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Why You Should Watch Netflix’s New Filipino-Themed Anime, Trese

Based on the critically-acclaimed comics by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Trese is an original Netflix animated series that follows the story of Alexandra Trese, an occult investigator with magical powers. She is also the resident lakan/babaylan, aka warrior/healer; one who upholds the balance between the mortal and the spiritual world.

While the concept may not be 100% original (think Hellboy, John Constantine), what makes Trese unique is its Filipino setting: the story happens in the bustling city of Manila, and features many characters and creatures from Filipino mythology. 

When it comes to the fantasy genre, we’ve had plenty of stories revolving around Western, Egyptian, Roman and even Greek mythology, but very little on Southeast Asian culture – which is why the hype was massive (especially in the Philippines) leading up to Trese’s release. 

And I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint. 

Synopsis: 

Mysterious crimes are happening all across Manila, and they seem to be from supernatural causes. At their wits end, local police enlist the help of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra’s family has long acted as a bridge between worlds –  her father Anton was once the laban, while her mother was a babaylan (shaman) – so ever since she was born, Alexandra has had a strong connection to the spirit world. In the course of the series our heroine, together with her twin bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, investigate a string of murders and disturbances – culminating in encounters with beings such as aswangs (man-eating vampiric ghouls), duwendes (goblins), tikbalang (horse-like creatures), zombies and tiyanaks (baby vampires). The events are not isolated, and indicate that something catastrophic is coming – which would involve the destruction of both the human and the spirit world. 

Why You Should Watch It 

Trese’s Filipino touch makes for a unique and refreshing take on the fantasy genre. I mean, it’s not everyday that you get an animated series based on Southeast Asian mythology – which is a shame, because the culture is so rich with amazing stories, symbols and characters. The fact that it’s on Netflix is a great step in the right direction (especially in today’s climate where companies are looking to champion diversity), because it appeals to a modern audience of young Filipinos to reconnect with their roots, and at the same time, introduce the culture to an international audience. 

While the creatures are fascinating, you also get Filipino references in things such as Alexandra’s weapon (a kalis, which looks very similar to a Malay/Indonesian dagger called the keris). Another example would be Alexandra’s bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, who were named after characters in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. In the first episode, Alexandra investigates the apparent murder of the ghost of the White Lady of Balete Drive – a Filipino urban legend that is as popular as Bloody Mary might be to the British. 

And then you have a plethora of pop-culture references to spot: in one episode, a movie studio where Alexandra and her team investigates has a sign saying ‘ABC-ZNN’, a cheeky play on ABS-CBN, the now-defunct major TV news network that was embroiled in a licensing controversy last year. You also get glimpses of everyday Filipino life: commutes in jeepneys and packed trains, a neon-lit skyline – all captured through a pretty art style that perfectly showcases Manila’s chaotic beauty.

Granted, I think sometimes these references might be lost on non-Filipino audiences (I only knew about Crispin and Basilio because the hubs and I were discussing about Philippine Independence Day – I initially thought Crispin was from St Crispin and Crispinian), but even if you’re non-Filipino, it’s not crucial to the plot, and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. They’re more like hidden Easter eggs that those in the know will find satisfaction in spotting. 

But what I like the most about Trese which sets it apart from others is that it does not shy away from shining the spotlight on real Filipino issues such as police brutality, the drug war and abortion, in a country that is highly religious and predominantly Catholic. Which to me shows that care has been taken to ensure the show is as culturally accurate and as relevant as possible. It’s not just one of those ‘feel-good, show only the best side’ kind of stories. 

Alexandra’s character, despite her grim demeanour, is likeable and well-developed. You feel for her doubts and her struggles, living in her father’s shadow, constantly being told that she is ‘just like him’, but yet feeling inferior that she might not live up to people’s expectations of what she should be. But at the end of the day, I like that she finds her own strength – and the message that one can trust to someone they look up to to guide their actions, but not need to be exactly like them.

My only peeve with Trese? The pacing is good in the beginning but feels extremely rushed towards the end – as is common with many animated series. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Trese, and I think it’s worth a watch for fans of animation and fantasy stories alike. First Raya, then Trese – maybe this will be the start of the rise of Southeast Asian-themed shows. I’d love to see one with Malaysian mythological characters like Badang (not like the shit that starred Aliff Syukri, I mean a proper one), Mahsuri and Hang Tuah. 

Now, tabi-tabi po. Time to go catch up on some Trese!

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The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, Petaling Jaya

Despite having a sizable community here, Filipino cuisine is still (imo) underappreciated in Malaysia. Unlike Thai or Indonesian restaurants, which are ubiquitous all over the country, Filipino restaurants are a bit more difficult to find, and their patrons are usually Filipinos, rather than Malaysians. There is one thing to be said about that, though – it usually means that these are the places that serve authentic food for those who crave a taste of home.

One of these restaurants is The Narra Filipino Resto Lounge, tucked within Dataran Millennium in Petaling Jaya. When searching for the best Filipino restaurants in KL, The Narra regularly tops the list – and for good reason. They have a wide variety of dishes from different parts of the Philippines, service is good, and prices and portions are fair. I’ve been here several times, and even celebrated a birthday here with the Hubs. Since my parents have never tried Filipino cuisine, I thought it’d be a good idea to bring them here for dinner on Sunday.

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The decor is pretty much the same from my previous visit: neat, with clean white tables and chairs, and a small stage where a live band performs on weekends. There is a display of baked goods and cakes at the counter, as well as a couple of shelves stocked with Filipino treats and canned goods. It was quiet during our visit, so we didn’t have to wait long for our food.

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Bro and Pops ordered Calamansi juice while I went for Gulaman, which is a syrupy sweet brown sugar drink with a jelly like substance, similar to cincau or agar. It was a tad too sweet even for me, so you might want to skip this if you don’t like sugary drinks.

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Of course, I had to get my favourite order, Sisig, consisting of chopped pig head with onions, chilli peppers, calamansi and egg, served on a sizzling hotplate. The parts of the pig’s head create a medley of interesting textures: you get the crunch from the cartilage, and soft and fatty bits from the jowls and cheeks. It’s definitely not a healthy dish, what with the fat and grease, but it’s oh-so-sinful.

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I usually come here alone, so I haven’t had the chance to try dishes like the Pininyahang Manok, which is chicken braised in coconut milk, pineapples, carrots, potatoes and bell peppers. My parents found the flavour ‘very odd’, but I liked it because it reminded me of Chinese-style buttermilk, albeit with a slightly sour aftertaste. Not a fan of bell peppers in general, but I don’t think the taste was very pronounced. The chicken was cooked well, and the carrots were done just right; soft without being mushy.

