Last year, Raevian and I went for our highly-anticipated pre-wedding photoshoot in Xinjiang, a remote region in northwest China. The photos and BTS video turned out beautifully, but in case you think the process was purely fun and smooth-sailing, it wasn’t. The awesome photos and brilliant cinematography by Moomedia (our photography team) belie the many challenges we faced in Xinjiang. But on the whole, it was an unforgettable memory which we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
Xinjiang? WHAT WERE YOU GUYS THINKING??
So why the heck did Raevian and I travel all the way to this ulu part of China for our photoshoot? As far as we knew, no one in Singapore had done it before. And as the saying goes, the “first one through the wall is always the bloodiest”.
In the beginning, we did contemplate going to a more “normal” location, but we decided that we wanted to capture this important moment of our lives in the most beautiful and unique way possible. After researching various places, we came across Xinjiang and realized that it fitted our criteria nicely. It had a comfortable climate, gorgeous landscapes, majestic mountains, beautiful vast lakes, and exotic cultural attractions. The historical Silk Road ran through this territory, therefore it is extremely rich in culture and heritage too. Xinjiang was exactly what we were looking for, and it seemed too good to be true. And after some more research we realized that it indeed wasn’t that ideal.
Firstly, Xinjiang is a restive region that has complicated political and religious tensions. I am a risk-adverse kind of person, therefore I was rather apprehensive about going to such a unstable region. Raevian, on the other hand, loves adventures and was really eager to visit Xinjiang. This conflict in opinion even led to a few quarrels during our planning. In addition, Xinjiang is HUGE and the even the “nearest” attractions are at least 100km apart. It would have been impossible to travel on our own. Luckily, after much searching online, we managed to find Ablajan, a local guide who had many positive reviews on various forums. After communicating with him through WeChat, we decided to bite the bullet and choose Xinjiang for our photoshoot, because at the very least we had a local guide who was familiar with the area.
Logistically, it was quite a nightmare too. This was a tiring 12 hour red-eye flight. And in addition to our normal clothes, we also had to bring along two wedding suits, four wedding gowns, various pairs of shoes, a hair curler, makeup, and other fashion accessories.
Most importantly, we had to find a photography team which was 1. willing to travel to this restive region 2. able to take beautiful photos and capture our spontaneous moments vividly. We came across the works of Moomedia online and found that they fulfilled these two criteria perfectly. Throughout the trip, Andrew and his assistant Kenny never failed to impress us with their amazing professionalism and positive energy.
Therefore, even though it may seem crazy that we decided to go to Xinjiang for our photoshoot, it is important to note that we spent a considerable amount of time researching and planning the trip. And more importantly, we had assembled a team of people who were experts in their respective fields.
The “Perfect Start” – Flight Delay, Lost Luggage, Lost Equipment!
Our trip did not start smoothly, to put it very mildly. After flying for 6 hours to Beijing Airport, we found out that our transit flight to Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang) had been delayed by almost 10 hours. We killed time at the airport by trying to catch up on sleep and mindlessly scrolling through our phones. Finally, we boarded our flight and reached Urumqi after another 5 hours. Our 12 hour flight had become a grueling 21 hour flight. By then, it was nearing midnight and Raevian and I were exhausted, to say the least. The only thing we wanted to do was to check in at our hotel, take a bath, and crash in bed.
Unfortunately, it was going to be a long night – Andrew’s luggage had gone missing. This was definitely bad news because other than containing his clothes and hygiene items, the luggage also contained the drone batteries. We quickly lodged a report with the helpful airport staff. In the meantime, Andrew would have to keep wearing the same clothes until his luggage was found. This might have been a distressing situation for others, but Andrew was extremely professional; his first concerns were not where he could buy clothes and disposable underwear, but rather where he could source for drone batteries so that our photoshoot would not be affected by this incident. Luckily, Ablajan arranged for us to visit a camera shop the next morning. And of course once that was sorted out, Andrew’s next question was where he could buy underwear.
“Adventures” at Tianshan Mountain Heavenly Lake
The next morning, we buckled in for our 100km car ride to the Heavenly Lake in Tianshan Mountain. Along the way, I got a call from Urumqi airport informing us that Andrew’s luggage had been located and was on the way to our hotel. This was great news and we were all elated. We reached the lake after about two hours. This was a wonderfully scenic spot where Andrew and Kenny managed to take some kickass photos against the backdrop of the magnificent lake.
