I am back in England after a dizzying two weeks in Malaysia! I found it pretty intense, but it was probably even intenser for P. He’s been to Malaysia before, but that was only for a week, and only as a boyfriend, and we mostly stayed in PJ and made eyes at each other.
This time he was returning practically as a prodigal son, it was Chinese New Year, and “my self-appointed wedding planner” (in my mom’s own words) had all kinds of ideas for what we needed to be doing while we were home in the way of wedmin. Cue P being dragged around innumerable houses to get acquainted with the fourth sister of my maternal grandmother, being told exactly how to apply kaya to his toast, and being shanghaied into a pre-wedding photo shoot.
Engagement photography sessions are getting more popular now in the West, but they have reached their apogee in Asia. It is in Asia that you find the outrageous, creative engagement photographs that take the blog world by storm – the zombie attack engagement, f’rex – and it is in Asia that the custom is so developed that it is quite common for couples who can afford it to fly to whole other countries for the sole purpose of taking pretty pictures.
Pre-wedding photo shoots have developed a format, and even the basic ones differ in key points from Western engagement photography sessions. There are always multiple outfit changes. It is standard for the bride to wear at least one white wedding dress, rented from the photography studio. The studio provides various costumes (and I use the word “costumes” advisedly), as well as make-up and hairstyling services on the day. All of this will happen months in advance of the actual wedding.
Neither P nor I had planned on doing any of this. We’d previously agreed that it might be nice to have engagement photos, if only because we had no nice pictures of just us together. But we’d also agreed that it was probably not necessary to hire a professional to do this – my brother is a talented photographer who’s actually done friends’ weddings and engagement photos before, and we figured we could go to a park and get my brother to take some pictures of us. Simple!
My mom disagreed. I won’t go into the basis of her disagreement – both my mom and I had good reasons for wanting or not wanting a professional pre-wedding shoot to be done, but at the end of the day it wasn’t really about reasons. You don’t have reasons when you want a shiny new iPhone; you just do. My mom thought a pre-wedding shoot would be nice to have and that RM2,000 wasn’t too much to pay for a day’s worth of photographs. I wasn’t bothered and didn’t want the money wasted.
“It’s a waiting game,” I told my friends. “We’re only here for two weeks and the bridal studios are all closed for CNY. So long as P and I manage to last out the second week, my mom won’t be able to do anything, ‘cos P’s only coming back to Malaysia for the wedding after this.”
I thought our chances were pretty good. CNY celebrations had taken up the first week of our holiday, and P and I were going down to Singapore for a few days in the second week. By the time we returned to KL there would only be a couple of days before our flight back to the UK. Who knew if the bridal studios would even be open by then? CNY technically lasts for 15 days.
“So how was Singapore?” said my dad when he picked us up at the airport.
I told him we’d had a nice time. “My handphone wasn’t working, though.”
“Yah, it’s not roaming,” said my dad. “Oh, Mom has booked a bridal studio for you all.”
“We would have called you, but couldn’t get through,” said my dad airily.
When I expressed my outrage to P, he said, “Well, I didn’t really think we were going to get out of doing it.” My mom is a very determined kind of person.
So we spent our last two days in Malaysia not visiting the Islamic Arts Museum or eating chilli pan mee, but prancing around in front of a photographer. It was quite an interesting experience (which I shall blog about in more detail anon), but I’m still unconvinced. I feel uneasily as if I should have stood my ground, but then again …
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the album,” said my mom contentedly at the end of the day.
My mom will maintain forever that she made us do it for our own sake, but really she was the one who wanted the pre-wedding photo shoot. Her reasons remain mysterious to me, but since it made her happy, I guess there was no harm in it. (It may be worth mentioning that my parents paid for it, and it wasn’t that expensive as these things go – we tried to keep things simple.) P and I do now have a bunch of good photos of the two of us, which is nice. I’d be a bit more wary about what the episode suggests the rest of the Malaysian wedding will be like, but oh well. If I wanted a wedding that was a dream of simplicity and restraint, I shouldn’t have been born into my family!