He meets with the bride's family and they have a mock debate about whether or not he's the man for her. Xi Shun wins the debate and goes next door to his wife's yurt to pick her up. The two of them travel back to the first yurt in the camel carriage for the reception. Picture it: hundreds of reporters with cameras chasing a camel-drawn yurt down the street. It was both brilliant and ridiculous.
The reception was an elaborate to-do with colorful Mongolian dancing and singing, a Mongolian priest to guide us along and piles of food — including lamb and weird cheese, of course. After a version of "I now pronounce you man and wife," the wedding was over. It was then that I realized that Xi Shun had unintentionally invited a pickpocket to his wedding. My cell phone was gone, along with various other belongings from the other foreign reporters. At least he didn't get my BlackBerry.
We hung around the wedding site because Xi Shun's agent said we could get a little more video that we needed. After all the other media left, we were approached again by a local party official. This one was the head of public security. He said, quite harshly, that we had to leave with the other reporters. We kindly explained what we were doing. He was rude. It was now time to protest. There was an argument.
My gentle Chinese translator was in the middle of the yelling, trying to tell each of us what the other was saying. In the end, we got what we needed. Looking back, it is a good thing we did not end up in an Inner Mongolian prison. Something tells me there would not be New Zealand sauvignon blanc there.
At day's end, exhausted, we were invited by the organizers (the local government) to a media dinner. When we arrived, we were invited to sit at the head table with the officials. I turned to my right and there he was: the head of public security that I scuffled with earlier. It was awkward … until the drinking festivities began. This time it was bai jiu, a Chinese liquor that is 38 proof. You drink it out of tiny shot glasses but because you toast a thousand times, the size of the glass does not matter.
The head of public security toasted me. I toasted him. We made up. After the ridiculous but delicious 20-course meal (minus weird cheese), it was time to say goodbye.
Or not. A group of officials invited the four of us out for more milk tea and bai jiu, and we went along because it's very rude to say no. We were thinking karaoke, but they took us to a tiny teahouse/bar with a small band. We were the only customers. The band played. The officials sang. We ballroom danced. Our American cameraman got on stage and gave a long speech in English, which no one understood but us. The waitresses brought a big shot glass of bai jiu for everyone. Eventually, we said goodbye and got back to the Holiday Inn safely, or at least that is what my colleagues told me.
We arrived safely back in Beijing, tired and with hangovers. But Inner Mongolia was absolutely beautiful and the people were lovely, a nice reprieve from city life in China. And we got to witness the Mongolian wedding of the tallest man in the world and his bride. Everyone loves a happy ending.