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Bro had Embosilog. The name comes from the dish’s three main components: Embotido (pork meatloaf), Sinangag (garlic fried rice) and Itlog (egg). Nipped a bit from his plate and was impressed. The fried rice was very fragrant and the meatloaf was tasty.

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Grilled pork intestines for sharing. I know some people will find it off-putting but I actually enjoy the slightly gamey smell 😛

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The chicken inasal (grilled chicken thigh) was humongous. Among all of the dishes, I think this was my least favourite. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exceptional either.

PS: If you’re wondering why we didn’t order Filipino signatures like sinigang (a tamarind-based stew) and adobo (pork cooked in vinegar and soy sauce), it’s because my mom has intestinal and stomach problems, and she can’t take spicy, oily, or sour food. Which ruled out many options because a lot of Filipino dishes are sour, and some of the good ones are oily (lechon, crispy pata).

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Having been to the Philippines many times, I think I have a good grasp of Filipino flavours – but I think my parents found it quite foreign and unlike anything they had tasted before. My mom commented that the food takes some getting used to, while my brother said, “I’m not sure what to make of it. With Thai food or Malay food, you get a distinct flavour profile that is easily recognisable. But these dishes are hard to identify.”

They both make valid points. The Philippines has a unique culture, being the only country in Southeast Asia that was occupied by the Spanish for well over 400 years. The cuisine has strong Spanish and Latin influence, which is why you’ll find dishes like adobo, chiccharon, flan, picadillo and empanadas gracing the dinner table in Filipino and Latino homes. At the same time, it also has distinct Malay influences, as evidenced by the Pininyahang Manok we ordered, which uses coconut milk – a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. There are also dishes like the kare-kare (beef tripe cooked in peanut butter, influenced by Indian cuisine), and lumpia (spring rolls, from Chinese culture).

For me personally, I like some dishes, and some other dishes not so much. The hubs says I blaspheme because I don’t like the taste of Choco Butternut, but hey, you can’t expect every single non-Malaysian to fall head over heels with nasi lemak, right? (although I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like nasi lemak, lol).

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The Narra also sells imported products from the Philippines, such as corned beef, banana ketchup (mom: WHAT?) and Mang Tomas (pork liver sauce).

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I usually get Piattos (they call it Jigs here in Malaysia – although it’s super difficult to find these days), but the restaurant was out of stock, so I got some Lucky Mee Pancit Canton to take home instead.

Our meal (plus my snacks) came up to about RM120. I think we went a bit overboard – could have made do with 3 dishes instead of four – but the price was fairly reasonable given the portions.

If you’re Malaysian and curious about how Filipino cuisine tastes like, The Narra is a good place to try authentic Filipino food. If you’re a Filipino residing in Malaysia, the dishes and the atmosphere (the servers sing Filipino songs while they go about their work, and the resto is always playing OPM) will surely remind you of home.

THE NARRA FILIPINO RESTO LOUNGE

G001 Dataran Millennium, Jalan 14/1, 46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor

Opening hours: 10.30AM – 9.30PM (Saturdays 11.30PM)

Phone: 03-7498 1061

https://www.facebook.com/thenarraresto/

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I Interviewed My Husband on his Typhoon Ulysses Experience

November has been an awful month for many Filipinos. 

The island nation has been battered by consecutive storms and typhoons, with five within the span of the last few weeks. Earlier this month, super typhoon Goni – one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded – devastated large swathes of Eastern Philippines, leaving 25 dead with thousands more displaced. 

And now another one has struck. 

Named after the Latin moniker for the Greek god Odysseus, Typhoon Ulysses made landfall on November 11 on the island town of Patnanungan in Quezon, before steadily carving a path of destruction across parts of Luzon with winds reaching up to 105 kph. As of November 13, Reuters reported at least 42 dead and over 75,000 packed into evacuation centres. Of course, this doesn’t bode well not only because of hygiene and sanitation, but also because of the current pandemic. 

Typhoons are very common in the Philippines,  so when I heard about the news, I asked N if his area was going to be affected. This was on Wednesday night, and he was pretty nonchalant about it, so I thought there was nothing to worry about. 

We  usually message each other the first thing after waking up, so when I didn’t hear anything from him at 11am on Thursday, I began to worry. Shortly after, I got a message from my sister-in-law, telling me that their house was flooded. Since there was no electricity, they were turning off their phones to conserve battery, and would update me on the situation as it went.

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She also sent me a few photos of the interior. I’ve been to N’s house several times, which is located in Cainta, about 12 kilometres from Metro Manila. Since it’s in a low-lying area, the house is prone to floods during the rainy season, so the main floor (living room, bedroom, kitchen) is slightly elevated above the entrance by about a foot. From the photos, I could see that water had already seeped into the upper level, so there was probably about three feet of water. 

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Water at its highest. You can see how much it rose compared to the previous photo.

Now.. this might sound super ignorant, but living on the west coast of Malaysia, which has zero natural disasters (we’re blessed), I’ve always imagined floods to be this super swift rush of water, obliterating everything in its path and sending people and things to a watery grave. This is the case in some scenarios, but there are also floods where the water level rises over time. Not that it’s any less dangerous; if anything, I think these are actually more deceiving – you think the water isn’t that high and boom! You’re suddenly stuck on the roof. 

Thursday was spent on tenterhooks as I waited for updates. Watching the news didn’t help, as media outlets showed devastating scenes of people stuck on rooftops, submerged homes and vehicles, uprooted trees and damaged infrastructure. I went to the FB group for residents of where N lives, and some areas were so badly affected, they had to use boats to get people out. 

I was relieved to hear that the flood waters had subsided by 6pm. N and my in-laws spent the night in the attic. It was very uncomfortable because they didn’t have electricity, but I was glad that they were, at least, safe. 

I didn’t hear much from N until Friday evening, when he got the electricity and Wi-Fi back.  He spent the whole day cleaning up; there was a lot of mud on the floor, and some items had to be thrown away – but the important thing is that him and his family are safe. 

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Kaya the doggo looking down from the attic.

During our call that night, my inner curiosity won out (once a journalist, always a journalist?) and I plied him with questions lol. It was actually a pretty insightful conversation and helped me to understand better what I should do in case of a flood (or any disaster for that matter). 

So, what actually happened? 

N: It had been raining throughout the night. I think the water started coming in around 6am. I was sleeping. 

What? How can you sleep through a flood? 

N: It happens all the time here. If it was serious my family would have woken me up, lol. I think they were also deliberating if they should pack up and go to a hotel, or stay behind. In the end they just started moving some of the appliances and stuff to the attic. I woke up around 9am and the water was about an inch-high in my bedroom. I helped my brother stack the bed up onto chairs. 

