The marriage of my much-loved little big brother to his beautiful fiancée has been highly anticipated and long awaited (they got engaged the week before us!). It’s all my family have talked about for months. Excitement built and built as the day (11th April) approached with dress purchasing sagas, questions about cultural differences to expect, a complex set of flight schedules for all the different converging parts of the family, the logistics of people transporting others’ belongings one way or another, and discussions about what other activities we could do whilst in Singapore.
Unlike many things we look forward to as adults, that inevitably don’t quite measure up to our expectations, this weekend was every bit as exciting as I’d hoped and more. A family wedding is always a memorable and heart-warming occasion but convening on the other side of the world in anticipation of an event unlike any other we’ve ever experienced seemed that extra bit more special. And we weren’t disappointed!
Dean and I were last to arrive in Singapore – a clean, efficient, bustling city at a sunny 32°C. A fun evening was spent at the Night Safari before we returned to our family apartment. I was super excited when Harry arrived and loved having my whole family in one place after Adam and Claire being away for the last six months.
The big day arrived. As did McDonald’s breakfasts for all. By 9:15 we were scrubbed up and all of us, except Harry and his groomsmen (including Adam and a friend called James as best men), were in a mini-bus en route to Ting’s house.
The handmade sign on the door said Xi, meaning happiness, and we added our shoes to the growing pile outside. Inside, preparations were underway with intriguing game-related items spread around the house, fantastic flower arrangements and prints from Harry and Ting’s engagement shoot. It’s an amazing place featuring lots of dark wood, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, a long indoor coi carp pond, original art, elegant ornaments and stylish furniture. And that’s just downstairs.
The Gate Crashing
It is a Chinese tradition that a wedding day begins with a series of challenges issued to the groom and his groomsmen by the bridesmaids and other female friends of the bride. Ting was safely sequestered away in her bedroom, fairytale princess-like, watching events unfold via a Facetime call on a phone held by her dad, Ju Hong. A large group of female friends and relatives had been organised, briefed and assigned tasks with military precision by Li Ling (Ting’s older sister who essentially ran the whole day!).
Once all the guests had assembled inside the house, Harry, Adam, James and the the other groomsmen – Pete, Jerome and Jake – pulled up to the tall gates.
Ting’s younger brother, Yi Ming, approached the wedding car and opened the door for Harry (according to the internet, this is to test the groom’s patience as he waits but there seem to be hundreds of differing Chinese wedding customs so I’m not sure if that was the meaning in this instance!). He then handed Harry two oranges representing good fortune because they symbolise gold.
Yi Ming, some of the four photographers and any other stray guests (including me), then reentered the grounds of the house, ready for the gate crashing to begin. Harry’s first deed was to offer payment in a red envelope to gain entry to the house. One was handed over to Li Lin. Amongst the crowd of friends and relatives, it was opened, revealing $28 I think, and immediately refused.
After consultation with his groomsmen, Harry passed a second envelope through the gap in the gate. Once it had been opened, cries of, “That’s really not enough Harry!” and “Is that all Ting means to you?” and “You should leave Harry!” rose from the crowd. Unexpectedly, my protective instincts kicked in: a desire to start a chant in his defence swelled inside me. Restraining myself only became harder as the third envelope appeared and was again refused by the increasingly militant females! Harry, proving his worth, played along good humouredly, eyes set on the goal.
At last, an acceptable sum was submitted. I think it was meant to be $888 because eight is an auspicious number as it sounds like ‘fa’ meaning prosperous. From afar, I got the impression the numbers didn’t quite work out as planned but either way they let him in!
Li Lin and the other bridesmaid, Xiang, introduced the event officially and game one began. It was called Whose Lips are These? and I suppose it was pretty self-explanatory, however the penalty for each incorrect answer was that red lipstick would be applied to a groomsman!
The crowd hushed as Harry started to deliberate.
After a few moments Harry pointed to kiss number 6. He was met by almost instantaneous outcry from the gathered girls. He’d got it right! I don’t think he believed them to begin with but then, with much glee from the male side of proceedings, it sunk in. Regardless of his triumph, all six of them were made to drink chilli water – one of the traditional four tastes: spicy, sour, sweet and bitter. Then it was on to game two.
