17 March 2013

Weddings

It's what it looks like

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the rest of this is redundant.

The fat white man adventure found itself at a wedding this weekend. How the adventure got to a wedding, it's hard to say. A neighbour was getting married, and we got an invitation. I had originally thought the wedding was for our Chinese neighbour and stupidly, looking at the names which are clearly not Chinese, still thought this was the case. We talked to Auntie and Uncle and since they were going as well, they agreed to take us: a throwback to the early days of the adventure when we travelled in their car everywhere. I was, again thinking this was a Chinese affair, surprised that Auntie and Uncle would go given all the tidak halal things I imagined taking place: beer drinking and pork eating, mostly. As I was filling out the wedding card today, it finally made sense, They're Malay, right? Not Chinese?  I asked Yoko and, of course, that was the case. No insight into Muslims at non-Muslim parties and no free beer.

On the ride to the hall, the conversation was mostly, as you would expect, about getting married. I asked about inter-cultural, inter-racial marriages in Malaysia, and Auntie and Uncle assured me it was common and no problem. But the Chinese or Indian partner needs to convert to Islam. Yes, yes. Is that difficult? No, very easy. You just convert and then follow the Sharia law, halal and haraam, what you don't do and what you should do. Like any religion, Uncle said.

When we pulled up, there were huge banners with the picture of the serious looking couple and men dressed in traditional clothes everywhere, smiling and greeting us. It also turned out to be not so much a wedding, but a reception, held in Putrajaya, in a public gym. Very similar to the place that a middle-class couple in the States might have their reception, with lines for the basketball court on the wood floor. I was, of course, the only mat salleh in attendance and when we sat down, next to a table of kids with hand drums (eating before the bridal procession into the hall), one nudged another and another and soon they were all looking at us. Another young man came up with his Blackberry, wanting Yoko to take a picture of us together.

We asked around about how much to dress up and what to give. The consensus was that we should give RM20 which seemed awful small, given that in Japan you would give about 50 times that. Auntie and Uncle assured us that anything over RM5 was fine (it should be higher, like RM100 and above, if it's a Chinese wedding, they said). I felt bad about this, particularly given the size of the party: the food was fabulous and rich; the coffee already heavily sweetened for you. They were playing loud music in the hall while people sat and ate quietly. I asked Uncle if there was going to be dancing, and he said likely not. I asked if I could dance and he said, laughing, You can do anything you want.

I was over-dressed, but that looked to be better than being under dressed: there were a few guys in jeans, but I sort of suspected it might have been, again like the States, a class thing. And it didn't matter: part of the fat white man protocol is the impromptu set of rules that follow you around. Unless I had been wearing a tank top, I don't think it would have mattered. Yoko was wearing the same dress that she had from my sister's wedding last summer, and looked great as usual, although she put on a yellow sweater when we arrived.

The show of multiculturalism did occur when the Chinese neighbours appeared about an hour after we arrived. They were happy and smiling and, as Yoko said, there was finally another person in a sleeveless dress. There was a procession with the children singing and playing drums. The couple looked tired, but happy, and I was, as I always am, enamoured with the religious aspects: the blessing which people didn't seem to listen to carefully, cupping their hands and looking around. Mei saw everyone doing it and did the same thing, standing in front of Uncle for approval. He smiled and patted her on the head as the blessing ended and everyone lifted their hands to their faces.

We greeted the bride and groom--I'm not sure I've met her before, Yoko said--and Uncle said, Shall we make a move, and we got up to leave. I gave our card with RM20 to the smiling father of the bride who seemed happy to have us there, but then again, he seemed pretty happy anyway.

I should take that moment and bring it around to talk about the potential that I will be going through this myself some time in the future, but I don't know if I have the energy tonight. Maybe another day.

Wedding
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