Nyonya Baba A-Go-Go

I visited the Malaysian reception venue for the first time this week, so it feels like great strides have been made in wedmin, though nothing new has really been done. (Wedmin is my new word! It is a portmanteau of wedding and admin, but its meaning is not immediately obvious to the non-wedding-obsessed — I’ve had to explain it to several people when I used it.)

Having seen the venue I’ve got a clearer idea of what sort of feel the event is likely to have. I’m not a big fan of sticking rigidly to themes (MY NAPKINS MUST BE BURNT OCHRE WITH SEAFOAM ACCENTS!!), but I could see as well, going around the place, that there were things that would look ridiculous in that space. It is not, for example, the correct location for an English garden party. It does not provide the appropriate architectural backdrop for a Disney heroine floating in a cloud of golden satin and blue tweety birds towards her prince.

What it is, is a great place to throw a party grounded in local mores and a traditional sense of the charming — but also modern, quirky and relaxed. But to satisfy my sense of the appropriate I realised I had to give up some things. For example, my dream — one of those silly, tender dreams a girl has as she approaches this epochal life event — that I should walk into the venue to the strains of Katamari March Damacy.

If you did not start bobbing your head at 0:18 I can only reluctantly conclude that you have no soul.

But it doesn’t work. It’s candy-coloured deadpan-humorous Japanese whimsy, and the venue is essentially fancy tropical. Our nyonya theme — selected because my grandmother is nyonya, kebayas are fun to wear, and Peranakan food is awesome — is perfect for the venue, but Katamari Damacy is not.

Fortunately I had a back-up!

I played it to my mother (my “self-appointed wedding planner”) and she started beaming and bopping. “I remember this song!” she said. “Your dad knows the lyrics. Go look them up and see if they have a good meaning or not.”

So began the search for meaning. Singaporean band the Quests played the instrumental version of the song, which clicking around proved to be a “beloved Chinese humorous novelty song” entitled New Malay Love Song, all about a boy meeting a girl. In the immortal words of the poet: could I make things any more obvious?

I read out the enormously helpful Questing Bandstand entry on Wu Meiling to my mother.

“It’s a silly song using the tune of an Indonesian folk song, it says here,” I said.

“What are the lyrics of the Indonesian version?” my mother wanted to know. More Googling ensued, but I was stumped.

“It’s super bizarre!” I said. “The lyrics make no sense. They’re all about, like, this person gets bitten by a snake and then they press the wound and blood comes out and they freak out but somebody tells them don’t worry, it’s just a dream, the blossoming flower in the garden is plucked, that is the meaning.”

“Oh,” said my mother promptly. “So the dream means the girl is going to get married.”

“Har? How do you know that?”

“The lyrics explain it what,” said my mom. “Girls are flowers. When they’re plucked means they’re gonna get married.”

“What? But how do you know it doesn’t mean, I dunno, they fall in love, or their garden is gonna do well, or what?”

“Google ‘Indonesian dream meaning get bitten by snake’,” said my mother before returning to my sewing.

Sure enough, it seems the Javanese believe that dreaming of being bitten by a snake means you’re gonna get married. So it seems, really, an entirely suitable song for the wedding, on all kinds of levels.

What I learnt from this was:

1) I guess you should always listen to your mom (except when she wants you to engage in pointless expensive pre-wedding photoshoots).

2) When you start searching for meaning, you never know where the search is going to lead you.

3) ’60s Asian pop is awesome.


Book weddings: Katy Carr

I’m going to divert from my usual fare of L. M. Montgomery today to post about the wedding of Katy Carr of What Katy Did. What Katy Did is about a girl who has all the vices of Victorian womanhood (though she is in fact American) — wilfulness being the main one — until she falls off a swing and hurts her back. Pain and immobility teach her to be the heart of her home and to aspire to be “ladylike”. She then goes to a boarding school where she has harmless frolics with her schoolfellows, including a society against flirtation, and eventually gets engaged to an astoundingly dull naval lieutenant named Ned.

Coolidge is less interesting than other writers of late 19th century chick lit — Katy’s main feature is how nice she is, which, boring! — but she does go into a huge amount of detail when it comes to Katy’s wedding.

“… Don’t be shocked, Clovy; but, do you know, I don’t want to be married in church at all, or to have any bridesmaids, or anything arranged for beforehand particularly. I should like things to be simple, and to just happen.”

“But, Katy, you can’t do it like that. It will all get into a snarl if there is no planning beforehand or rehearsals; it would be confused and horrid.”

