Neighbors rally to support couple's online wedding with a twist
"Does anyone have anything useful for decorations? We would like to decorate our rented home a little, so we can celebrate our online wedding on May 2 with parents back in our native hometown. Please do send the word around."
This is the message sent on April 29 by the intending bride, 28-year-old Qi Liangliang, who came to Shanghai six months ago, to a volunteer WeChat group in Xuelinyuan neighborhood in northern Shanghai's Baoshan District.
The ongoing lockdown upset the couple's original plan for a wedding at a restaurant in their hometown of Yancheng, Jiangsu Province. Given the travel restrictions, they had to make do with an online wedding.
It never occurred to Qi that her casual request would elicit so much help from her neighbors and make their wedding one of the most memorable ever.
"I thought people might experience a sense of distance in a megacity like Shanghai, but I have felt a lot of kindnesses and love here," she said in a recent interview with Yicai, a local business news portal.
After Qi sent the message in the group chat, there was only one reply in the first few minutes: "Though I don't have any decorations to contribute, I still send my congratulations to you," it said.
Then dozens of volunteers began to forward her message to their compound's WeChat groups, and some neighbors began to explore if there were any items that could be put to use.
A neighbor even set up a new WeChat group for others to participate and figure out the best solution. Over 300 neighbors joined in within a short time, sharing pictures of various kinds of decorations.
Someone copied the Chinese character of red double happiness (囍) pasted on their refrigerator during a previous wedding. Some cut flowers in their yard and made them into a bridal bouquet. Others found a heart-shaped candle, champagne, a couple of bear dolls and even located their own wedding dresses.
A plan to invite all residents in their neighborhood was also considered during these heated discussions.
Neighbor Shasha, who works professionally in human resources, took the responsibility of recruiting people and successfully set up a core team of 16 experts, including a dresser, a photographer and a master of ceremonies.
At 12:36am on April 30, less than four hours after Qi sent her initial plea for help, Wang Siyu, another neighbor, came up with the first version of the online wedding plan. The team designed an invitation and decided the playlist of background music based on the couple's favorite Hong Kong fantasy-comedy movie, "A Chinese Odyssey."
"It was sudden. When I saw so many neighbors actively involved in planning our wedding, I was too excited to say anything," Qi said. "My mom told me to record everything and to return them after the pandemic. My hands were trembling while writing."
The planning discussion lasted until nearly 2am and the couple barely got any sleep for the whole night.
Qi fell in love with Ji Pengcheng in 2013. They are tenants in the Xuelinyuan community.
Ji is currently doing his PhD study at Shanghai University near their home. Qi quit a stable job in Yancheng six months ago to be with him and found a new job with an auto company in Hongqiao Business District. On an average workday, it took her about three hours to commute.
They'd been preparing for their wedding over the past year. They flew to northwest Qinghai Province to take their wedding pictures in a desert scene modeled on "A Chinese Odyssey." Qi also planned to decorate her wedding in ancient Chinese style.
However, the pandemic outbreak in Shanghai ruined their plans.
After a lockdown of more than 10 days in the neighborhood from March 4, Qi and Ji both signed up to work as volunteers, all the time secretly worried about their planned wedding in Yancheng on May 2.
At the end of April, as the lockdown was extended, they knew there was no chance of going back for the ceremony.
"The original date is auspicious and our families didn't want to change," Qi said. So they decided eventually to hold their wedding ceremony online.
Before the wedding day, the online schedule had been rehearsed three to four times. The short ceremony was decided to be held in the volunteers' working area on the second floor of the community club. Volunteers tidied up the area and decorated it as a simple wedding venue. A neighbor even invited his friend to professionally direct the online program.
On May 2, the ceremony began at 5:20pm, with only the bride, the bridegroom, the master of ceremonies and photographers in protective suits in the room. Two fixed cameras at different angles broadcast the wedding for the couple's families back in Yancheng and over 3,000 residents in the Shanghai community.
"In the past month, residents in Xuelinyuan have collectively contained the spread of the virus. Now we can see the dawn of final victory," the master of ceremonies stated at the start of the ceremony. "Today is a big day. The couple is ushering in their new married life."
Wearing masks, Qi and Ji then went on stage while audiences could see the couple's parents on screen at the same time.
The newlyweds have also received a surprise gift: a six-minute video containing many blessings from residents in different ways, some dancing and playing the piano.
Qi was so moved that she burst into tears several times. Some residents left their online messages saying that they were also moved to tears.
While the couple walked home after the ceremony, residents sent down their wishes from balconies. Children waved balloons and an old man shouted: "Wish you a happy marriage and love throughout all seasons!"
"When I told my families, they were all surprised that we have such kind and warm-hearted neighbors. It's the most special wedding ceremony and one that I will never forget," Qi said.
The residents changed the name of their group chat into "rainbow cloud" according to a famous quote from "A Chinese Odyssey." They are looking forward to life back to normal in the city soon.