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Day 6: The Reception, Redux

Woke up on Tuesday morning trying to remember the flower arrangements at the wedding reception in Sabah. I felt bad because I couldn't remember the flowers that my Eldest Auntie personally put together.

I then realized the reason I couldn't remember what everything looked like was because I spent the entire reception without my glasses. My memories of this event are defined by blurry distances and rushed costume changes, and occasionally, when I had the chance to stare at things close up, deep pink stargazers amidst softly lit candles, set amidst tall glass jars and fat goldfish like little floating flowers at each table.

I was, mind you, horrified at the goldfish, and asked my mother what would happen to the fish after the dinner. It turned out that the kids from each family present were promised two goldfish by the end of the night, and Eldest Auntie, who was responsible for the decorations, was keen to reassure me she didn't want dead fishes on our hands either. (As it turned out, only one pair of goldfishes wound up as pets that evening -- the other four were returned to the petstore.)

scanner_darkly had great fun teasing me about the "suffering floating flowers" for the rest of the evening. It was all very beautiful to behold, but I fear I may have spent far too much time preoccupied with the bad animal karma of it all to have fully enjoyed it.

But yes, I have vague memories of stargazers and goldfishes in tall glass cylinders, with tinkling silver balls suspended on silk ribbons at the side. The stage, in comparison, was sort of tacky. The hotel set it up, which is the only way we can explain the golden hearts and our names in gold foam, or that ghastly fake pink and white cake we had to pose with for pictures.

I wore enough make-up that my husband nearly mistook me for a complete stranger after I returned from the beautician's. My hope that I would look even vaguely dramatic and gothy didn't work. Because I'd been availing myself of the ocean and pool amenities at the hotel, I'd gone as brown as a nut. With the bright crimson lipstick and dark, highly-defined eyeliner I looked like an awful over-made-up Malay starlet, enough that all photographs taken that night fill me with pity for the Trusty Guide, who did, after all, manage to still like me. But he's awesome like that.

My parents had hired professional cameramen for the event. They were an interesting couple of guys, hired because they'd had professional filmmaking experience, whose company gimmick included adapting each wedding they filmed according to their client (as opposed to merely filming the party). Apparently, the promotional videos they'd shown my parents included filming one wedding like a mafia movie. The director/choreographer of the pair was very nice, helping me strap on my shoes and earrings as I was dressing up, neither of which I could see without my glasses -- whose application ended up being a delay to the filming, as my mother was unavailable to help me with them at the time. They made me and the husband pose and do some odd stuff, like twiddle our thumbs and stare longingly into the distance. Right before we left the bedroom for the ballroom, Seth put in a special request: could the camera guys be so kind as to film me playing with my PSP? (Afi realism FTW! Patapon madness ensues!)

The first thing I did when we set foot in the ballroom was run up to the arch of stargazers at the entrance to sniff the lilies. We were ushered onto the stage, past all my closest maternal relatives, where the tea ceremony was to begin. My father had specially purchased tea from a ceremonial teahouse during a visit to Beijing, and according to seniority, the first person to drink it was my Maternal Grandfather. We worked our way through the roster of relatives, from my parents to Youngest Auntie. Seth earned the admiration of my uncle for mastering a Cantonese accent for, "Yum cha," throughout the process. My neighbours from Perth, Annette and Mark, actually flew in for the occasion. Annette very kindly took on the task of designated tray bearer for the tea ceremony and the bersanding ceremony that followed. My Aunt Bridget (Second Auntie), the quietest and perhaps the most diplomatic of all my aunts, was MC on short notice, or pretty much MC upon landing in Sabah the day before. She said very nice things about us, and was generally really sweet.

As soon as everyone had been served tea, photos had been taken and light cakes were laid out, we were ushered back upstairs for a costume change. I got out of the diaphanous white evening dress with the sequined lace and armour top -- I'd only met the dresses I would be wearing that night the day I arrived in Malaysia, three days earlier -- everything about this wedding reception, from the dresses, the schedule, down to my shoes and hair, had been decided by my mother in advance. I was shimmied into the silvery lace kebaya blouse and silk sarong I had to don for the bersanding ceremony. Seth took a shot of us on his phone, then we were walked back downstairs to the ballroom, accompanied by a troupe of percussive kompang players. Where the tea ceremony was a Chinese custom, this portion was Malay, and as I understood it, for my father's benefit as well as to reinforce my mixed heritage.

