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January 6, 2010

Into Wedded Bliss…

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysia – A 6 A.M. wake up the day after your wedding? Yup! That's what time Suriani and I had to arise following our engagement and legal formalities in the kampung. My daughters stayed across the street in my condo while we retired to the Hilton for an exhausted sleep after a playful couple of hours.


We were the first at the free breakfast, our hands still bearing the art stains of the previous day. My right three fingers held the henna colors to the knuckle while she had an elaborate design drawn on both hands to the elbow and on her feet, a traditional marriage practice here. We ambled toward my place at sunrise, 6:45 every day in this tropical paradise located just above the equator.


My daughters were awake wondering what would happen next. Three makeup ladies showed up and began to work on my bride. I kept insisting they all looked ravishing without any additions but custom required the application of a lightening facial skin color, plucked and shaved eyebrows and eye makeup. I winced as the eyebrow procedures commenced.


I was dressed in traditional light blue cotton Malay wedding pants and shirt with a kris and gold-threaded, dark blue sarong which was folded from my waist to my knees. On my head I wore a Malay hat. My daughters dressed in casual sarongs with Mary wearing a white top and Christine decked out in a blouse that matcher her wrap.


We arrived at uncle’s house where my two daughters and I were met by my friend Abdullah. My bride proceeded to her father’s house around the corner and down the road. She would await my arrival with her family.


After prayers, we formed a procession. My Islamic representative, Abdullah, accompanied by friends led the parade. I was in the center while my two daughters walked on either side of me. Nervous, I held my daughters’ hands on and off during the seemingly unending walk. Behind us 20 children dressed in matching brown pants and shirts and songkok played drums to a rhythmic beat.


We processed through a crowd of a least 400 well wishers, snapping pictures, and shaking hands. Remember, this is probably the only time a white guy had married a local, so this was a huge deal. I arrived at my bride’s house where I was greeted by her mother and father. We exchanged salutations and I was led to room where my bride was seated on a dais. I took the chair next to her, smiling and waving, which I wasn't supposed to do. I should have sat quietly and stoically, but I let my true self and feeling show. Nobody seemed to mind.


During the time we were seated, people one by one, poured a few drops of water in each hand and then sprinkled a green herb over our right shoulder, head and then left shoulder. Then they each received a boiled egg attached to a decorated stick. The egg symbolized fertility, something I hoped would not happen to us.


Before the fertility and well-wishing rites, the drummers sat in a row of 10 and beat a rhythm. Then, two of them stood up and sang four songs to us, the meaning of which I have no clue. My daughters stood on either side of us enjoying the music. They were cute!


Following the fertility rites, we sat at the head table and enjoyed a specially cooked meal while the other guests, about 400 or so, dug into the rice and curries. I had insisted on an American dish of a hot dog and buns. The cooks responded by slicing hot dogs on a slant, piling their version of french fries on top followed by a crown of what I guess was cole slaw. I admired their efforts.


We then plunged into the crowd shaking hands and posing for what must have been the millionth picture. The crowds began to subside and others would come through the day greeting us and enjoying a meal.


To ward off evil spirits, in this part of the world there are many, we were driven to the river. There all of us, my wife, daughters and a few representatives of her family and my friends from Kuala Lumpur went to the river. We held nail-driven betel nuts in our hands. My wife recited an incantation to keep the spirits away from us and drowned in the river. We then tossed the nuts, coupled with torn cigarettes into the free flowing river. I am not quite sure what that was really all about. I will ask my wife the details later.


To be accepted by a family and walking their walk through the marriage ceremony is and was quite an honor. According to custom, I now had 10 new brothers and sisters, a new mom and dad plus innumerable members of a huge extended family. Both my daughters have had an entire village as a part of their life. Hand in hand I now stroll through life one foot in occidental with my daughters and another in oriental with my wife and her clan. Eyes open wide, great love in our hearts, a new world has opened for all of us.


…life is good


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