China 2.0

Kitsch And Kate: Shopping For A Dream Wedding In China

Wedding in Lanzhou, China
Wedding in Lanzhou, China
Fang Ye

SHENYANG — Zhang, who runs a wedding planning service, was doing her best to convince me over the phone to come in to visit what she describes as a “giant reception showroom.”

It has been a week since my future mother-in-law put down the deposit for our wedding venue, a newly opened five-star hotel in the northeastern city of Shenyang. But for my future husband and I, who both work in Beijing, if we want something a bit special rather than just a standard banquet with the usual food and beverages provided by the hotel, we need the help of a professional wedding planner.

So we decided in the end to cross the city, only to find out that Zhang has the stereotypical northeastern gift of exaggeration. Her “giant” showroom turned out to be a modest three-bedroom apartment filled up with sparkling curtains of various colors and shapes. On top of the kitschy props were some bunches of fake flowers piled up in the corner of the room.

“Couples with a small budget usually go for these plastic flowers,” she said, handing me a red rose after brushing the dust off it. “It doesn’t matter at all! Don’t frown, Miss! When the light shines on them they’ll look just like the real ones in the photos. It’s really fantastic!”

It’s said that in China wedding preparations and the décor of the couple’s new home are the two greatest reality tests for the to-be-wed. Many are those who don’t even pass these pre-nuptial tests.

Zhang boasted of her company’s cosmopolitan credentials, and how their most recent designs are based on the “2012 Dutch Wedding Expo’s trend indicators.” They respectively use swan and peacocks as the ceremonial themes.

Photo: Mulligan Stu via Flickr

The whole set of deco does not come cheap — 29,999 RMB ($5,000)! Zhang showed me the one with the peacocks. She opened a room. On the main stage stood two peacocks with their tail feathers in full glory. To match, each table is also to be adorned with flowers and feathers. Even the napkins are printed with the same pattern. All I could think was that these two supposedly proud peacocks looked more like two silly geese.

Before visiting Zhang, I had in fact consulted another wedding planner designated by our wedding venue hotel, and located in an upscale office building. Unlike Zhang’s showroom, no previous wedding photos were displayed. “No wedding is ever exactly the same. We do only customized affairs,” said the young lady at the reception with languorous snobbishness.

I don’t doubt their professional level. Thanks to the Internet, the wedding of any royal family or Hollywood star can be found, down to the very last detail. As long as one knows what they like, and is willing to pay, anyone can copy anyone else's wedding.

Entertaining the guests. Photo: triplefivechina via Flickr

These days the favorite Chinese wedding model is that of Jang Dong-Gun, the most beloved South Korean actor. Chinese people’s wedding venues and their home deco share an aesthetic commonality — go Korean!

If the Asian style is not your cup of tea, there's always the higher-end Western style — the British Royal family's most recent grandiose event, for example. Naturally it requires more full range support to achieve this level of pomp, including a made-to-measure replica of Kate’s wedding-dress.

“You can also have something different if you wish," the young lady said, sensing that British royal style wasn’t exactly what I was yearning for. Then she told me about some of their most successful recent weddings, including one in which the bride glided down from the ceiling on a trapeze. When she was halfway down the bridegroom, waiting on the main stage dressed as Cupid, had to “shoot” her down with an arrow.

Spotlight and showmen

“In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol once said. It’s a perfect saying to describe the current spirit of urban weddings in China.

What is important is that every appearance and performance on the special day will be forever seared in the memories of the newlyweds and their guests. Obviously spotlights are used, making sure that no one forgets the couple is the center of attention and worthy of bona fide stardom. Using special effects such as changing colors and displaying various ideograms or logos with the beam makes it even better. Of course two teams, the high-definition video cameramen and the still photographers, are not to be forgotten.

Photo: strudelt via Flickr

All these services have very different prices – and soon add up quickly. At the end of our visit Zhang recommended a discount master of ceremonies to us who can also sing. Price tag: around 1500 RMB ($250). A local radio or television presenter would be twice the price.

Finally she asked us our total budget. We told her we wanted an understated and simple wedding and that we’d have only 100 guests. Barely hiding her contempt, Zhang told me she could help us: “If you set the date and pay the deposit this week, I can offer you the two peacocks for free.”

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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