The Boyband Challenge was next. Harry drew from a pile of five cards, selecting a groomsman to receive each one. Adam was given squats, Jerome had to dance on decreasing sizes of paper, Jake was blind-folded, Pete held an exercise ball between his knees and James was dressed up as Ting for Harry to serenade! In addition they were all given fetching floral headwear to put on. An extra dimension was added to the task in that their performance was to take place on a narrow patio alongside the swimming pool!
Harry, enthusiastically sang along to One Direction, with a water bottle for a microphone, winning over fake-Ting and, presumably, the bridesmaids as the task was deemed a success. Unfortunately no one fell into the pool! This time they were all given slices of bitter unripe mango to enjoy!
For game number three, we headed indoors. The groomsmen and Harry were made to kneel in a line with the hands behind their backs. At Adam’s end was a bowl of piecs of Pocky sticks and at Harry’s was a sheet of paper. The challenge was for Harry to spell out I Love You with sticks passed down the line before the song ran out. To be honest, he aced it! So with another win in the bag, and all groomsmen still intact, all that remained was for them to eat their third treat (not sure what it was).
After this, Harry had to go it alone. He was permitted to ascend the stairs – we all followed – but still had two more tasks to complete. First he had to play and sing a song for Ting: The First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes. It was lovely to hear him again; once upon a time it was pretty much all he did. For Dean and me it also held extra significance as it’s a song a friend played for us at our wedding not so long ago. Anyway, it did the job of successfully bringing him a step closer to his bride.
The last task was for Harry to sign a contract, filling in some gaps with specifics of his own. He then read it aloud, standing outside Ting’s bedroom door. A silence followed. And then slowly the door opened and, with cheers from the rest of us, Harry was finally allowed in!
It wasn’t a very private affair, with four photographers on one side of them and a sizeable crowd on the other, but nevertheless it was a very romantic moment. Ting looked stunning in her elegant, floral cheongsam, every bit the princess.
We all traipsed downstairs and then a few minutes later, the couple appeared and were applauded as they descended.
The Tea Ceremony
Tea represents purity, stability and fertility and so the ceremony is an important part of traditional Chinese weddings. I’m not sure but I think, unlike this occasion, normally there would be a ceremony for each side of the family. It’s an opportunity for the couple to show respect and gratitude to their families and, certainly through the eyes of someone who has never experienced one before, it seems a very beautiful act. Sweet tea is used to symbolise happiness and good relations with the inlaws.
Li Ling, compering the ceremony, invited Ting’s grandparents to sit in chairs in front of everyone. Harry, on the right, and Ting then kneeled on cushions and took small porcelain teacups from a tray. Ting presented hers to her grandmother and Harry gave his to her grandfather. In return, as is customary, Harry and Ting were handed a red envelope (an hóngbāo) which is a monetary wedding gift, again ending in an eight.
Next followed Ting’s parents – Ju Hong and Jenny.
Then our parents.
After that, but standing, was the long list of aunts and uncles. Tea was sipped, envelopes were given, words and sometimes hugs were exchanged, photographers snapped. Li Ling had her turn, as did Dean and I, followed by Adam and Claire. Cousins were served too.
The only break in the pattern was Ting’s brother – Yi Ming – who, as a younger, unmarried family member, instead served Ting and Harry tea and was on the receiving end of a red envelope.
I’m not sure what it was, but after the ceremony, Harry and Ting were handed something sweet to eat by Ting’s parents.
After the tea ceremony, formal photographs were taken.
Then it was buffet time. Jenny (Ting’s mum) was a wonderful hostess and made sure everyone had enough to eat.
By 2pm, most other guests had left and so we headed back to our apartment for naps, showers and, for some, speech writing!
At 7pm, decked out in our more formal evening attire, we were delivered to the grand entrance of The Fullerton.
Entering the lobby, we were greeted by an air of luxury and opulence. Once the nation’s post office, the ceilings tower above you to the roof creating an overlooked inner space. It is decorated with huge, ornate floral arrangements, water features, seating areas and, a few floors up, a grand piano.
We took the lift to the 5th floor roof garden (not actually open to the elements) where the solemnisation was to be held. On both sides it was possible to look right down to where we’d entered moments before. In the centre was a large table decorated with flowers, candles and Harry and Ting’s guest book. Then at the far end sat a registrar at a table laden with various components needed for the ceremony.