“I don’t see why it would be confused if there were nothing to confuse. Please not be vexed; but I always have hated the ordinary kind of wedding, with its fuss and worry and so much of everything, and just like all the other weddings, and the bride looking tired to death, and nobody enjoying it a bit. I’d like mine to be different, and more—more—real. I don’t want any show or processing about, but just to have things nice and pretty, and all the people I love and who love me to come to it, and nothing cut and dried, and nobody tired, and to make it a sort of dear, loving occasion, with leisure to realize how dear it is and what it all means. Don’t you think it would really be nicer in that way?”

“Well, yes, as you put it, and ‘viewed from the higher standard,’ as Miss Inches would say, perhaps it would. Still, bridesmaids and all that are very pretty to look at; and folks will be surprised if you don’t have them.”

“Never mind folks,” remarked the irreverent Katy. “I don’t care a button for that argument. Yes; bridesmaids and going up the aisle in a long procession and all the rest are pretty to look at,—or were before they got to be so hackneyed. I can imagine the first bridal procession up the aisle of some early cathedral as having been perfectly beautiful. But nowadays, when the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker and everybody else do it just alike, the custom seems to me to have lost its charm. I never did enjoy having things exactly as every one else has them,—all going in the same direction like a flock of sheep. I would like my little wedding to be something especially my own. There was a poetical meaning in those old customs; but now that the custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning, it would please me better to retain the meaning and drop the custom.”

I like “now that custom has swallowed up so much of the meaning” — talk about contemporary relevance!

Katy’s unconventional practices include sending a small box of homemade wedding cake to everybody in town — “all the poor people, I mean, and the old people and the children at the Home and those forlorn creatures at the poor-house and all papa’s patients” — and getting married in the parlour, but what I’m most interested in, of course, is her wedding dress.

Clover helped Katy to put on the wedding-gown of soft crape and creamy white silk. It was trimmed with old lace and knots of ribbon, and Katy wore with it two or three white roses which Ned had brought her, and a pearl pendant which was his gift.

Katy’s wedding outfit is made up of various bits and pieces connected with her family — the crape is from an embroidered shawl which previously belonged to her late mother, which they piece together with “white surah or something” to make a dress. She incorporates a “white watered sash” which is a gift from an aunt and her veil is a square of “beautiful old blonde” from a family friend.

The delicious thing about the description is all this fabric jargon — I assume the words would have been more familiar to readers who would have been used to making their own clothes, but I had to look them up. Surah, according to the Young Englishwoman (1873), is “a kind of twilled Indian silk tissue, extremely soft and brilliant”. Twilled means “having diagonal lines or ridges on the surface” and the watered sash would have had a “wavy lustrous damask-like pattern or finish”. And blonde is a “silk lace of two threads, twisted and formed in hexagonal meshes; orig. of the colour of raw silk” — Katy’s veil, being aged, is described as being a “becoming” yellow-white shade.

(IIRC Jane Eyre also ends up wearing a blonde veil for her first aborted wedding with Mr Rochester, after the expensive lace veil Mr Rochester bought her is ripped in half by his skeleton in the closet.)

Book weddings: Miss Cornelia

Montgomery’s older brides tend to wear navy blue, perhaps because the white wedding dress is so strongly associated by Montgomery with youthful beauty and virginity. In this excerpt we see the recurring preoccupation in her books with the appropriateness of things – Montgomery has a keen sense both of beauty and of the ridiculous, and the one must not be allowed to desecrate the other.

“In about a month’s time. My wedding dress is to be navy blue silk. And I want to ask you, Anne, dearie, if you think it would be all right to wear a veil with a navy blue dress. I’ve always thought I’d like to wear a veil if I ever got married. Marshall says to have it if I want to. Isn’t that like a man?”

“Why shouldn’t you wear it if you want to?” asked Anne.

“Well, one doesn’t want to be different from other people,” said Miss Cornelia, who was not noticeably like anyone else on the face of the earth. “As I say, I do fancy a veil. But maybe it shouldn’t be worn with any dress but a white one. Please tell me, Anne, dearie, what you really think. I’ll go by your advice.”

“I don’t think veils are usually worn with any but white dresses,” admitted Anne, “but that is merely a convention; and I am like Mr. Elliott, Miss Cornelia. I don’t see any good reason why you shouldn’t have a veil if you want one.”

