06 January 2009

Weddings, Singapore-style

Singapore is a multi-cultured town (city, state, nation?). And I have been lucky enough to experience two distinct cultural events recently – a Chinese and an Indian wedding.

Chinese weddings are complex, multi-layered affairs. I won’t go into all the events that take place in conjunction with a Chinese wedding – just know that there are all kinds of rituals and ceremonies that involve various friends and family at different times. One of the most significant is the wedding dinner, which includes invitations for extended family, friends, and colleagues. These are extravagant affairs that include eight-course dinners in a traditional Chinese style and are sometimes held a year after the actual wedding.

I was invited to the wedding dinner of a work colleague, and I was excited to attend. The invitation noted twice that it was not polite to be late, so I made a mental note to “NOT be late”. This was directly opposed to all the advice my native Singaporean friends gave me – it will all start late, they said. I showed up on time anyways, greeting my colleagues there, and went to my table.

Which was just me. I sat at a round eight-person table and watched the same slide show over and over, narrated by a single Chinese pop song (I later found out it was Korean) on repeat mode. It wasn’t until another colleague joined me 20 minutes after 7.30 pm (the start time) that I had someone to talk to. Good thing the single-song soundtrack kept me company.

A few other in-the-know friends came in before 8.30, when the bride made her entrance (an hour late). The bride was beautiful, of course, dressed in white (you can see her in the back of the picture above). She and her groom made her way down front (we were in a hotel ballroom with probably 40 tables for eight laid out). That was the signal to start serving food (I will remind you that it was 8.30 and I had not eaten since lunch).

And the food was wonderful. We had several courses of delicious Chinese dishes, including prawns, pork, chicken, and fish. I have attended a few such dinners here (mainly in business situations), and I always enjoy them.

Once settled, the bride (after a stunning wardrobe change!) and groom made it through the crowd to greet everyone, with their parents in tow. It was a very nice gesture to complement the superb meal. But, the dinner appeared to go on and on, so I left before the last course, as it was approaching 11.00 pm on a Sunday night.

Two weeks later, I had the good fortune to attend another wedding celebration, that of one of my Sabre colleagues at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple (loyal readers will recall this is the ending point for the Thaipusam khavadi procession I described last January). She is a Chinese Singaporean, marrying an Indian Singaporean, and I attended the Indian ritual (she also had a Christian ceremony in a church). This was fascinating. It started at 10.00 on a Sunday morning, and there were three distinct ceremonies – one for him, one for her, and one for the two of them. I was afraid the ceremony would be outside in the humid morning, but we were upstairs in air conditioned comfort. And we had seats. Some of the other 3,000 (!) who were invited (most from the groom’s side, although not that many attended) stood the entire time.

It was hard to tell what was going on, since all of it was in Tamil (an Indian dialect) and was accompanied by relentless drumming by the trio sitting up front. Once the separate ceremonies concluded, a man went on stage with a microphone to explain what had occurred and what was going to happen. He first gave his lengthy speech in Tamil, and by the time he started in English, the bride and her entourage were making their way down the aisle for the final ceremony, which was the cue for the drummers. I didn’t hear a word of the explanation.

The bride looked beautiful! And with her husband, they made a handsome couple. There were several other rituals in the ceremony, including a curious game where the bride and groom plunge their hands into a pot and fight over a ring and conch shell (I still don’t quite understand). At the end, the bride and groom received us all on stage in a twist on the receiving line. A delicious vegetarian Indian meal ended the day.

Two down, one to go. I will have to see if I can find my way to a Malay wedding, which are supposed to be beautiful events, as well.

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