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Was it worse than Ondoy (2009)? 

N: In terms of wind strength, I think this was more powerful. But Ondoy brought a huge volume of rainfall with it, so the floods were worse. This house was almost submerged. I can’t really tell you how that was though, because I was living near campus at the time and wasn’t affected much.

So the waters were rising. How did you prepare? 

N: You should watch the Korean movie Alive. It’s on Netflix. 

Isn’t that about zombies? 

N: Yeah, but it’s still super useful for disaster situations. I learned that you should get your earphones, because the 3.5mm jack actually doubles as a radio antenna. If you don’t have a radio, you can use your phone’s radio function to tune into the news. My mom also has a small transistor radio for emergencies. The night before, when we heard that there might be a possibility of floods, we charged up all of our devices and power banks, coz we knew electricity might be cut. Then there’s the usual; batteries, flashlights, emergency first aid kit. Electricity companies will automatically cut off electricity, but we turned off all the switches just in case. 

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View from the roof of N’s house. Uprooted trees

What else do you think one should do when preparing for a flood? 

Perishables won’t keep if your fridge is submerged, so have some processed food and canned food on standby. The water wasn’t that high this time so we could still use the gas stove to cook all the perishables for dinner. As for clothes, you can pack them into waterproof bags. Previously we used garbage bags because they float, but the material is thin and if it tears your stuff will get dirty and wet. If you have a vehicle, you should remove the car battery. Also, if you have important documents, put them all in an envelope so it’ll be easy to carry and keep safe.  

What did you do while waiting for the water to subside? 

I went downstairs to observe the situation, my family stayed in the attic. I fell asleep again and woke up around 1pm. 

I am astonished you can sleep in the middle of a flood. 

Well, it happens all the time so I’m used to it. We get floods very often; I used to call it ‘annual general cleaning’ because we’d have to clean the house from top to bottom afterwards. I was a little surprised that the water rose fast though. Like two inches every 20 minutes. I think it reached about three feet. 

What did you do at night? 

Just had dinner, talked. We didn’t use our devices to save battery. It was very hot and difficult to sleep with everyone in the attic. S (niece) kept tossing and turning, so my brother had to fan her.  The next morning we started cleaning up. We couldn’t move the fridge because there was no place to put it. Thankfully it’s still working.  

Okay, I have to ask this. Since everyone is in the attic, where do you go when you need to pee? 

N: You pee in the flood water. 

Come again? 

N: You pee in the flood water. You can’t go outside because snakes might swim into the house when you open the door lol. And the toilet is flooded anyway. So you just kinda go downstairs and do your thing. You know, the first night, I had this overwhelming urge to poop and I kept holding it in the entire night. The next morning when I could finally go to the toilet, nothing came out. What the effing hell. I guess if you really need to do a no.2, there are plastic bags… 

Typhoons are so common in the Philippines. Do you think that the government should improve on their disaster prevention measures? 

N: I might get a lot of flak for saying this, but I actually think there isn’t that much the government can do. I think they’re doing okay with what they have.

(note**: While writing this, I read some articles about how more money should be allocated to improve housing for the poor. Many Filipinos from the low income bracket live in flimsy wooden homes, which are easily flattened by storms – as is the case with Haiyan in 2013. N and I did not discuss this, but I think we should expand on this after more research).

While the worst of Ulysses seems to have passed, relief might take a long time – especially with government agencies and facilities overburdened as it is from COVID and previous disasters. It’s 1AM and I’m still seeing cries for help on social media from areas like Cagayan and Isabela, which are located in the northern part of Luzon: there hasn’t been much media coverage and apparently aid is slow in coming, and many people are still stuck, with flood waters rising.

I’m glad N and my in-laws are safe, and that there isn’t that much damage to their home. -Ber months in the Philippines are when the La Nina phenomenon occurs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if another typhoon decides to make a visit. 2020 just sucks in general.

I know it’s a difficult time and there’s nothing that I can say that can help make it easier. But to those affected, please stay strong, and keep each other safe. For donations, Philippine Tatler has compiled a list of organisations that you can contribute to. Link here.

This photo of a dog stuck on a roof broke my heart. There’s a happy ending though – it was rescued and reunited with its owner.

Stinky Tofu, Durian & Insects: Would You Try These ‘Exotic’ Foods?

Hey, guys!

Been meaning to blog more, but like the stereotypical millennial, I’ve been making poor life choices lately (like staying up until 3am every day. To play Witcher 3.)

But I digress. 

This post was inspired by a recent hotpot dinner, where I ordered century eggs. Whenever I have them, I’m reminded of a good friend of mine and how horrified he was when I sent him a picture of my “rotten” dinner (century eggs with porridge). This coming from a Finn, who eats blood cakes for lunch and enjoys salmiakki as a treat lol.

Jokes aside, I can see how food in some cultures can be viewed as gross to others. Before sushi was popularised in the West, many considered the idea of eating raw fish downright unhygienic / disgusting. But as with everything else, cultures and attitudes can change – and I think people are much more adventurous these days when it comes to food. So without further ado: here’s a fun list of ‘bizarre’ foods (I love that show, by the way) that I’ve tried. Let me know what you think and if you’d be willing to try them!

CENTURY EGGS

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For those who have never seen a century egg, it’s understandable to think it’s rotten – especially since the yolk is completely black and the albumen takes on a translucent, jelly-like appearance. A traditional delicacy in China, they are typically made from duck, chicken or quail eggs preserved in a mix of ash, clay, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for up to several months. The eggs have a pungent odour of hydrogen sulfide/ammonia, which comes from the preservative mix.In Malaysia where there is a large Chinese diaspora, century eggs are pretty common, and you can get them at the local market or Chinese grocers.

How it tastes: The jellied part tastes just like regular hard boiled egg but saltier, while the yolk has a rich and creamy consistency that is almost like avocado. Traditionally, century eggs are eaten together with slices of ginger (to cut through the pungency), but I like having it chopped up in porridge or served with noodles.

STINKY TOFU 

If there’s one food that epitomises the saying ‘its bark is worse than its bite’, it would be stinky tofu – a popular snack at night markets in China, Taiwan and Chinese-centric areas in Malaysia. As the name suggests, stinky tofu is, well, stinky. The best way I can describe it is if you mixed unwashed socks with the smell of wet dog and sewage, lol. The odour is a result of the tofu’s fermentation: traditionally, the tofu is marinated in a brine made from fermented milk, veggies and meat (recipes vary), and left to soak for several days to months. It is then served in soups, steamed or deep fried.

