Saturday 3rd January 2015 – The Wedding
The day began of course with food, continued with food and ended with food. Rice with breakfast just doesn’t seem right but it worked. The Coffee was mince though!
Picking up the Bride
Every culture has things in common- food, music, children. And every culture does them all slightly differently. It was fascinating to be part of this Malaysian Chinese wedding. We first of all went to the bride’s house where the usual preparations were being made. Annabel changed into her delightful green Chinese outfit which she had had made by a local tailor – the arrangements and measurements (that was fun!) were all done before we came. It fitted and she looked lovely. All the family and bridesmaids were gathered for the groom to come and pick up his bride. The tradition is that the groom and best men turn up and are not allowed access to the bride until they perform certain tasks, set by the bridesmaids. Sometimes these are physical but in our case they were mental – there were various stages. The men were not allowed in the door until they answered certain questions, or performed forfeits if they got them wrong (paying money, eating disgusting concoctions or singing). The same procedure happening in the living room, then on the stairs up to the bedroom, before the groom was finally allowed in to meet his bride, sitting on the bed in her wedding dress – looking stunning! In the UK the groom is not supposed to see the bride in her wedding dress until she walks down the aisle – here they have a full dress photo shoot days before the wedding.
A Big Service
The wedding service itself took place in the groom’s church, P J Evangelical Free Church, at 11am. This is a large 600 member church, with an auditorium and ‘Christian Heritage centre’ to match. The wedding itself was attended by over 500 people. Weddings are big here. And they are big business. In one street alone I counted over ten bridal or wedding shops. The wedding itself was very well organised down to the last detail. It’s almost impossible to describe but I loved it – with the exception of a couple of things. We started by singing three traditional hymns and seeing a short well-made video of the couple’s ‘love story’- which featured Scotland a lot! Then there was a lively, well-delivered and somewhat ‘controversial’ (from my point of view) sermon by a young pastor friend. I liked the emphasis on what marriage actually is (between a man and a woman!) and the clear Christian message – although a though a couple of bits were cultural rather than specifically Christian. However if a sermon is supposed to engage and make you think, then he succeeded! The photographers were far more intrusive than I would normally allow at a wedding in Scotland – but on the other hand they did produce some stunning photographs.
A New Singing Career!
The hardest bit for me was going up to sing. In a moment of madness we had agreed that we would sing Ps 23 to the tune Trewarthie. It’s the first and last time that Annabel and I will do that. We were accompanied by a violin and another backing singer. We, and more importantly they, survived the whole experience! Annabel sang really well, but I think that will be the beginning and the end of my singing career! Strange though that we had to go to Malaysia to begin it!
St Petes had prepared a short video of greetings from various people on the congregation and this was played at the end before Annabel and I prayed the blessing for the newly married couple. It was moving to see the affection and love for this Malaysian couple from the brothers and sisters in Scotland. Another great example of the family of God. After that the bride and groom marched/danced up the aisle to a Scottish traditional jig!
The Wealthy and the Poor
After the service the church provided food in their canteen area (more food) before we went back to the hotel for a wee rest and then on to the evening meal at the Club Tropicana – a swanky country club type resort. Driving there I was struck by how many ‘gated’ communities there were on the way. Armed guards (mainly Nepalese ex-Gurkhas) protecting the homes of the wealthy and mega wealthy. It reminded me a wee bit of some parts of the States and I found it disconcerting. Malaysia is a relatively wealthy country, being part of the Asian economic boom, and yet the gap between rich and poor is very obvious. Some of the houses I saw were run down and poor, but as we drove to the Tropicana it seemed that every house was even larger, more ostentatious and pretentious than the previous. It seems to me that the divide between rich and poor is increasing in many societies across the world.
A Feast for King
The reception itself was amazing. It was begun with an elaborate Chinese tea ceremony, where again particular respect was shown to the elderly relatives and then went on to an eight-course meal for 48 tables (480 people). We were seated at the ‘pastors’ table, with the pastors from the church (three men and one woman) and their partners. The first course was brought into the accompaniment of Land of Hope and Glory. Each course was served to the centre of the table and again we loved the way that people served one another. You could eat as much or as little as you liked. The spices, sauces, flavours and textures were wonderful – lots of fish, vegetables, meat and chicken – all washed down with copious amounts of wine, juice and especially Chinese tea. The latter seemed so cleansing, both of stomach and palate. Courses were interspersed with speeches, music and wee traditions like the pouring of the champagne and the whole community shouting a toast to the couple and wishing them long life and many children. In between, at our table, we had lots of interesting discussions about the church in Malaysia and whether it was more influenced by the US or Britain or Hillsong! What intrigued me a little was how many people actually talked through the speeches. As you can imagine, it was a long night, lasting four hours without any dancing.
We loved the whole day and felt honoured to be part of it and to share in the joy and the celebrations, to witness the different customs and to see again the wonderful unity that Christ brings. It was only at the end of the day that I realised we were actually the only white people amongst 500. And it just didn’t matter.