In one photo, the couple, wearing big sunglasses, sit in a trendy Starbucks holding cups of coffee. In another, they’re wearing traditional Tibetan robes, prostrating themselves in front of Jokhang Temple.
These are the wedding photos of Tibetans Gerong Phuntsok and Dawa Drolma, who followed the Chinese custom of posing for professional “wedding” snaps in scenic or meaningful locations way ahead of their big day. The photos went viral on Chinese social media days before their big day obviously striking a chord as youngsters of ethnic minorities try to incorporate both traditional culture and more modern trappings into their lives across fast-modernizing China.
The photos have been viewed by 80 percent of users of messaging app WeChat, making Phuntsok and Drolma the most blessed bride and groom in the country.
When asked if he had predicted the result, 31-year-old Phuntsok shakes his head. “Not at all.” He has spent a long time talking with photographer He Di about why the photos would have proved so popular.
“Maybe we represented thousands of young people from ethnic minorities, who left their hometowns to pursue a ‘modern life’ but chose to return to tradition after feeling a void in the heart,” Phuntsok says.
The couple are typical of young Chinese. But their fine appearance, the thought that went into the poses and shooting locations, the quality of the images as well as Phuntsok and Drolma’s Tibetan identities is what has interested web users.
Phuntsok’s name means “perfectly good days” in Tibetan. Like many other ethnic minorities congregating in remote areas, he was born in Rongchag County in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, 11 hours’ drive from the provincial capital, Chengdu.
He studied at Beijing-based Minzu University, an institution mostly for people from ethnic groups.
In the eyes of others, the lanky guy with dark skin was “smart and very good to friends”. He had university mates of all nationalities. Phuntsok asked them to bring traditional handicrafts and sold them in other schools.
“He did that just for fun. He used all his earnings to treat us in restaurants,” says Jamyang, who eventually acted as matchmaker for Phuntsok.
One day, he had just finished talking with Drolma on the phone when Phuntsok called him. “He asked if I could find him a girlfriend,” Jamyang remembers. He put the two young people in touch on WeChat.
Drolma, 27, was a typical Tibetan woman from a village in outlying Maerkang County. “She is mild and kind. She cooks, washes clothes, milks yaks and collects fungus,” Jamyang says.
Phuntsok and pretty Drolma fell in love. Phuntsok now works for an advertising company, and he wanted the wedding photos to be creative.
One of Phuntsok and Drolma’s wedding photos shows they are strolling in the high street in trendy suits. (Xinhua/He Di)
In Chengdu, they posed for photos in trendy suits, T-shirts and evening dresses, strolling in the high street, drinking in a pub and screaming on a roller coaster.
They even managed to find a helicopter and a Lamborghini, which made the photos look like posters for a Hollywood blockbuster.
The pair also traveled back to their hometowns, and made a pilgrimage to Lhasa, capital of Tibet. In the photos taken there, they pray, feed chickens, herd sheep and sit on grassland, gazing into the distance, just as their fellow Tibetans have done for many years.
In one of Phuntsok and Drolma’s wedding photos, they are dressed in traditional Tibetan robes. (Xinhua/He Di)
On the evening of April 5, Phuntsok put the photos on social media. “This is a story about us,” he wrote on WeChat. “It is a story about love and our life style.”
Then he went out for dinner with He Di. Two hours later, when they finished the meal, he found the photos had been forwarded more than 10,000 times.
“I think we found an echo with other web users,” Phuntsok says. “As we fight for our dreams, some of us get lost. So we wanted to say with the photos: stick to your beliefs.”
The couple now live in Chengdu. In their spare time, they like watching movies. The last flick they both liked was “The Imitation Game”.
They have part of their hallway set up as a mini Buddhist shrine. Like other Tibetans, they pray and place clean water in front of an image of the Buddha. “The daily ritual has become part of our life, just like having breakfast,” Phuntsok says.
They haven’t decided when to have children, but agree they should make sure their child learns Tibetan language. “My English now is better than my Tibetan, which is a pity,” says the photogenic groom. “We must pick up what we have lost.”
Story and Photo Courtesy: Xinhua News Agency.