How it tastes: If you can get over the vulgar odour, stinky tofu is actually quite tasty, with a crispy exterior and light, fluffy insides. Here in Malaysia, it is usually served deep fried with a topping of chilli and various seasonings like soy sauce, which helps to mask the smell a little. It also has a somewhat… addictive quality. You know like how stinky feet is stinky but you’re still sort of drawn to it against your will ? …. or is that just me?

FERMENTED BEANCURD

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Victor-boy / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Yes, yes, we Chinese do love our preserved/ fermented food stuffs – but you have to understand that most of these were created in a time before refrigeration existed, so people had to come up with all sorts of ways to keep food edible for months, sometimes years. Fermented beancurd is commonly used as a condiment in Chinese cuisine, and there are several varieties, most of which have strong, pungent flavours (see a pattern here?). They are also nutritious, since tofu is very high in protein and contains virtually no cholesterol. Think of it as Chinese cheese.

How it tastes : Tofu on its own has no taste, so the beancurd takes on the flavour of whatever it is brined in. The most common type is the white one which has sugar, salt, chilli and rice wine. If you think about the culturing, it’s not unlike kombucha. Personally, I prefer the red fermented beancurd (nam yu) which incorporates red yeast rice. It has a pleasant, thick and rich aroma – great for deep fried pork ribs!

FROG FALLOPIAN TUBES (?) 

Sometimes I think this is why people say the Chinese eat all sorts of sh*t, lol. Officially it is called hasma (in Cantonese, we call it ‘suet kap’) – basically dried fatty tissue from the fallopian tubes of certain types of frogs, typically the Asiatic Grass Frog. It is whitish in appearance, has a slimy texture, and is used as an ingredient in dessert soups. Back in the day, it was a luxurious item that would only be served to emperors and nobles. When I was a kid, my mom would boil these because in traditional Chinese medicine, suet kap is believed to have multiple health benefits, such as being good for the skin and respiratory system. I guess if I was an adult and someone told me I was eating frog fallopian tubes, I’d be hesitant but since I literally grew up eating this it doesn’t seem so gross.

How it tastes : Like birds nest, hasma is tasteless on its own, and is usually flavoured with rock sugar in dessert soups.

DURIAN

Ah, the king of fruits. I’m not a diehard fan as some of my fellow Malaysians are – if you served me durian I’d probably eat it – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to look for it. Malaysians love durian though: we even have ‘durian buffets’ where you can eat to your hearts fill.

Durian has an extremely pungent smell. There have even been cases where buildings were evacuated due to ‘suspected gas leaks’ – turns out someone brought some durians on-site. Personally I don’t find the texture or flavour intolerable. BUT. I have been told that durians that have been shipped overseas taste gross, because of how it has been shipped / the durians are way past their prime. Then again, Andrew Zimmerns had a freshly opened durian in Asia, and he described it as having a ‘taste like completely rotten mushy onions’. So, if you ever get to try it, I’ll let you be the judge.

How it tastes : Heaven … or hell. There is no in between. For me, it has a texture and taste similar to sweet custard, but with a much stronger flavour.

ESCARGOTS

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DanceWithNyanko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Escargots are a good example of the powers of branding. How else can you explain why snails – something people usually see as slimy and icky – are considered a gourmet delicacy, served in fine dining restos and high-end establishments? Escargot is associated with French cuisine, but it is served in many parts of Europe. The snails are usually from the species Helix pomatia. Here in Malaysia, we have our own version, called balitong – small sea snails that are a pain to suck out of their shells and have a texture similar to a chewy clam, cooked in sambal/chilli.

How it tastes : I had escargot once, on my grad trip. It was cooked in garlic butter which made the dish very fragrant, and the snails had a bouncy texture which I enjoyed.

SALMIAKKI 

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Tiia Monto / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Weird as some of the items on this list may seem, I enjoy most of them – with the exception of salmiakki. Also called salty liquorice, it is a common confectionery in Nordic countries. The candy is flavoured with salmiak salt (ammonium chloride), giving it a strong astringent and salty taste. These days, you can find salmiakki flavoured ice cream, chewing gum and even alcoholic beverages.

How it tastes: My Finnish friend sent me a box of these. I love you bud, but by god. Our friendship was tested that day. It was not only extremely salty to the point of being bitter, for some reason it also reminded me of burnt rubber tyres – like if someone tried to make that into a flavour, it would taste like salmiakki.

Never again.

You know shit is real when Japs, known for their extreme politeness, react this way lol.

INSECTS 

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McKay Savage from London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Eating insects is considered taboo in the West, but here’s a fun fact: insects are eaten by about 80 percent of the world’s population, a practice known as entomophagy. In recent times, companies are trying to introduce insects into the Western diet as part of the sustainability movement, since they are extremely high in protein and available in abundance – making insect-eating much more environmentally friendly. For some countries, eating insects stems from a history of poverty; people had to make do with whatever they could catch. Deep fried insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers, are common street food snacks in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

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How it tastes : I don’t really like insects – how they look, how they crawl, etc. so it was difficult to get over that mental barrier of eating them. Took the plunge on a trip to Phuket. They didn’t taste bad or anything – it was just like eating crispy whitebait (I had crickets). The silkworms had a chewy exterior and crumbly insides, which I actually liked more than the crickets.

BALUT

Inside a Balut - Embryo and Yolk
Marshall Astor from San Pedro, United States / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The idea of eating a developing duck/chicken embryo sounds abhorrent. But if you think about it, balut is really just that – an egg. With a baby duck in it. And feathers. lol.

Commonly sold on the streets in the Philippines, balut eggs are boiled and eaten from the shell, with the eggs incubated for a period between 14 to 21 days. You crack it open and suck out the broth, dip it into some vinegar or salt, and eat the yolk and the chick.

How it tastes : I first tried balut in LA’s Filipinotown. I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, but even I couldn’t stop the involuntary churning in my stomach as I cracked the shell open and saw the half-formed chick inside. When I finally summoned up enough courage to eat it, I was… surprised. It just tasted like egg / chicken (I mean, duh). Still, not something for the faint-hearted.

 

What are some dishes in your culture that other people might see as weird / exotic? Share them with me in the comments below! 🙂 

What It’s Like To Date A Filipino

So.

You’ve got your eye on a cute guy from the beautiful country of the Philippines. But you’re worried about cultural differences, and how the relationship might work out.

Fret not – I’m here to share with you what it’s like to date a Filipino, and what you can expect. winkwink 

Now before we proceed, a disclaimer for the party poopers going “OMG Eris so you dated two Filipino guys, you married one and you have a bunch of Filipino friends – what gives you the right to generalise ? Smooth out your knickers, this is purely for fun. I mean, no one gets mad when people ‘generalise’ Virgos as perfectionists (entirely true, though).

Without further ado (but first a photo, coz we lookin’ cute): 

THEY’RE ROMANTIC

Be ready for some extremely corny (but not unpleasant) pick-up lines.

Courtship is a big thing in Filipino culture. Back in the day, a man who wished to woo a woman had to go through the proper steps, first expressing interest in a friendly and discreet manner. Traditional Filipino society was conservative, so the process was often done through a ‘bridge’, a friend who knows both families. The bachelor would visit the family, asking for permission to court the lady. There might be a series of chaperoned dates, lots of gift giving, romantic letters and cards, serenading (called harana) and the like. Oftentimes, the bachelor would have to ‘court’ the girl’s family as well  – gotta please the future in-laws lol. 

Perhaps this is why Filipinos still have a strong notion of romantic love (be it through gifts, love songs, writing, etc.). Coming from a Malaysian Chinese family, where love is rarely expressed in words, it is refreshing to date someone who tells you they love you and puts in the effort to keep things fresh and interesting. I don’t subscribe to the belief that once you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, it becomes drab and dull. It’s only boring if you make it so.

I know this is not the best example (seeing as how he’s gone down in history as a despot lol), but ex-President Marcos once said to Imelda, “Just love me now, and I’ll court you forever.” We all know how that went, but you can’t say the idea isn’t romantic!

THEY GET JEALOUS EASILY 

N and I had a huge fight early on in our relationship. I met up with an old friend from grade school, and since we hadn’t seen each other for so long, we got drinks after dinner and hung out until midnight. N was pissed because he said going out 1-on-1 with a guy constitutes a ‘date’ – despite how I tried to explain that we’re just friends. On my end, I felt insulted because it was clearly not a date and how about having a little bit of faith in me? I mean, even my super protective Asian parents didn’t give a shit, so why was he even mad? If the reverse applied, I wouldn’t mind if he went out with a female friend, because there’s this thing called trust. Long story short, he insisted I was wrong, I refused to apologise, and we made a compromise that I wouldn’t stay out past midnight with a guy (apparently a group of people is fine… I don’t get the logic). Now that we’re married though, he doesn’t seem to mind – so I guess it was a ‘we’re not really official yet so I’m worried someone might steal you away thing’ ?

PS: I know some people would call this a red flag – that if a man truly loves you they wouldn’t try to put a leash on you. But I think it goes both ways. If your significant other has made it clear that they’re uncomfortable about something and they’ve explained the reason behind it, weigh it against your own principles, and see if it’s something you can compromise in, in exchange for a more harmonious relationship.  If you’re okay with it, by all means. I feel that couples these days can get too caught up in the ‘he/she has to accommodate ME’ attitude.  End of the day, God gave you brains – use them to make rational decisions based on mutual respect

THEY ARE FAMILY ORIENTED

In general, Asian cultures are more family-oriented than Western ones, and it’s not uncommon to find many generations living together under the same roof. Filipinos are no exception, and they usually have big families. While marriage is between two people, if your beau is living with his fam, naturally, you’d have to get along with his family members. If you come from an individualistic culture, this might be difficult to adapt to. I’m fortunate as my in-laws are nice and reasonable people but then again, I don’t live with them – it might be an entirely different ball game. 😛 At the same time, coming from an Asian family myself, I understand the importance of family to him, so I’d never ask him to choose between us.

THEY’RE RELIGIOUS 

A majority of Filipinos are Catholic and deeply religious. While they might not impose these beliefs on you, I think it’s important to respect the fact that religion plays an important part in their lives. N is Christian, and I’ve been to his church a couple of times to listen to sermons. Although he hopes that I will embrace Christianity some day, he has never forced me to accept his beliefs, and I’ve never insisted that he should be a Buddhist. When you come from different cultures and have different beliefs, respect is key. All too often, couples of different faiths have problems when they can’t find common ground, or dismiss the other person’s faith as lesser than one’s own.

YOU’LL NEVER GO HUNGRY

Filipinos are known for their hospitality and every time I’ve been to the Philippines for holidays, I always leave a couple of pounds heavier. His mom makes a killer nilaga, and his fam is always taking me out for good food whenever I visit. The Hubs likes to try new cuisine, which is great because Malaysians are big foodies as well. If you love food, marry a Filipino!

 

 

 

10 Of My Favourite Places To Visit In Manila, Philippines

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have a love-hate relationship with Manila.

On one hand, I love how culturally rich and historical it is, with its museums, churches and art galleries (And Jollibee, of course!). On the other, I’m not a fan of its insane traffic, the pollution, and the fact that its one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s extremely difficult to find a quiet space.

Image: Assy Gerez via Unsplash

Having been here several times, I often get friends asking me if Manila is worth visiting (for many Malaysians, the Philippines is not as popular as other S/E Asian destinations like Thailand or Indonesia – and if they do visit, it’s usually to Boracay). My answer is always “It depends on what you like.” If you’re thinking the type of packaged cultural offerings you often get in Bali or Chiang Mai, or a beach getaway (because Manila is by the sea right? lol), then you will be disappointed. Manila is not a place to ‘get away from it all’. But if you’re up for a bit of urban adventure in a chaotic and colourful city…then Manila has a certain charm.

While quarantine restrictions are still in place due to COVID, that doesn’t stop you from planning for your next adventure. Since June 24 marks Manila Day – commemorating the 449th anniversary when Manila was proclaimed as Spain’s capital city in the Philippines – I’ve made a list of my favourite places to visit! For those who have never been to Manila, this will give you a good idea of what to expect.

INTRAMUROS 

If you’re new to Manila, Intramuros is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the city’s rich history. Dating back to the late 1500s, this old walled city has walls that are at least two-metres thick and six metres high, and is home to many historical landmarks, from churches and gardens to old mansions and museums. You can walk around the impressive stone ramparts, some parts of which have cannons on them, or ride around in horse-drawn carriages called kalesa.  

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH

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One of my favourite places to visit in the area is the San Agustin Church, which was founded as a monastery by Augustinian monks. Part church, part museum complex, the building has a sad and haunting beauty, with austere stone hallways and sombre oil paintings. This is in stark contrast to the church proper, which features stunning architecture rivalling the grand churches of Europe. There are also galleries filled with religious artefacts and even a crypt. If you’re a history nerd like me, a visit to San Agustin is a must. 

BALUERTE SAN DIEGO / SAN DIEGO GARDENS 

The San Diego Gardens is one of those rare oases in Manila that offer a quiet respite, with tranquil European-style lawns and fountains that make it popular as a wedding photoshoot venue. The Baluerte San Diego, a small fort within the gardens, is the oldest structure within Intramuros. Its purpose was to ensure a clear view of the place and prepare against invaders. Back in the day it had all the facilities: courtyard, water supply tank, lodging and workshops – but all that remains of what must have once been a thriving fort are bare brick and stone.

