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September 9, 2015

Wedding Bell Blues

Tom McLaughlin

Bahau, Malaysia – I didn't want to go. No, I really didn't want to go. The wedding was a two-hour plane ride from where I live in Kuching, plus a few hours back into the interior. But, my kampung family from long ago was expecting me because, in a weak moment, I said yes.

The plane landed and I expected to find a bus to Seremban and then another to Kuala Pilah and then another to Bahau. The express from Seremban to Bahau would be a relaxing ride – or so I thought.

The problem was there was no bus from the airport to Seremban. The only way to get there was back track to the capital via Kuala Lumpur by underground or to take a taxi. I was not going to spend another hour to Kuala Lumpur and then two hours to Seremban. The taxi cost me $16. I suppose it was worth it. The car sped toward the Seremban with me in the back seat.

When I arrived and I began looking for a bus to Kuala Pilah, my next stop. I found transport which I thought was the express to my destination. I boarded and it turned out to be the local. We stopped at every bus stop for the next two-and-a-half hours. The journey from the airport to my final destination took 6.5 hours.

Everybody greeted me and I sat down exhausted. I drank a gallon of the sweet red clear kool aid type of drink which was offered. I was told to go to my hotel, freshen and return for a family dinner and the marriage ceremony. The cooling hand held shower and the bed felt so delicious.

Dressed in sarong and a Malay shirt, I returned to find over 80 males all wearing the white beanie. There were friends of the bride's father from the surow, a small mosque. A small family dinner had morphed into a banquet for over a hundred people. I ate the marvellous Negri curry's and veggies which were typical of the area.

Following the meal, the prayers began. I followed along watching a particularly old fellow in the motions of prayer, raising my hands when he did, lowering and then wiping my face with my fingertips. I think I got away with it.

I was taken back to the hotel, took off my clothes and showered in the tepid water. I turned on the television and watched a couple of old films, one about Robin Williams and things coming alive in a museum, and another about a De Loren car going back in time with a wizened old white guy. I forgot the names.

I had to dress in baju Malayu, the complete dress for a wedding. I wore a dark green long-sleeved shirt, matching pants and a half sarong plus a songkok, a Malay black triangular hat. The problem was the outfit was sooooooooooo hot. It was made of nylon, which does not let in a whisper of air, next to my body. I opened the shirt to my breastbone, which was a no-no, but I was going to let air in somehow.

I greeted the guests I knew, but the others I didn't. A woman in her mid-forties was thrust in front of me, and I was asked her name. I said Latifah but it was Normah. I didn't remember her after 35 years but then, how was I supposed to? She looked hurt, but I quickly said she was the one who stayed in Ma'ajis house while I was living there. A stab in the dark, but a correct one, and she beamed as if I had remembered her. Dodged that bullet.

The day was interminably long and hot as I met people and had my picture taken many, many times. I guess I was a Facebook frenzy from Malaysia. The sweat caused the nylon turmoil to stick to my skin. But the food, oh the food, was excellent. Here they string up a cow and just whack meat off it, but this cow must have been eating milk and honey as the meat was so tender. There was sheep and chicken curry along with veggies and jello-type cake. I was stuffed.

That night, I peeled off my clothes and stood under the handheld shower and went sound to sleep at around 8:30, not to be awaken again until 7:30. We had morning prayers, more food and then I got a ride to the airport. I wasn't going to repeat the bus nightmare again.

Why did I go if I knew I would be so miserable? The first reason was my kampong family from 35 years ago. I knew I just had to go for them. But, one reason I didn't bank on was the bride. She was a slip of a girl and she thanked me for coming when I arrived and then thanked me again when I was there for Sunday morning breakfast.

It dawned on me, sometimes it takes a while, that I came to the wedding just for her to witness her marriage and that I was so very important to her. And that made all the difference.

…Life is good. . . . .


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