Hey guys! Welcome to part 2 of A Malaysian Chinese Wedding! I previously blogged about the planning and preparation stage: items to get, where to rent dresses, engaging a photographer and chaperone, etc. which you can read here.
This time around, I’ll be running through some of the customs and traditions involved, some of which I also experienced for the first time during the ceremony itself. So if you’ve always been curious about how a Malaysian-Chinese wedding is like, read on! 😉
Malaysian Chinese weddings are usually divided into two ‘sessions’ – a morning tea ceremony and a Chinese banquet dinner in the evening. These days, weddings are much more modern and Westernised, with some opting for garden-style luncheons instead. There’s no right or wrong: a wedding is meant to be a special day celebrating the union of two people and their families – so don’t feel pressured to organise one in a ‘specific’ way, especially if it’s beyond your means.
Try to get a good night’s rest, because you definitely won’t be getting any on your wedding day. I slept for about two hours (thanks, anxiety!).
The tea ceremony typically begins in the early morning, around 8AM or 9AM, depending on the lucky hour that you’ve picked out based on your bazi (birthdate according to the Chinese almanac). Because Malaysian weather tends to be extremely hot, most chaperones (if you’ve engaged one) will advise you to start early and finish early, so that your guests wouldn’t be melting in the afternoon heat.
In our case, N was scheduled to arrive at my house around 8.45AM. My makeup artist needed about three hours to set my face and hair, so she was there by 5.30AM. Our photographer, James, arrived at around 6AM to get some photos and mood shots, then proceeded to N’s hotel (about 10 minutes away) to snap pictures of the groom’s preparations.
If the bride and groom’s places are too far away, you might need to allocate more time for your photographer, or engage 2 of them if you want photos and videos taken on both sides.
Our chaperone Ms Foong arrived at N’s hotel at 7.30AM. Usually, if the groom has a house, he will make his preparations there – but because N isn’t staying here permanently (yet), we rented a hotel room for him, my mom-in-law and sis-in-law at Four Points by Sheraton Puchong. For convenience, some couples can consider doing this if the distance between the groom’s and bride’s places is too far away.
The chaperone conducted a simple tea ceremony for N and his family. This is meant to show the groom’s appreciation to his parents for raising him, and also to ask for blessings. The groom’s ride (my cousins helped out as designated drivers) came to pick him up and they departed the hotel at 8.30AM.
Relatives and friends started arriving. After sitting still for nearly three hours, I breathed a sigh of relief (hard to do with a corset on) – my makeup and hair was finally done!
Those who know me know that I’m quite a ‘cincai’ (chill?) person so I don’t wear any makeup other than eyeliner. Having falsies and contacts on was extremely uncomfortable; not to mention the corset, the tight dress and the heels – I just had to endure it for a day lol.
Taking photos while waiting for the groom to arrive.
You’ll actually be super busy during the entire ceremony, so this might be the only time you’ll be able to catch up with your jimui-s (bridesmaids) and relatives. You’re also not encouraged to leave the bridal chamber.
The chaperone arrived ahead of the groom’s car to conduct a quick ceremony for my parents and me, similar to what was done with the groom but minus the tea drinking.
I basically had to perform a series of bows to my parents, to show my gratitude to them for raising me. Then they placed a red veil over my head, a sign of modesty. Traditionally, the veil can only be removed by the husband at night when the couple is in the bridal chamber – but in modern times, this is no longer practised.
The groom arrives! We set off a row of firecrackers as welcome.
Moo and Pops receiving gifts from the groom. Chaperone livens up the mood with auspicious sayings.
A male relative from the bride’s family, in this case my brother, opens the door for the groom. The groom is not allowed to open the door on his own. The groom needs to prepare a bunch of red packets to give out – and he’ll be giving out a lot of them! The bro gets one for opening the door.
Not so fast! The groom and his groomsmen will have to face my gatekeepers ie bridesmaids.
Wedding door games are now part and parcel of many Chinese weddings in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and of course China. The groom and his groomsmen are subject to a series of fun challenges, which can be anything from popping balloons to dancing, singing or doing something embarrassing. The girls will also demand a ‘fee’ for letting the boys in – which is why the groom has to stand by with lots of red packets. It’s all in good fun, though!
My guy friends and my brother acted as groomsmen for N. (Thanks for being so sporting!) They were made to fish out mahjong tiles from a bucket of ice water, dance and sing.
After the games, the groom is finally allowed into the house, and receives blessings from the bride’s parents.
His “Am I really going through with this I’m going to regret it omg” face.
Exchange of rings. Guided by our chaperone, we then bow to each other several times – one for the groom, one for the bride, and one as a couple.
Offering prayers to the gods. We didn’t pray to the ancestors because I don’t have an ancestral tablet at home.
