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).
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
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)
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.
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
-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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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