But Miss Cornelia, who made her calls in calico wrappers, shook her head. “If it isn’t the proper thing I won’t wear it,” she said, with a sigh of regret for a lost dream.

Veils are practically definitive of the bridal state, but Miss Cornelia – Mrs. Marshall Elliott as will be – is no less married for the absence of a veil or a white dress. I s’pose the excerpt also points up the bride’s yearning for conventionality – people are anxious to do the correct thing when it comes to weddings, which is why Miss Manners gets so many questions about ’em.

From a purely aesthetic perspective I like a white veil with a non-white dress, though it depends on the shades, I guess. Modern Vintage Bride’s combination of white veil and grey Temperley dress was terrifically chic!

Wedding style in 6 words or less

A thread on Weddingbee (I know, I know. What can I say, reading about other people’s weddings is addictive!) asked posters to describe their (hoped for) wedding style in 6 words or less. I came up with: simple, practical, people-focused, quirky, traditional and multicultural.

I guess a couple of these aren’t really about style — you can have people-focused and practical design, but I’m not sure you can have people-focused and practical style — but I liked the exercise for the reminder of what’s important to me. I’m pretty sure P would agree with all of these — I think the wedding would be quirky and multicultural anyway because we are from different cultures and I’m pretty quirky (my family, with less tender respect for my self-image, would probably say “weird”). All the other things are things to strive for.

“Traditional” is an interesting one. I’m not a big fan of following tradition for its own sake, and a lot of traditions associated with weddings have no good purpose. Think of the white wedding dress — so iconic, so completely pointless. You might say, but why does tradition need to have a purpose? I’d say that there’s no use hanging on to traditions if they don’t have a purpose. They ought to signify something. But I included “traditional” because the whole reason for me of engaging in a wedding is to participate in tradition — specifically, in the customs and practices which have meaning in my culture and the culture of my partner. No to unity candles, yes to red umbrellas.

Book weddings: Anne Shirley

The third wedding in the Anne series is arguably the most important. It is Anne’s.

… it was a happy and beautiful bride who came down the old, homespun-carpeted stairs that September noon—the first bride of Green Gables, slender and shining-eyed, in the mist of her maiden veil, with her arms full of roses.

The mist and maidenliness of a bridal veil recurs.

“But you are going to wear a veil, aren’t you?” asked Diana, anxiously.

“Yes, indeedy. I shouldn’t feel like a bride without one.”

The image of Anne coming down the stairs is a beautiful one, but relatively light on what wedding blogs like to call “details”. Diana describes Anne’s wedding dress in thrilling but unspecific terms as “a dream”, but we don’t get any more about it than that. Of course what is important about a wedding doesn’t lie in the cut of a bodice or the ruffles on a skirt … but all the same, I want to know what sort of sleeves Anne of Green Gables’ wedding dress had!

Gilbert, waiting for her in the hall below, looked up at her with adoring eyes. She was his at last, this evasive, long-sought Anne, won after years of patient waiting. It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her—if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood—then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid.

They were married in the sunshine of the old orchard, circled by the loving and kindly faces of long-familiar friends. Mr. Allan married them, and the Reverend Jo made what Mrs. Rachel Lynde afterwards pronounced to be the “most beautiful wedding prayer” she had ever heard. Birds do not often sing in September, but one sang sweetly from some hidden bough while Gilbert and Anne repeated their deathless vows. Anne heard it and thrilled to it; Gilbert heard it, and wondered only that all the birds in the world had not burst into jubilant song; Paul heard it and later wrote a lyric about it which was one of the most admired in his first volume of verse; Charlotta the Fourth heard it and was blissfully sure it meant good luck for her adored Miss Shirley. The bird sang until the ceremony was ended and then it wound up with one mad little, glad little trill. Never had the old gray-green house among its enfolding orchards known a blither, merrier afternoon. All the old jests and quips that must have done duty at weddings since Eden were served up, and seemed as new and brilliant and mirth-provoking as if they had never been uttered before.

I want to know what those old jests and quips are. It must have seemed obvious to Montgomery and her audience, but from a century later and an ocean away it’s hard to know if any of my guesses would be accurate.

Laughter and joy had their way; and when Anne and Gilbert left to catch the Carmody train, with Paul as driver, the twins were ready with rice and old shoes, in the throwing of which Charlotta the Fourth and Mr. Harrison bore a valiant part. Marilla stood at the gate and watched the carriage out of sight down the long lane with its banks of goldenrod. Anne turned at its end to wave her last good-bye. She was gone—Green Gables was her home no more; Marilla’s face looked very gray and old as she turned to the house which Anne had filled for fourteen years, and even in her absence, with light and life.