Chairs were set out on both sides with paper bags of confetti on them. We greeted Harry, who was sorting out last minute bits and pieces like bowties and corsages, then milled about for a while, the excitement beginning to build.
Soon we took our seats, Harry waited nervously at the front with Adam and James, and the music began to play. In came Li Ling in an elegant grey dress and then Xiang in pink, taking their places on the opposite side of the room to us.
And then the moment arrived. Ting and Ju Hong appeared at the door. She looked absolutely beautiful in a flowing white dress and I doubt I was the only one with tears in my eyes as she approached my little brother!
They sat down at the registrar’s table, with our dad at one end and Ting’s father at the other. None of the next part was amplified so I can only assume the registrar was talking them through the process and maybe attending to some formalities.
Then it was time for the vows which they had written themselves. Harry then Ting. Both were very romantic and heart-felt. I welled up for the second time and by the end I looked around at my mum and aunties to see tears and tissues there too! After that they exchanged their matching three-tone rings saying similar words to in an English ceremony.
Finally they signed the register and walked back out to music, applause and confetti. They didn’t go far though as they stayed around as mingling recommenced. A wonderful string quartet serenaded us as canapés were distributed, the message book was signed and guests took their turns in the photobooth.
On the floor below was the Straits Room, a sizeable (but apparently not the biggest) ballroom. Inside was ample room for the ten or so circular tables and a stage beyond. The first thing I noticed was the jazz band in the corner who, led by their fantastic female singer, preformed all my favourite standards throughout the evening. I was pleased our table was right next to them!
The wedding party entered through the double doors, dancing their way down to their table!
The tables were set with cutlery, chopsticks, glasses, traditional handle-less teacups and an assortment of unidentified condiments in dishes. The flower centrepieces appeared to float above the table on tall glass vases. Denoted by a whole other level of opulence, next to us was the ‘VIP’ table featuring the newlyweds, their parents, Ting’s grandparents, Adam, Yi Ming and Li Lin.
We’d had a sneak preview of the nine course menu after Harry and Ting’s tasting session at Christmas so we knew what to expect by name if not in actuality! Most people had the standard everything and anything menu but Claire and Auntie Lilian had a no seafood version whilst I went completely vegetarian. With us were Si Gu (Ting’s fourth uncle) and Aunty Jasmine. There were also two spaces which had been for my cousin and her boyfriend who didn’t make it to the wedding; it turned out this meant two extra portions of everything for the table to munch through!
The way the food worked was that each table’s server brought out beautifully presented dishes and then portioned them out onto smaller plates to deliver to the guests. I won’t describe all the food as it would take forever but here are photos of the courses alongside the menu for comparison. I forgot to photograph the dessert or tea but the first seven courses of each menu are there.
Ting’s mum informed me that Buddha Jump Over the Wall was a soup filled with all sorts of creatures which legendarily was meant to be so good that Buddha would go to such lengths to acquire it! Abalone, for those who, like me, haven’t heard of it, is sea snail. The general consensus of my family members on the same table was that it was all pretty tasty with the exception of the sea cucumber which didn’t quite hit the spot! Throughout the meal our Chinese tea was continually replenished, as were our cold drinks.
Interspersed between courses were the speeches. Ju Hong was first, followed by my dad, Adam, Harry and Ting. They were quite different to in the UK with few jokes and a complete lack of groom humiliation. Instead they were heart-warming, sincere and tear-jerking! There was also a cool photomontage created by Yi Ming and his girlfriend, Irina.
Towards the end of the evening Harry and Ting cut the cake and opened champagne which they then cascaded over a tower of glasses.
The final tradition to partake of was the toast. This was quite the event! I think traditionally the couple go round and do this at each table but in this case the families were invited onto the stage with their charged glasses. Meaning ‘bottoms up’, the words for the toast are ‘yum seng’ and glasses are meant to be emptied. However it’s no ordinary toast. The ‘yum’ is said as noisily and for as long as humanly possible before a loud ‘seng’! Experiencing this for the first time whilst also being in the midst of the action was quite something!
And that pretty much concludes the day. The whole thing was marvellous from start to finish. Memories to treasure. We really didn’t want to come home. It’s been lovely reliving it bit by bit over the past couple of weeks as I’ve cobbled this together. Now we’re dreaming of our next adventures!