But our troubles started again when Andrew flew the drone to take aerial shots. A visibly-annoyed park ranger emerged from seemingly nowhere and sternly warned us that we were not allowed to operate drones in the park. He even hung around nearby with his hawkish eyes fixed on us for a good fifteen minutes. However, patience won the day and once he left, the Moomedia team quickly took some awesome drone shots.
We were feeling proud of our little illicit achievement until we realized that we were about to miss the last shuttle bus leaving the mountains. We quickly ran up a sloping path towards the bus waiting area. On hindsight, it was a pretty funny scene: Raevian was running while holding up her gown with both hands, I was carrying my bag and dragging a luggage with Raevian’s accessories, Andrew and Kenny were helplessly out of breath as they ran while carrying four heavy bags of camera equipment. But luckily, we did manage to catch the bus!
Tianshan Grand Canyon – Breathtaking Scenery
One of the highlights of our trip was the Tianshan Grand Canyon, which took our breath away with its majestic mountain valleys and sprawling greenery. We also had the chance to ride on horses and take some awesome photos.
Experiencing the Local Culture
Because of Ablajan’s connections, we managed to visit a local Uyghur family and even enjoy a home-cooked meal. Despite the hot weather, Raevian had to wear a shawl in the house to cover her shoulders out of respect for the family’s religion. However, it was great to be able to experience the authentic local culture.
I got Heat Exhaustion!
Our last day of shooting was an eventful one. Upon reaching Jiaohe City Ruins, we were informed that drones were not allowed inside the heritage site. Despite Ablajan’s best efforts to persuade the security personnel, we had to safekeep the drone at the administrative office. This was a bummer.
It was a H-O-T day. According to the weather report, the maximum temperature that day was an insane 40 degrees Celsius. And it certainly didn’t help that I was wearing three layers of clothes (shirt, vest, blazer), complete with a oxygen-depriving bowtie around my neck. After about an hour, I started to feel dizzy in the midst of posing for photos. Suddenly, I heard a voice that seemed to be coming from a distance away.
“Hey Evan you ok?”
It was Kenny and he was probably wondering why my face had gone pale. I realized that I was suffering mild symptoms of heat exhaustion. I signaled to him and Andrew that I needed to take a break, and a worried Raevian quickly brought me much-needed water. I sat down to rest for a while and felt better shortly after.
Getting Stopped by the Police
Throughout the trip, our car was stopped at various police checkpoints. According to Ablajan, the Chinese government has stepped up security measures in recent years due to various terror-related incidents. It was slightly intimidating to be questioned by the Chinese police, but we were blessed to have both a Chinese driver (Shifu) and a Uyghur guide (Ablajan) who were able to communicate effectively with the local police. I couldn’t imagine getting into trouble with the Chinese law, which is not exactly well-known for its advocacy of human rights.
Kudos to an Amazing Team
We definitely need to express our heartfelt thanks to the team that made this photoshoot such a success. Ablajan and Shifu were two super responsible and nice guides who made us feel very safe throughout the trip, despite the restive nature of the region. Shifu was also a very skilled driver who navigated the traffic with ease and brought us to our destinations efficiently. Needless to say, the Moomedia team was amazing too. Andrew is a really talented photographer who could always find the perfect photo spots for taking gorgeous photos. Kenny was also a great assistant photographer and we loved his photos as well. He was a nice guy who always had water, snacks and tissue on hand for everyone. Without this wonderful team, this photoshoot would definitely not have been possible!
We are glad that we chose Xinjiang for our photoshoot location. It is truly a beautiful place that is also rich in culture, and it surpassed our expectations in every single way.
This was one of the most tiring trips of our lives. Raevian had to wake up especially early every single day at around 5am to do her makeup and hair, and I had to wake up at around the same time to help her. After that, the whole day was spent travelling long distances on the car and posing endlessly for photos. And we repeated this process for five continuous days! It was grueling, but ultimately rewarding because we loved how the photos and video turned out.
We feel blessed to have documented this significant moment of our lives in such a unique and beautiful manner. We are also very happy that our family and friends are able to share in the joy of our marriage through our photos and video. During the shoot, Raevian and I were often told to look into each other’s eyes, and when I looked into her eyes, it felt in my heart like I was falling in love with her all over again. We are glad to have written this chapter of our love story in such a perfect way.
This is part of a series of articles where I share about my wedding preparations leading up to the Big Day. Check it out: Evan and Raevian’s Wedding Journey
WeChat Name: Ablajan
WeChat ID: ablajan9719
Local Guide / Driver
Name: we called him “Shifu”
WeChat Name: 低调的虎
WeChat ID: wxid_XI00001
Our Exciting Prewedding Video!