We first offered joss sticks to the main deity in my house, Guanyin (the Buddhist goddess of Mercy), then Tudigong (God of the Soil, a Chinese folk deity) and finally Tiangong (Jade Emperor, the Taoist Heavenly Emperor).
If you’re of different faiths, like N and I (N is Christian), it’s best to check if they’re comfortable with the ceremony.
Traditionally, after the tea ceremony at the bride’s place, the couple departs for the groom’s place, where they will be staying for good. The bride will only be allowed to return to visit her own family three days later (because patriarchy). Many modern families have done away with this.
We still had a symbolic ‘leaving the house’ ceremony, where we hopped into the car and drove a few rounds around the neighbourhood. While walking to the car, my dad shielded me with a red umbrella while my mom threw rice over it – to protect the couple from evil spirits that may be watching the house.
The tea ceremony is an integral part of weddings in Chinese culture; one that has survived through the centuries. The ceremony is usually held at the bride’s place, then the groom’s, and is basically a way to show respect and gratitude to the elders in a family. Tea is served according to ‘rank’ ie parents, grandparents, then uncles and aunties, older married cousins, etc. Jewellery such as gold, as well as money in red packets, are given to the couple as gifts after the elder has been served.
Once the elders have been served, the younger/ unmarried cousins convey congratulatory wishes to the couple, and receive red packets in return.
While the guests enjoyed the buffet spread under the outdoor canopy, my friends and I had a little Western-style bouquet tossing on the road.
I was starving at this point – thankfully, the next part of our ceremony involved my favourite activity: eating. Our chaperone had advised us to get 2 packets of chicken rice, which would be our first meal as a couple. I can’t remember exactly why a whole chicken thigh is needed, but knowing Chinese culture, it probably has something to do with prosperity lol. After feeding each other some chicken and rice we weren’t allowed to finish it 😦 we had to feed each other sweet dumplings in syrup, to symbolise sweet beginnings. The round shape of the dumplings signifies that our family will always be unified and complete.
Finally, the chaperone instructed me to take off my husband’s coat and hang it up – just as my mom-in-law had helped him put it on, it is now my duty as a wife to take care of my husband’s needs.
By this time, most of our guests had already left and I was finally able to finish up that chicken rice. I swear to god I had never tasted chicken rice so good. Best plate of chicken rice ever, lol.
It took me forever to get my hairpins out, and by the time I was able to change out of my dress and into a T-shirt, it was already 1PM. An hour later (it felt like 2 minutes), my makeup artist arrived to get my makeup ready for the evening dinner. Sigh. Another three hours of sitting followed.
Dinner that night was at Moon Palace Puchong. We arrived a little ahead of time to set up the reception table for guests as well as coordinate the photo slides with the banquet manager. Our dinner was a modest 10 tables – two for my friends, the rest for family / family friends.
For those unfamiliar with Chinese wedding banquet customs, guests are expected to give a small token of appreciation in the form of money in a red packet. This will help the couple to cover costs. While there is no set amount as to how much you can give, the unspoken minimum (for banquets organised in KL) is about RM100+. The amount collected during the banquet will be counted immediately and the balance of the banquet payment settled with the resto after the dinner is over.
Our chaperone, who also acted as our emcee for the dinner.
Cutting our fake wedding cake, which was provided by the restaurant.
An extra service by our emcee, which involved combining two differently coloured sand into a bottle to symbolise the union of two individuals into one unit.
After our march-in and everyone was settled, the dishes were served.
A selection of appetisers: fried items, cold cuts, bite-sized goodies.
Herbal soup with abalone.
Iberico pork ribs. These were excellent!
In between the dishes, we had toasting sessions at each table.
You can discuss with your emcee on how you want the flow of your night to be. We actually had a short vow exchange ceremony, where each of us read a speech to the other on stage.
Champagne pouring. The ‘champagne’ was really just apple juice.
And finally, a family toast with my parents, N’s family and a few other close relatives. We’re supposed to give three cheers – one for the bride, one for the groom and one for the couple – and yell ‘yam seng’ (cheers in Cantonese) for as long as you can.
The dinner wrapped up by 10PM. We saw off guests, took some photos and settled payment with the resto. My left eye was looking pretty red and angry at this point, due to the contact lenses. It took several days to clear. Never wearing contacts if I can after this, lol.
Got home close to midnight, and N spent another hour getting my hair pins out, taking a shower before we could finally hit the bed.
Planning a wedding isn’t as glamourous as you think – there’s a lot of work involved plus a significant amount of stress. While there were some things that I wouldn’t have done if I had the choice (the dinner, for instance – it was more out of respect for my parents), I still think it was something very memorable which I will cherish looking back on in the years to come.