The bersanding ceremony is a custom from Malay weddings where both bride and groom are enthroned on a (usually raised) platform and offered to an audience for blessings. They may be required to sit that way for a number of hours, depending on the wedding party's schedule. This stems from a Malay saying, "King for a day", which culturally refers to the idea that a bride and groom are to be treated as royalty for a day. My relatives had never participated in a bersanding ceremony before, and apparently researched its protocols via a combination of Internetz and Youtube. In a sort of reverse tea ceremony, it was my husband and I who were made to sit on stage, while my relatives sprinkled yellow rice, screwpine leaves and jasmine water on our palms. Upon blessing us, each participant was offered a stalk of gilded silk flowers with a hard-boiled egg 'fruit' (symbolising fertility). All very intriguing, but our hands itched from hiding the prickly screwpine leaves under our knuckles between blessings, as there was nowhere else to put them.

Also, the smell of screwpine and jasmine water sticks around. (mokie, if you're reading this -- Malay wedding-inspired soap idea?)

We weren't required to sit in state for too long, since dinner was served directly after that. Mom put together an excellent nine course menu, which she'd personally tasted and spoke to the chef of the hotel's Chinese restaurant for. As per one request I managed to get through in advance, there were no potentially endangered species served during my wedding reception dinner. Crab meat and bird nest soup was awesome. During the first and fifth course, Malay folk dancers appeared to entertain us.

After the third course (steamed fish with Nyoya-style sauce), I was required to leave for my final costume change. I was ushered back upstairs, oozed into a floor-length silver ballgown, and carefully minced my way back to the ballroom on literal tippy toes and blurry stairways.

The fifth course, which I think was probably the lamb chop course, was also the joget course. Joget is a sort of chicken-dance-like dance prevalent at Malay celebrations and skanky dangdut music videos. I'd only ever tried it once before -- badly -- at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching as a teenager. I'd never attempted it before in high heels, a ballgown that kept catching on my (and my husband's) heels, without glasses and a shawl that kept meaning to fall off my shoulders. It was ... shuffly... and awkward. Seth sort of bravely shuffled through it. I sort of grinned through gritted teeth -- but my dad jumped in and had a great time, as did my cousin Faith.

This was followed by a mock cake-cutting ceremony (remember the ghastly pink and white foam cake? there was an inch-long block of sugar paste we could work through with a knife very quickly and stand around smiling over for the next few minutes to flashing cameras) and my father's painfully lightning-fast PowerPoint presentation of photos of me growing. Lightning-fast, because the fade-in/out timer was set for warp speed. The presentation taught the audience that I ate a lot and loved posing for photos as a kid, though I hated that in later life. Do all children like posing for photos? I don't really know.

By the sixth course, which I don't quite remember the dish for, we were full of food and nodding off, the jetlag, feasting and two weeks of being sick having finally caught up to us. My grandfather was tired and kind of wanted to leave. I remember proposing to my mother that Seth and I skipped the last two courses. It was late, we were really that exhausted and we were peopled out. I had to keep trying really hard not to wipe my nose, even though I was at that stage leaking snot, because it would ruin my makeup. Seth wasn't looking good at all, and he really had been soldiering on for half the night. Instead, my mother reassured us that the last courses would be moving quickly now that the chef wasn't delayed by such things as my costume changes, perhaps I should walk around between each table and thank all my guests for being here?

I spoke to relatives I hadn't seen in a great many years. Cousins I remembered as toddlers, now college students. My aunts, by some odd quirk of genetics, looked as they did in their thirties, at least. My uncles and grandfather, whom I had all remembered as being tall men as a child, seemed much smaller -- but marrying Seth has dramatically changed my perception of height in general. They also seemed much older. All of them, even my Uncle Kin (Youngest Uncle), who was and still is a good-looking man with the fairest, boyish skin, was developing a patina of white hair. My Uncle On, the uncle I seemed to remember as tallest of them all, had salt and pepper hair. But Uncle On greeted me by asking if I still listened to music, and still is a big audiophile. Uncle Kin still likes Pink Floyd and went from Groo (which I remember going to his room at my grandmother's house to read) to historical war-related non-fiction. Youngest Auntie is still fashionable and impeccably well-dressed -- a charming lady in her mid-forties who more closely resembles a twenty-something. The only new habit she picked up since she retired was a voracious love of graphic adventures, for which she dropped a few titles I might look up. Uncle Kok seems really worn these days. I was never particularly close to him, but he was often away. I knew he worked as a mechanic for the longest time, and worked in China for some years. I remembered him as a lean, tall, reserved man. He's gained a bit of weight, and as I'm sure you've noticed is a theme of this paragraph by now, seemed to have shrunk just the slightest bit. Uncle Man (Eldest Uncle) still closely resembles my mother, with a cheerful, round face that's almost always smiling. I was flower girl at his wedding. His wife (Auntie Rosaline -- that this was her English name actually surprised even my mother, as I think we've all spent this entire time calling her by her Chinese name), is very much like him. Eldest Auntie, who I barely got to see this trip due to her rough schedule but still took great pleasure in arranging all the flowers for this reception, is still the person I remembered from my childhood -- chatty, bubbly, almost a paragon of positivity.