FORT SANTIAGO

The story of Jose Rizal fascinates me. I am no revolutionary, but as a writer, there is something very moving about how Rizal’s writing set a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people that eventually led to their fight for freedom against their Spanish oppressors. His story is a true embodiment of how the pen is mightier than the sword.

Fort Santiago is where Rizal was housed before his execution in 1896, and visitors to the fort will see a pair of bronze footprints embedded in the ground and leading out to the gate – said to retrace Rizal’s last footsteps. Inside the fort, you will also find a shrine/museum dedicated to this Philippine National Hero, which contains various memorabilia including poetry pieces, letters he wrote to family and friends, replicas of sculptures, paintings and more.

PLAZA SAN LUIS 

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One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Vigan, a town known for its Spanish colonial architecture. In Manila, you have Plaza San Luis, a complex that contains five houses, a museum, theatre, hotel, souvenir shops and eateries. Since Intramuros was nearly levelled during the war, many of the old homes were destroyed, and the homes here have been replicated to represent different eras in Filipino-Hispanic architecture. The overall colonial feeling of the place – with its quaint courtyards and staircases – makes it easy to believe that you are peeking through a window in time. You can almost believe that some rich young ladies in traditional Filipinianas, giggling behind their fans in the summer heat while out for an afternoon stroll, are just about to round the corner.

MANILA CATHEDRAL

This cathedral was rebuilt a whopping eight times – it kept getting destroyed by fires, earthquakes and whatnot. While the architecture is not as grand as St Agustin, I like the stained glass art that it has, as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in which Mary cradles the broken body of Christ

RIZAL PARK 

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A short distance away from Intramuros is Rizal Park, one of Manila’s few green areas. Like many old parts of Manila, it teems with history – hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, including Jose Rizal. It is fitting then, that the Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was read in this spot, and that the park was named after the revolutionary himself. When Pope Francis visited the Philippines and conducted a mass at the park, six million people turned up – that’s 1/5 of Malaysia’s population! While I wouldn’t say Rizal Park is the best park I’ve ever been to (litter is a problem), I think it’s a great place to visit if you’re sick of Manila’s endless malls. There are a few smaller parks within like the Nayong Filipino which are nice to explore.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY 

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With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking National Museum of Anthropology (aka Museum of the Filipino People) is hard to miss and is just a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors. Coming from Malaysia where we have pretty lame museums (sorry, got to call a spade a spade), I was blown away by the quality of Manila’s major museums. The quality of the exhibits, as well as how they are arranged (with sections dedicated to indigenous art and culture, the history of the Philippines during the colonial era, etc.) offer interesting insights into the development of modern Filipino society.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

Filipinos are artistic people – there’s even a stereotype about how all Filipinos are good at singing and dancing (these people have obviously never met my husband) – and art has always been a way for the people to express themselves, even in times of oppression.

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The National Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in the former Legislative Building, is a testament to this creativity and resilience, with works by national artists such as Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Guillermo Tolentino. In fact, when you walk in, the first thing you will be greeted with is an almost floor-to-ceiling work of Juan Luna Y Novicio’s Spoliarium – possibly one of the Philippines’ most popular pieces of art. The gallery is filled with artistic treasures, most of which reflect the country’s European-influenced past, and there are pieces that are so intricate and detailed, you can’t help but marvel at the level of craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s definitely a place that you can get lost in for hours.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

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Another must-visit is the National Museum of National History, which has a very picturesque central court that boasts a structure called the DNA Tree of Life, as well as loads of interesting exhibits on nature and geology in the Philippines. There are sections dedicated to botany and entomology, marine life, mangroves and more. Even if you’re not into natural history, the architecture of the building alone is worth dropping by for.

BINONDO 

I try to visit the local Chinatown whenever I visit a foreign country. Idk, call it a subconscious need to reconnect with my roots or whathaveyou, lol.

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Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1594. Its narrow, chaotic streets, with its haphazard signboards and buildings, can feel claustrophobic, but it has a charm of its own. What I like about Binondo? The food. There are legendary establishments here that have been in the same family for generations, such as Eng Bee Tin – known for their hopia (a type of pastry) and tikoy (sticky rice cake – in Malaysia we call it niangao). If you’re here, look out for a shop called Ling Nam, which serves mami noodles (plain or with pork asado) – I stumbled across this gem purely by chance. There are many restos around the area that I haven’t had the chance to try yet, so I’m looking forward to another visit!

 

 

 

 

A Malaysian Chinese Wedding – Part 2: Customs, Traditions and Culture

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.

5.30 AM. 

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.

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7.30 AM 

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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.

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.

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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.

8.45AM 

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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.

9 A.M

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The groom arrives! We set off a row of firecrackers as welcome.

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Moo and Pops receiving gifts from the groom. Chaperone livens up the mood with auspicious sayings.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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His “Am I really going through with this I’m going to regret it omg” face.

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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.

10 AM

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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.

10.15AM 

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.

10.30AM 

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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.

11.15AM 

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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.

11.45 AM 

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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.

1PM 

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.

6.30 PM 

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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.

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Our chaperone, who also acted as our emcee for the dinner.

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Cutting our fake wedding cake, which was provided by the restaurant.

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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.

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A selection of appetisers: fried items, cold cuts, bite-sized goodies.

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Herbal soup with abalone.

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Iberico pork ribs. These were excellent!

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Fried shrimp.

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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.

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Champagne pouring. The ‘champagne’ was really just apple juice.

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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.

A Malaysian Chinese Wedding Part 1 – Pre-Wedding Preparations and Planning

Hey guys! Welcome to part one of A Malaysian Chinese Wedding, in which I discuss pre-wedding preparations for my wedding ceremony, which was held last February. For those of you who’d like to know what a Malaysian Chinese wedding is like, read on! While I did not follow all the traditions strictly, I hope that by sharing my own experiences, this will help those planning for their own weddings as well 😉

A Malaysian Chinese wedding can be an elaborate (and expensive) affair, as there are many traditions and customs involved; some of which were inherited from our Chinese ancestors but adapted to modern times, others assimilated from the cultures of the region (such as ‘open house’, a uniquely Malaysian practice).

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Growing up fourth-generation Malaysian Chinese, I’m not exactly in touch with my roots. But since the hubs is Filipino, I wanted him to experience at least a slice of Chinese culture. We decided to go for the traditional route as much as possible (ie tea ceremony in the morning, and a banquet dinner at night), whilst still keeping it simple and within budget.

