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By Catherine Wedding Studio

A few days ago, R-r-ron and I went shopping for a studio to take our 婚紗照 (hūn shā zhào), which are engagement portraits that are practically de rigueur for people of East Asian descent (and their lucky spouses).

From what I’ve heard, the tradition either started or was carried to its furthest logical conclusion in Taiwan (you’ll see what I mean when you look at some of the photos), hence the popularity of the island as a destination for couples from all over the world. They involve a full-day shoot during which the couple is driven to a variety of scenic locations, shoved into several poufy gowns or natty suits depending on their gender, coated with a tasteful layer of beauty products irregardless of gender, and arranged in poses that are (hopefully) guaranteed to make them look thin.

The photos are then lovingly PhotoShopped and printed out into a ginormous (34-inches!) poster-size print that the couple can hang in their living room to scare visitors with, a fancy photo album and trading-card sized copies to hand out at the wedding reception.

Zhongshan North Road, Sec. 2 (中山北路, 二段)in Taipei is ground zero for hun shao zhao studios. Before our trip last Sunday afternoon, I decided that Ron and I should dress up. A few weeks ago, we’d gone into Tiffany’s in Taipei 101 to check out prices (not that we’d ever buy anything from those baby blue daemons) and been totally ignored. I suspected that this was because we were dressed like the dirty hippies we are, so this time I made Ron put on his nice DKNY suit jacket, and I wore a brand-new olive-green glazed-cotton dress from that section of H&M that has the fancy gold-colored labels. And I applied hair creme. I wish I had taken a photo because we looked Klassy with a Kapital K.

Alas, my plan worked too well, for Ron and I were accosted as soon as we alighted from the taxi. All of the hun sha zhao studios have guys handing out promotional postcards in front of them, and one of them immediately started waving us in. Neither Ron or I are capable of saying no (how do you think we started dating? j/k!), so we stepped right in.

I don’t want to write the name of the store just in case it shows up in search engines, but the name rhymed with Give Rauche. A saleswoman showed us several albums and portfolios, as well as pre-edited photos from some recent shoots. Ron and I liked them well enough, but the woman’s hard sell creeped us out. She said she’d give us a steep discount if we signed up right then and there, and repeatedly asked us if we would. She also told us she’d give us a further discount because we were so very attractive and their studio would be able to use our photos as samples. Now, I know that Ron and I are heart-meltingly gorgeous, but I kind of felt she was just using flattery as a selling tool. Onwards!

Our next stop (after literally getting chased down by one of those postcard dude on a BIKE) was some studio whose name I forget, but apparently it has a second store in Hong Kong. The place was obviously very popular, but Ron and I scratched it off our list as soon as we saw a white piano, scattered rose petals, twin champagne glasses, a champagne bottle garlanded with baby’s breath, ribbon and a single long-stemmed red rose, teddy bears dressed up as a groom and bride and swaths of tulle all used as props — in the same photo. Also, every photo they showed featured couples smiling these enormous, cheesy, toothsome grins. Ron and I don’t know how to smile. So we left.

Our last stop, and the only store whose Web site I’d visited before, was Catherine Wedding Studio. Ron and I liked that store’s photos best, and not just because it was named after me. The atmosphere was really relaxed — the saleswoman encouraged us to reserve a date in advance, but told us she understood if we changed our mind because shopping for hun sha zhao studios is a very complicated and personal choice.

Oddly, she immediately guessed we were journalists. At first I thought it was because we had the stench of evil about us, but our saleswoman informed us that they often have journalists take photos there, most recently a couple from the Apple Daily. We’re in good company!

Ron and I also really loved the pictures by a young photographer named Allen (click here; his portfolio is the one with the chick in an orange dress standing on the floaty bamboo thing). He had taken several photos in the Taiwan Beer distribution plant. The saleswoman referred to them as 另類 (lìng lèi), or indie.

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I refer to them as… awesome. I’ve never seen anything that has more perfectly encapsulated my aesthetic.

Well, to be honest, if I really wanted to capture my aesthetic, I’d arrange to pose in a pile of Blythe dolls while wearing a vintage swimsuit, sparkly blue fish-net tights, knee-high vinyl boots, beret and cape made from a vintage Rainbow Brite bed sheet while Ron threw glitter over me, but that isn’t going to happen. So Catherine Wedding Studio it is!

Anyway, Ron and I will have to return to Catherine Wedding Studio soon for outfit fittings and to finalize our shoot locations (our shoot is in September). Before we left, our saleswoman handed us two flyers with a gazillion suggestions and rules for what we need to do before we go to the fittings and the actual shoot. Apparently, one of the things we need to do (besides shaving our body hair and not drinking too much water the night before the shoot) is practice how to pose in “the most comfortable, the most natural, the most flattering way.”

The most flattering way? You mean like with a paper bag over my head? How about this:

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Ha ha! Anyway, I will keep y’all updated on our hun sha zhao journey. Follow me on my slow descent into madness as I avoid carbs for the next six weeks. Cheer Ron on as he battles ever so gallantly against the plague of the white tuxedo that afflicts so many men who take these pictures. Laugh at me, not with me, as I am forced into a poufy white dress and made to wear a miniature top hat cocked at a saucy angle on my beet-red hair extensions and glue the entire rhinestone contents of a Liberace jumpsuit on to my fingernails.

No, I’m kidding. I am pretty excited about these photos. Ron and I have been engaged for so long that I sometimes forget that we are actually getting married, and taking these is a nice reminder that soon we will be legally protected from having to testify against each other in criminal trials. I know I make all sorts of stupid jokes about it, but I’m really happy (about the marriage, not the trial thing. Well, that too.).