The point of the event, as I realised then, was that these were relatives I'd not seen for a while, and may very well be seeing for the last time. They'd put a lot of effort into making the reception work. It wasn't for me, though I'd known that from the start. This was something they were doing because it was the only way they could think of to show me they cared about me. I guess the reason it's taken me so long to get this post out was because it's taken me the last couple of weeks to move past being angry and frustrated and simultaneously guilty for feeling that way -- people meant well, and as tiring as they had been, as difficult as it was to have control over almost all my decisions taken out of hands, they meant well.

My mother organised a cake to be brought in, to celebrate my parents' 35th anniversary, which was that week. It was discovered that my Uncle Man and Auntie Rosaline had also celebrated their anniversary earlier that month, so they were called up as well. The seventh course, the tempura prawns (which I'd somewhat been looking forward to, though wasn't certain how I'd stuff in) happened while we'd been talking to folks in the room. They skipped the eigth course, the crispy noodles with roast duck sauce (a dish my mother explicitly added to the menu for me -- and I regret in a large way I didn't get to eat) in order to serve the bombe Alaska and wedding cake.

The final stretch of the night saw us holding a mock goodbye session (a real goodbye session for the bride and groom, just not the guests), handing out wedding favours to the guests, before we escaped for the night. I was tired. He was tired. He helped me pull out the dozens of pins and flowers they'd stuck in my hair, which was still a bird's nest of hairspray after the fact. We had more trouble with my necklace. The mechanism seemed to involve one of those arcane puzzles from 7th Guest, probably that damnable Reversi one.

Now we're back in San Francisco, with a loving cat who clearly missed us, extra soft and fluffy (and much, much calmer than she used to be at being left alone) thanks to the efforts of kn1ghtshade and cr0wgrrl. The cat possessively spent our first night home draped over us while we slept, with one paw stretched towards the other person, just in case we ran away. Subsequent nights have been spent watching us very carefully. Seth has been fighting an infection that intends to go down kicking and screaming. I'm mostly well, just stunningly jetlagged. Case in point, I feel like lying down right now, even though I should be awake for work. Tired, vaguely hungry, craving crispy noodles with egg sauce, which I'd only gotten to eat twice in Malaysia, and not at my wedding reception.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 30th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
I remember wanting to wear three different dresses for my reception if I ever get married. 15 years later, yeah not so much anymore. XD

Long and tiring as it was, it seems like a good memory. I'm glad you got to see your relatives.
May. 30th, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC)
I was under the impression I'd have no costume changes, but that quickly unravelled. :)

I'm also not very sure yet it is a good memory, though a memory it definitely is!
May. 31st, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
>> I'm also not very sure yet it is a good memory

Hmmm, maybe it's something in the way you tell it that makes it think it wasn't so bad.
Jun. 2nd, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
I suspect so too!
May. 30th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
thank you for sharing your epic tale!
May. 30th, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. Thanks for reading it!
May. 30th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
Please, please tell me there is video footage of this available somewhere. And if not, maybe it can be turned into a movie? I see Zhang Zi-Yi* playing your part. Though I suppose there'd need to be some wall climbing and dramatic sword fights. :o)

*I thought of Michelle Yeoh but she's a bit long in the tooth. ;o)
May. 30th, 2009 07:53 am (UTC)
Yes, I am in total agreement with Vince here, even to the Michelle Yeoh being a bit long in the tooth. ;-P
Glad you were able to see it for the caring, young one. I have had many relatives pass that I would love to have seen one last time.
Glad you're home safe and sound, too!
May. 30th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Heh. :)
Thanks for the well wishes!
May. 30th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
There is video footage, but I believe the cameramen will only get it prepared in a bunch of months.

Zhang Ziyi though. *cringe!*

Admittedly, Michelle Yeoh is both Malaysian and long in the tooth...
May. 30th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC)
Lovely post :') it was super entertaining and that fourth paragraph up from the bottom made me "d'awwwww".
May. 30th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
I'd never have thought my post would draw "aww"s, but thanks very much for the read! :)
Jun. 1st, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)
Malaysian wedding soap! It'll need many, many, many layers, and a very complicated box to open...
Jun. 1st, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
I think you're confusing this with a Chinese finger trap! :P

But hey, Malaysian wedding soap shaped like a Malaysian layer cake! I mean, jasmine and pandan are even common flavours for that sort of thing!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )