephants

This morning the city’s hotels and restaurants sprouted blow-up red and rainbow arches, each to frame the entrance of a wedding couple. Motorcades of various length and grandeur snake the city, some with girls in flouncy creations of bronze, red or torquise standing open from the roof of the car, like Onassis or Peron, for the benefit of the wedding video man. But the latest thing is blow-up elephants: giant beasts in red and gold, paired next to every air-filled plastic archway, shining where the spring sunlight shafts downwards between tall buildings. I know the drill: groom goes to bride’s house, bride is picked up from house with a series of ‘rituals’ performed in the spirit of a wild game, bride and groom tour a series of pre-set photo-ops, bride and groom host banquet with speeches and MC. Not a moment of solemnity or vowing will take place: this is family bonding, with all the fierce sociability and passionate sentimentality China can muster. I go out elephant-hunting with my camera, and remember some of the photo-ops: the palonquin with traditional band by the riverfront, in which bride sits on grooms lap and is bounced up and down ferociously while everyone cheers larily; the flock of doves kept atop the mountain in the city’s main park for the sole purpose of being run through by delirious bride and groom, so as to create album pictures of happy couple scattering white birds as they spontaneously chase each other through some luxurious parkland. But the elephants have gone: deflated as rapidly as they went up,  herded by a man-and-a-lorry to their next appointment on this reasonably beneficient sunday to get married on. In the streets around me, a thousand firecrackers let fly, and another couple start a new life together.

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