Monday, June 23, 2003

A Malay wedding


Shareena’s wedding dinner took a little longer than what Boo Seng predicted. He and I had arrived unfashionably early. The earliest among all the guests by the looks of it. So early we had to excuse ourselves to go to the car park to pretend to get something. It was an experience, as I have never attended a Malay wedding in Malaysia. Singapore Malay weddings are usually like what you have in the villages here. Long afternoon lunches that stretch into the night. No set timing for the arrival or departure of guests. A bit like a wake. Shareena’s wedding, in contrast, was a mixture of pomp and homeliness. The ceremony was solemn and religious, with long prayers that reminded me of charismatic Christian preachers who liked the sound of their own voices. We were starving by the time the Muslim version of Amen was said, with guests in the know making a face washing-like gesture signifying the close of communication lines with Allah. We had finished two bowls of tapioca chips before prayers even started, marveling at the decorations, which were actually more tasteful than I had expected. The tables, around fifty or so, had gold bows on linen lined chairs, and a huge silver dome smack in the middle. When the bride and groom finally finished the ceremonies on two thrones up stage, and glided over a sea of songkoks and tudungs to the back of the hall to preside over the guests, the lights went out, and the very capable waiting staff assembled around the tables in the dark with basins of rice to serve the hungry guests. We need more waiters who can see in the dark without stumbling and spilling rice all over customers. I was impressed. Malaysia boleh. The lights came back on, and whoa, another waiter who had crept up next to me in the dark first startled the shit out of me, then lifted the big silver dome off the centre of the table, revealing beef rendang, sambal prawns, curry chicken, dhal and achar. At this point, hunger having got the better of me, I exclaimed a little too loudly, “You mean the food was here all along??!” I was told off by Boo, who said I shouldn’t embarrass my Malaysian friends. Our table was labeled “UNSW”, next to the one which read “Shareena’s Friends”. It is obvious we are not in her inner sanctum. According to Boo and Penny, there were several judges among the guests, as well as several important people, Tan Sris and whatnot. Rank and status could not have been demonstrated more clearly, as the tan sris, datuks, raisins and sultanas were seated near the stage, while the UNSW table was in Siberia, next to the door where waiting staff stood at the ready to commence their night-vision rice assault. Food was consumed at a frantic pace, and used crockery was cleared with equal haste. Jen scooped and scooped cubes of sinewy rendang, one chicken drumstick, four pineapple cubes, one sudu or two of dhal and a partridge in a pear tree, while Allen made very small talk with the four strangers at our table and Boo and myself mused about what type of wedding we would have were we to be so fortunate as to have someone to marry. We then took our place in the queue to leave the hall and spent all of three minutes offering our congratulations to Shareena and Affendy, took the obligatory group photo, then took our leave. We adjourned to Changkat Bukit Bintang and had a beer (no alcohol at Malay wedding) at Deutsches Haus, making it the third visit in three nights for Boo and myself. Being a Sunday night, we called it pretty early after that. Earlier, Karen, Boo and myself went shopping for the wedding gift. As we expected, half the afternoon was spent negotiating traffic, first to Mid Valley, where we gave up trying to get into the car park, and then to somewhere near Bangsar, to a mall whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. We found a shop selling Chinese antiques, called ‘Madam Butterfly’, and bought a porcelain urn with double happiness painted on it, and a wine saucer set. The staff then took a back seat as they watched me rummage through their shop looking for wrapping material. Actually, one of them got a little pissed off because I asked for a box, and they had to go to the garbage area in the mall to get one. We then made them put the gifts into the Kodomo children’s toothbrush box (4 doz.), and made them use their coarse packing tissue to make wrapping paper while we shopped for ribbons and a card. We came back to the shop and saw that they had wrapped the box in the most horrible way imaginable – like a giant candy wrapper, with scotch tape visible all over the place. Too late to unwrap now, and I asked them for their pink coarse packing tissue and tried to mask the scotch tape by making a sash over the wrapping paper, while tying our gold and silver ribbons over the scrunched up ends of the candy wrapper. Creative intentions, ugly outcome. If nothing else, one look and Shareena would be immensely curious as to what the package contained. The way our present sat on the gifts table just screamed out “Open Me Please. Like Now!” I hope they like it.


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