Gear up, because this is going to be a long post! 🙂

PREPARING FOR YOUR BIG DAY: Planning is half the battle 

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N and I had our wedding in February, which was just before the pandemic blew up in the region. We were very lucky that we were still able to follow through with the ceremony. What made it complicated, however, was the fact that N is Filipino. Although we registered our marriage in November 2019, Malaysian immigration laws require a cooling-off period of at least six months before the foreign spouse is allowed to apply for a spouse visa –  which would then allow him/her to stay for a longer period of time, rather than on a one-month tourist visa. Because N also had a job in the Phils, we agreed that he would only fly over with his family closer to the wedding date.

Planning a wedding without the help of your spouse can be tough, so I am thankful for my family and friends for lending me their support. If you have cash to spare, a wedding planner makes things much easier. It helps to make a list of things to do, because you might forget important things. Trust me, you’ll have a lot on your mind.

Engaging a chaperone (Dai Kum

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A dai kum (chaperone) acts as a wedding planner / MC of sorts. She (usually it’s a she, but there are male chaperones as well) will advise the couple on items needed for certain rituals, and guide them on what to do before, during and after the ceremony. On the actual day itself, the dai kum will be on hand to instruct the couple and their families on rituals to perform, keep tabs on the schedule of the day’s events, and liven up the atmosphere. I’m pretty much clueless when it comes to Chinese culture, so we engaged a dai kum‘s services. She also emceed our wedding dinner, so we didn’t have to look for a separate emcee. FB Page: Emcee Foong 

Choosing An Auspicious Date 

In Chinese culture, bazi (or the Four Pillars of Destiny, denoted by eight characters) is an important astrological concept based on the Chinese almanac, where it is believed that a person’s destiny or fate can be divined from their birth year, month, day or hour. If the couple’s bazi is incompatible, a specific date might be chosen to mitigate the effects, so that it does not bring calamity to the marriage. You can get a monk or a feng shui master to advise you on this. I’m not much of a believer in things like destiny (although I do joke with N that meeting him is tadhana – Tagalog for ‘fate’ lolol corny af)  so we opted to skip this.

Guo dai lai (Betrothal ceremony) 

Aside from the date of the wedding ceremony, you also use Bazi to pick a date for the Guo Dai Lai (betrothal ceremony) – in which the groom’s parents present gifts to the bride’s parents. We skipped this because it felt unnecessary, but for those of you interested to know what you need to get, I’ve included a list from our chaperone. Note that most of these items are in pairs, because it represents a ‘couple’, and aside from 8, 2 is also an auspicious number in Chinese culture.

Wedding gifts in wedding store
Geoffreyrabbit / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The groom is required to bring: 

-Gift box containing

  • 2 betrothal ang paus (red packets)
  • 1 angpau for the bride
  • Engagement angpau
  • 2 angpaus for parents-in-law
  • auspicious dried fruit (lotus seeds, lily seeds, red dates, walnuts, longan)
  • red rope
  • chamaecyparis obtusa (leaf of a Hinoki cypress; this is apparently to ward off evil)

-2 hampers, containing:

  • A pair of wedding candles
  • a pair of wedding joss sticks
  • 1 can of tea leaves
  • red cloth (9 feet)
  • 2 bottles of wine.
  • Note: One of these hampers will be received by the bride, and then returned to the groom’s family.

-2 fruit baskets containing 9 apples and 9 oranges; one basket of which is returned to the groom’s family.

-2 boxes of Wedding ‘cakes’. These are Chinese wedding cakes that are given as gifts. You can get them at most Chinese pastry shops, and these days even online. Traditionally, the amount of cakes is discussed among the two families. The bride’s family has to return the exact number of cakes as was given by the groom. PS: The bride and groom are not allowed to eat the wedding cakes, which to me is complete BS because food

Roast Suckling Pig (2505471024)
Alpha from Melbourne, Australia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

-A whole roasted suckling pig. Meat was a big deal in the olden days of China, as most of the population was poor and would only be able to eat meat on festive occasions. Two oranges are placed in the middle of the pig, and it is wrapped up in red paper before it is cut. The groom is required to give a red packet to the person cutting up the pig. The bride’s family returns the head and tail of the pig, as well as its four legs, to the groom.

-2 baskets of seafood containing: Scallop, abalone, mushrooms, nostoc (a type of edible algae), fish bladder. One is returned to the groom.

While the groom’s family does the bulk of the gifting, the bride’s family has to prepare some favours as well, which typically include a large Chinese steamed sponge cake (fatt gou), sesame balls, 2 bottles of orange juice, new clothing for the son-in-law (pants, belt, wallet, socks, shoes), red packets for the groom and the in-laws, as well as five kinds of grains.

All of the above is for reference only. In modern times, many people opt to include other items they consider auspicious – it’s the ‘thought’ that counts, basically.

Gown Rental 

I find it a waste to buy something that I’ll only wear once, so I chose to rent instead. There are plenty of bridal shops in SS2, Petaling Jaya, but I found one closer to my house so it would be more convenient to do fittings, alterations, etc. In Puchong, there’s Pick A Gown Gallery and Vivo Weddings and Dinner Fashion. I went to the latter as they had more designs in sizes that fit me – finding a gown when you’re plus-sized can be difficult. The prices are reasonable as well, and they let you keep the dress for a week. I chose a Chinese-style dress for the morning tea ceremony and a Western-style one for the banquet dinner. We bought a Chinese shirt for N to match, and he wore his traditional barong for the dinner.

Make-up and accessories 

You want to look good on your big day, so a good make-up artist is a must! In my case, I engaged a friend of mine who works as a part-time make-up artist (she’s a computer programmer by day – talk about a different career, lol). She was very professional; she even rented a room nearby so that she could be at my house by the crack of dawn to start the makeup session in time for the tea ceremony. She also lent me some of her hair accessories, so I wouldn’t need to buy my own. FB: Sassy Makeover.

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(Above) The trial makeup session in which I couldn’t recognise myself after. lol. 

Pre-Wedding photoshoot 

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We decided to save on costs by doing our own photoshoot with N’s camera and a tripod we borrowed from my cousin. This was done in November last year, when N was still in the country and we were visiting Ipoh. While the photos are not up to the standards of a professional bridal studio, we had a lot of fun – minus the discomfort of putting on a wedding gown and having the makeup melt off my face in the Malaysian heat.

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Dowry and Bed Setting Ceremony 

Chinese society is patriarchal, and the bride is deemed part of the groom’s family after her marriage. Traditionally, the bridal chamber is at the groom’s house, as this is where the couple will be starting their new life together. The bride’s family is required to contribute a dowry, and also items required for the bed setting.