Montgomery gives her favourite characters the nicest weddings, and Anne’s has the same characteristics as Miss Lavendar’s: an outdoor ceremony; guest list made up only of long-familiar friends; officiants who are friends as well as ministers; a hearty lunch; and what for nowadays would be a very early goodbye. (And those old shoes make their appearance again!) Anne has no bridesmaids as all the girlfriends she would ask are either married or not able to attend, and she goes straight to her new matrimonial home to spend her honeymoon with Gilbert there.

Simple, straight from the heart, and relatively inexpensive. What more could you want? (Though I still want to know about the sleeves!)

Cooling ardour; great expectations

I’ve gone off elephants made of flowers. I still think they are a glorious idea, and P’s view was (predictably) “sure, we can have them if you want them”, but for some reason I have lost interest in actually having them after further thought.

To be honest, home décor is not an area that has ever interested me, which I think is the reason why I have so little interest in the décor of the event. Or perhaps I’m just not that interested because it still feels far away, though in fact it’s only 8.5 months now. If it comes to décor I think I care more about the Malaysian wedding, but since I’m not in Malaysia, organising the décor just seems too much of a faff. I would rather just contemplate shoes for hours on end.

I guess I’ll leave it to my mom to sort it out. On Weddingbee someone started a thread asking whether other brides had put their fiancé/e in charge of anything to do with the wedding, as she was getting annoyed with her fiancé’s failure to ascertain their DJ’s contact details.

I was reminded of the relative strangeness of my situation as someone who is now deeply interested in the details of weddings, but has done very little about organising her own. P has taken the initiative and put down the cash for most of the details to do with the English wedding – I’d done some patchy research into reception venues in his hometown, but he was the one to make a list, get me to say which of the venues I liked, and arrange for us to be driven around by his mom to look at the venues. Fortunately we agreed on which venue we liked best, but P made the final decision to book it. The ceremony venue was more decided by circumstances than either of us – since we were going to have a church ceremony it only seemed sensible to have it in the church his parents attend – but e.g. he could have decided to have it in the Oxford Catholic chaplaincy and I wouldn’t have raised any objection.

On the other side, my mom’s done all the footwork with the Malaysian wedding – I did a lot of Internet research and made lists of venues for my parents to check out, but ended up getting frustrated over the paucity and unreliability of information available online (Malaysian businesses, update your websites!!!). After a lot of back and forth and er some tears, my mom identified and booked a reception venue that hadn’t even been on any of my lists. Of course, she described it to me before I approved the choice, but again, I didn’t really take the lead role in any of this.

I guess the reason why I’ve been on the sidelines of planning compared to other engaged women is that I don’t necessarily know what’s appropriate. With the English wedding, I have no idea what P’s family would expect and what the traditions are. It seems to make sense to leave everything but the most trivial details to P, therefore. Again, with the Chinese wedding, I’m sure I’d be a lot more hands-on if I was at home, but the combination of distance and the fact that I’m less familiar with the traditions and expectations than my parents are means that I might as well leave it to my mom to sort out. If I was at home, I’d be viewing venues together with my parents. I might be making more decisions off my own bat, but they’d have veto power, plus I’d probably be making decisions based on information they fed me anyway. What do I know about who the best caterers in Klang Valley are?

It works for me. These weddings will genuinely be a community effort – plus, other people taking on the actual work means I’m freed up to worry about the delightfully trivial: the cut of my dress and the design of my save the dates. And I’m not really doing nothing – I’ve drawn up a guest list, compiled addresses, booked the marriage preparation course run by the church, sent out the save the date cards, and helped liaise between my family and P’s family. I guess it’s just striking because I’m doing less than the average person who posts on wedding forums seems to expect of a bride.


To-do in the next couple of months:

  • Get in touch with church lady after we’re back from our Chinese New Year trip and arrange for a meeting with the priest who’s been assigned to us as officiant
  • Confirm with parents that they should be in Norwich for at least the Friday and Saturday, and I s’pose ideally the Thursday and Sunday as well
  • Sort out P’s parents’ accommodation once they’ve confirmed how long they’ll be spending in Malaysia

Do I have to do anything about bridesmaids yet? I keep meaning to email them and start up a discussion about what sort of dresses they want to wear, but then I think, oh, I’ve got loads of time yet. I’ll start to think about sorting it out — hm — let’s say March or April.