For the next 7 or so months (jeez it’s coming up close) I will be blogging as an intern for sensible feminist wedding blog A Practical Wedding. My fellow interns seem super cool (also, considerably more photogenic than I am!) and I’ve selected a handy pseudonym and everything. I’m excited!
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!
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.
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.)
Rei Kawakubo does bridalwear. Not that any bride would actually wear these, but they are great. Shiny, white, bedecked with flowers, hugely expensive, and more than a little sinister — how’s that for a metaphor for the wedding industry?
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!
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.