I don’t remember parks in Canada having dress-up booths. I can’t investigate: I’m not living in Canada, I’m living in China. Dressing up is commonplace in Chinese parks, theme or otherwise. Chinese women dream of being Asian models.
You’ll find a tent with racks of elaborate clothing: Festive Asian costumes, mostly for the ladies, but some for children and men. The displays on battered boards in front of said tents feature 4 x 6 photos of smiling women dressed in the colorful (and rented) gowns. Children will be dressed as emperors or princesses. The images of men show them a) Bored and/or disgruntled b) Hamming it up.
Nowadays, I don’t often play dress-up. My mother speaks of The Stevo’s younger days, when he cavorted around the house with a towel tied about his neck, or laying on a footstool with his makeshift cape, making wind noises and pretending to fly. Superman was replaced by Spiderman, who was replaced by Batman, and then Spiderman back for an encore.
Men dress up once a year — Halloween. Chinese women only need a trip to the park.
After returning from her year-long excursion to England, Mrs. Stevo decided she wanted a day to “play.” (aside: I am told my friends and I “play together” when coworkers translate Chinese to English. There is no “go out.”) Various options were discussed. As Mrs. Stevo is frugal, unlike her husband, Zhong Shan Park was decided upon as the venue. There’s a temple nearby, and Xinan Old Town (a bit of ancient China, a former Qing Dynasty naval garrison): Best of all, from Mrs. Stevo’s point of view, it’s free.
We had planned to visit during the late afternoon, but plans change often and quickly in China. An early lunch with friends, and then to the park. The sensible thing to do at 1:00 pm during the summer in South China is sleep. The humidity will suck the life from you faster than a thirsty vampire (or a Republican president). Twenty minutes into the excursion saw Mr. Stevo’s shirt soaked through. He wasn’t a happy camper. He is like his father in a lot of unfortunate ways, try as he might to be otherwise.
After walking through the small amusement park section, and Mr. Stevo “busting some caps” with a plastic-pellet firing AK-47, the pair came upon the dress-up both. Mrs. Stevo, like women all over the world, loves clothing. Mr. Stevo knew there was no escape. His wallet was lightened by 20 Yuan and Mrs. Stevo disappeared behind a curtain to get dressed, one of the dress-up booth mavens as her valet.
I hadn’t planned on taking photos that day. Yes, I had my camera and had snapped a few while in Xinan Old Town and at the temple. Shooting portraits was not on my schedule. It was 3 pm and golden hour was in the distant future. The sky was a harsh and smoggy blue-white. Far from ideal conditions.
Mrs. Stevo appeared in her finery and I led her back to a spot I had mentally marked earlier (a photographer’s mind never stops analyzing locations). Snap. Snap.
Why is it when you travel light you always need the one thing you don’t have? A flash and triggers. A reflector. A portrait lens. Traveling light, not packing for photographic eventualities, has drawbacks.
A change of clothes and new location. Snap. Snap.
My mood improved. I had something to focus on other than the rabid humidity.
And then we were done. We walked through the rest of the park, green and lovely. By the time we found a taxi golden hour had arrived.
I’m not Kreskin, but I see another trip to Zhong Shan Park and playing dress-up in my future. I’ll remember to pack more gear.