Monday, April 6, 2009

Culture Induction

Yesterday was my first culture induction here and a hilarious one, too. I attended an almost authentic Malay wedding. 'Almost' because I was told an authentic one is one conducted at home with kampong folks. This wedding was at a huge convention hall, like the Singapore Expo halls, with more than 2,000 guests.

Just in case I tread beyond the OB markers, I shall not reveal the host of this function. Suffice to say, he is someone important here. Naturally all his 'horses and men' were at the reception and this is enough to make the numbers. Not to mention relatives and foreign diplomats like ourselves. I think all 26 missions were invited.

As a rule, we make it a point to arrive 10 minutes before the stated time. The invite stated 'from 11 am to 12 noon'. So we were at the convention hall at 10.50am. We were surprised that we were among the first ten guests. Of course, the hall did not look empty because the receiving party is almost hundreds. They all dressed in purple color traditional outfits. Actually it was very beautiful. (I was so inspired that the very night, I bought purple silk to make a purple kebaya. Crazy, I know.)

We were showed our respective seats as the hall was divided into 2 halves: men on the left and women on the right. This, I was told, is MIB (Melayu Islam Beraja). Only at about 11.30 am did the guests start streaming in. Some even arrived at 12 noon. But the card stated clearly, 'wedding reception from 11 am to 12 noon'!

When all the guests were properly seated, the groom arrived and only the groom. There was no bride throughout the reception. A Datin, sitting next to me, told me that the bride is having a similar reception at her side at the same time.

Now the interesting part: the groom followed by his father, grandfather, uncles, brothers, etc (basically a long line) went around to shake hands with the male guests, ONE by ONE, and at the same time collected gifts (ang pow, actually). And his mother, followed by grandmother, aunties, sisters, etc (another long line) did the same with the female guests. Wow! I saw her assistant walking with a huge bag of 'ang pows'. By the time this was done, it was 1 pm.

As usual, a long discourse in Malay, which I did not understand, followed by prayer and it was time for lunch, i.e. eat. Boy, was I hungry by now!

Ha, the hilarious part is this eating. Everyone jumped at the food as soon as the prayer was over. We were seated at 'table-served' tables, which meant there were waiters to dish food for us but everyone at my table was so hungry, nobody gave the waitress a chance to do her work. I remembered clearly, lunch started at 1.15pm. Everyone ate as though they have not eaten for days. Propriety has no place here. It was FAST and by 1.30pm, I saw people heading for the exit. Being slow, I did not even have enough time to eat my rice and most at the table were almost gone. Feeling embarrassed, I stopped eating. I waited for 2 hours, did not even get my 'reward'. I had instant noodles when I was home.

Lesson learned: never be punctual at weddings, Malay or Chinese. Never mind what the card says.