These include four basins called a ‘descendants’ set – comprised of a potty (yes, a potty. for peeing. Granted, it’s the traditional one called a tam tong, which is more of a chamber pot), two washbasins, and a mug. An apple, an orange and a red packet is placed within the pot, after which it is wrapped with red paper and tied with a red rope. On the wedding day itself, a young male child is required to reach inside the pot and retrieve the items within – and pray that the couple will have sons (patriarchal society, remember?). We didn’t do this as I didn’t have any young male relatives, and I find it ridiculous to pray for sons anyway.

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2 bedside lamps and a tray of items for good luck such as peanuts, lotus seeds, red dates, lily seeds and dried longan (they’re all sweet, to symbolise sweet beginnings), a lump of carbon and two red packets are placed on the bed. They are usually placed the night before the wedding, and no one is allowed to sleep in the bed until the wedding ceremony is over. Also to be placed underneath the bed are five copper coins, one each at the four corners, and one in the middle.

Everything has to be new – new slippers, new clothes for the bride and groom, new make-up and skincare products, new bedsheets and pillows, etc. Aside from the bedsheet and pillows, we skipped everything else. If you’re a stickler for customs, you can, of course, observe these practices.

Due to our special circumstances ie N being from the Philippines, the bridal chamber was in my house rather than his.

Hair Combing Ceremony (Shang Tou

The hair combing ceremony symbolises the transition of the bride/groom from a child into an adult, now that they are getting married and starting their own family. If the bride does it, the groom has to as well and vice versa. The ceremony is usually conducted separately the night before the wedding, at the groom or bride’s respective homes.

Items required: An incense burner, candlestick, wedding candles, wedding joss sticks, a mirror with a round shape, scissors, comb, descendants ruler (you can get this at specialised wedding shops), chamaecyparis obtusa (for dispelling evil and bad luck), needle and thread, three platters of fruit, 3 bowls of sweet dumplings (tong yuen) – one as an offering to the gods and ancestors, one for the parents, and one for the groom/bride.

Couples are required to bathe before the ceremony and wear a new set of pyjamas. After prayers, the groom/bride’s parents will comb their hair three times, while reciting auspicious sayings. Once done, they will clip the chamaecyparis obtusa to the groom/bride’s hair, and eat the sweet dumplings.

We also skipped this. Heck, it looks like we skipped a lot of things, no?

Buying Items for the Actual Day 

More gifts! Now you know why Malaysian Chinese weddings are so expensive, lol. These are gifts that are exchanged between the groom and bride on the actual day of the wedding ceremony.

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Groom: 

Basket containing 9 oranges, 9 apples and 2 red packets. If you missed out on anything during the Guo Dai Lai, you can also gift it together on the actual day.

Bride: 

Wedding hamper containing 2 bottles of honey, 2 large steamed sponge cakes, peanuts, chicken rice (this is for the bride and groom to share their first meal together as a wedded couple), two bowls of sweet dumpling syrup, longevity noodles.

You’ll also need to purchase a tea set for the tea ceremony, and a red umbrella which is used by the father of the bride to shield her as she ‘leaves’ the home.

Renting a Canopy, food for guests, etc. 

If you’ve invited guests to the tea ceremony, there probably won’t be enough space for all of them in the house – in which case you’ll want a canopy to shield them from the hot sun outside, as well as plastic tables and chairs where they can sit. It’s also poor form to have guests attend your wedding and not have food for them. Again, to save on costs, my family helped out by buying the food, so we didn’t have to arrange for a caterer.

Decorations 

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A few months before the big day, we spruced up the house with a new coat of paint. Closer to the ceremony, we bought ribbons to decorate the bridal car, and red cloth to hang up over the door (in Chinese culture, a family hangs up red cloth to indicate an auspicious occasion in the house). Also bought some potted plants for the room and small decorations.

Miscellaneous (bouquet, wedding rings) 

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Traditionally, the Chinese favour gold bands as wedding rings, as they are considered valuable (You can pawn them off in case of emergency, since the value of gold increases over time). But since it’s going to be something I’ll be wearing every day, I wanted something I liked (not that I don’t like gold, just not on my person. lol). In the end, we got a platinum band for N, and a platinum ring with a sapphire (my birthstone) for me.

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For the wedding bouquet, we went for the cheapest option (that wouldn’t look like we plucked a bunch of random flowers lol). Flowers are lovely, but I didn’t want to spend a few hundred ringgit on a super elaborate set up just for them to wither and die within a week.

Coordinating your bridesmaids / groomsmen 

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This is a fairly recent culture, where bridesmaids engage in the ‘ragging’ of groomsmen when they arrive at the house of the bride. The groomsmen are made to play some games in order to get past the gatekeepers (the bridesmaids) and gain entry into the house. I think the practice started as a fun way to break the ice and liven up the atmosphere. If you’re planning on having this, then you’ll have to coordinate with your bridesmaids on what kind of games you want them to play. N and I are both reserved and serious types, so he was quite reluctant to do anything embarrassing lol. For appearances’ sake, we had a few groomsmen (my friends and my brother acting as stand-ins, since he didn’t have any friends flying over from the Phils) play a few simple games like dancing, singing and fishing mahjong tiles out of a bucket.

The Wedding Dinner

Malaysian Chinese weddings also involve a wedding banquet in the evenings. I wasn’t very keen on having this, but my parents insisted on organising one for extended family members and friends (I just wanted a tea ceremony and an intimate gathering, sigh).

We asked a couple of Chinese restaurants for their best prices, and finally settled for Moon Palace in Puchong because a) it’s close to my house, b) there is a hotel next to it where N and his family could just walk over from and c) there’s ample parking for guests.

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The restaurant offers several wedding packages. Prices differ based on the menu. If you’re organising a big event (30 tables or more), the restaurant will usually have a taste test. Since we only had 10 tables, which is very modest by Chinese wedding standards, we did not have a taste testing. You can choose to bring your own wine, but not beer, as there is a corkage fee. As part of our package, the resto also threw in 40 free wedding invitation cards – we had to coordinate the design / collection with the affiliated printing company. For my friends and colleagues, I designed a card on Canva and just Whatsapped them the invitations.

Engaging a Photographer / Videographer 

We didn’t get a photographer for our pre-wedding photos, but I wanted a professional to capture the moments on our special day. After a lot of research, we finally got James, on the recommendation of a friend. I have to say that he did a spectacular job and at a very reasonable price as well. If you’d like to engage his services, you can contact JC Photography. 

 

I hope this has been useful for those who are planning their own Malaysian Chinese wedding. In the next few posts, I’ll be writing about the actual day, as well as cost breakdowns, so stay tuned! 🙂

 

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