YOU’VE READ HOW WRITER JO UPCRAFT ORGANISED HER DAY. TWO DIFFERENT CULTURES ONE OVERSEAS LOCATION, ATTENDEES SPANNING 13 NATIONALITIES, A VOLCANIC ERUPTION AND ONE MISSING PHOTOGRAPHER…
FIRST, SOME FACTS. I’M JO, A BRITISH EXPAT LIVING IN SINGAPORE
Where I met my Singaporean-Chinese husband, Josh. His family are huge, live in Singapore and Malaysia, while my family are small and from Northamptonshire in the UK. And let me tell you (as you may well have already guessed), the way both cultures celebrate marriage is very diferent. Neither of us wanted the ‘traditional’ Chinese ceremony (this is complicated and varies wildly, but essentially involves the groom spending the day trying to ‘reach’ the bride through several ‘booby traps’ set by family friends, a Chinese tea ceremony where the couple are handed red packets of cash, a hotel banquet hall, a vicar, loads of food and – crucially – zero dancing). Alternatively, in Singapore, you book a ‘slot’ with the Registry of Marriages, join a queue (like the cheese counter at Tesco) and tie the knot in two minutes in a bare, uninspiring room. Because of this, we decided to marry in Lombok, Indonesia, at a hotel I’ve visited before for work. A good choice, we thought, given it’s a two-hour light from Singapore (therefore an easy-ish destination for Josh’s family), it’s beautiful, and my heart was already set on the venue.
You don’t until… Know wedding STRESS Photo Gallery
November 2016 allowed 10 months’ planning. I just needed a frock, food, lowers and I was good to go, right? We mailed our invites out ASAP; in anticipation of a party and a winter beach holiday, my family practically packed their cases the same day. Josh’s more traditional family just thought we had gone mad. Sadly, Josh’s mother passed away 10 years ago – in Chinese culture it is traditionally the mother-of-the-groom who helps out, arranges the invites, showers me in gold and oiciates the tea ceremony. While Josh’s father is a wonderful man, he can’t speak a word of English and I can’t speak Mandarin. We nod and smile a lot at each other and generally communicate via the power of mime. In fact, in the run up to the day, we were not entirely sure Josh’s dad realised I was marrying his son… My friends were super supportive, but it was my mum and sister Zoe with whom I most wanted to share the special moments. Like trying on my dress for the irst time.
An eight-hour time diference made this tricky. When my wedding gown arrived, I set up a three-way Skype session with Mum in the Midlands and Zoe in Newcastle. It was midnight so I barricaded Josh out of our bedroom and tried itting my whole body on to the 11in laptop screen. However, instead of tearful scenes of bosom-swelling emotion, I found I couldn’t secure the neck clasp, grappled with more than a foot of excess lace and was greeted with: ‘You’ve frozen… oh no, wait, you haven’t!’ Not ideal. Overall, it was a struggle for my family to assist with any decision-making and, because we wanted to be accommodating to Josh’s family (I didn’t want to hassle them on everything) making one-of, momentous choices alone felt pretty sad.
As someone who never thought she’d get married – I’m 40 – I had no opinions on table trimmings, cake stands or shades of chairbacks (which made choosing them a bit easier). Mum enthusiastically tried to mock up some fake lower arrangements with pieces she’d picked up from a pound shop, but watching her waggle them over FaceTime didn’t (unsurprisingly) ill me with bridal joy. In the end, decor-wise, we went with rustic birdcages, fairylights and a giant inlatable unicorn as I could think of nothing better to soothe a hangover on (don’t judge!). Turns out, because of religion and red tape, you can’t get married in Lombok easily. Josh and I were told that we’d have to get a light to Jakarta (a two-hour light away), visit several consulates, and then put an oicial request in the local paper – erm, no thank you! So we decided to do the vows quickly at the Singaporean cheese counter and have just the reception and a blessing in Lombok. However, we discovered that slots at the cheese counter only happen during the week and inish at 5pm – Josh’s family would have struggled to take time of to join us. Instead, we ended up booking a restaurant to marry in, planning for a solemniser to oiciate over an evening meal for just 17. Arranging the menu at the restaurant was also tricky, what with my father being a meat’n’two-veg man, and Josh’s dad preferring boiled rice. We over-ordered chips. hat was until we heard that the rest of Josh’s extended family were mifed that they were not coming to our ceremony. he restaurant meal escalated to 30 attendees (half of whom I had never even heard of!). We also got wind of the fact that some of his family wanted us to perform a Chinese tea ceremony.
In short, both families join together over the serving of a speciic sweet tea, usually made of lotus seeds and red dates to represent ‘the sweetness of union’, along with purity, stability and fertility. You should bow or kneel down before your relatives, use a particular tea set (Gaiwan) and pour the tea in order to say thanks to your elders and as a show of respect. We were advised to hold it in Lombok on the day of our reception – but no one wanted to oiciate it in place of Josh’s mum. Cue some frantic YouTube searches on protocol, researching traditional Chinese tea sets and shopping for an outit that looked vaguely oriental (high-ive Warehouse!). It got even better. hree months before our nuptials, a volcano erupted in Lombok, causing certain guests to panic over whether it would happen again (possibly, but I had favours to worry about).
‘Is there a Plan B?’ I was asked. Plan B?! Plan A was proving tough enough. hrough gritted teeth I signed up to daily emails on ‘World Eruption Reports’, and my many questions regarding rumblings caused the staf at the venue in Indonesia to conclude I was losing it. (I could also mention the frenzy that accompanied me arranging 55 pebbles with guests’ names on, that our photographer managed to miss his light, meaning we had to ind another on our actual wedding day – plus a groomsman begging his partner not to leave him. Meanwhile three friends sharing a Lombok hotel room had stopped talking to each other and Josh’s sister couldn’t come due to work commitments.) hroughout the prep, the laidback attitude of the hotel staf freaked me out at irst (‘You can rig up a sound system right, Jo?!’), but I should not have worried.
It was their way of being patient and respectful, and they pulled of touches I wouldn’t have thought of (like cream fairylights instead of stark white, cute signs, balloons and the best limbo pole ever). hat’s not to say the language barrier didn’t cause blips, like guests’ names being hilariously misspelt, but this just became the highlight of our day. In the end, 50 wonderful friends and family came to our reception and tea ceremony, and, you know what? Every minute of stress was worth it. So, no matter how panic-inducing and anxiety-ridden planning gets, I promise; it works out for the best. In fact, there’s talk of us returning to Lombok for a celebratory party this year. Fabulous… so long as I’m not organising it.
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