Born in Malaysia, my family migrated to Australia when I was eight years old. My mother’s family was Hakka and my dad’s was Hokkien. Neither of them could speak each other’s dialect and the only language they had in common was English, hence the kids, my brother and I, grew up with English as our primary language.
I do regret never making any attempts to learn any of the dialects when I was younger. So intent was I to fit in and be like the other kids at school, I never felt it was important. It was only later when I was older that I realised the folly of my thoughts.
Growing up in Australia, traditions and “Fung Shui” belonged in someone else’s world. I could read and learn about them with some amusement, but I could never take them seriously.
When I returned to Malaysia, it was easy to adopt the necessary traditional niceties that were observed as part of the working world. I was easily forgiven for any mistakes I made because I was often referred to as the “gwai mui” or the “banana” who didn’t know any better. I suppose it was not unlike the way the Lords and Ladies used to view the “disgusting habits” of the peasants in the middle ages – they were barbarians, therefore you had to accept that they just didn’t understand.
Somewhere along the way, I met my husband. He seemed in all manner, very much like me – carefree, easy going and not at all like the typical “Chinamen” that I’d sworn myself off. I was an independent woman who didn’t need a man to take care of me and I wanted the world to know that. Too many of the men I had met seemed only interested to dominate and control. I would have none of that. Full of arrogance and pride, I answered to no one, but me. I lived in this world where I was “silently disobedient” in order to get along where necessary, and yet, be comfortable with the true person I was within.
It was rather curious that I was blind to Taoist altars and typically traditional Chinese ornaments that decorated the house of my future in laws. Perhaps it was my uncultured ignorance that allowed me to overlook all these things without perceiving it’s true significance. Add to that an overloaded schedule of activities between work and climbing, which often kept me from spending much time with a family I would only begin to know, when we started planning the wedding.
The warning bells must have been malfunctioning because they only started ringing too little, too late.
I was told there would be a tea ceremony. That was fine, since I had already witnessed three tea ceremonies that took place at various weddings of my friends and relatives. Little had I known that what I had seen were merely the tip of the iceberg, for these were overly simplified ceremonies that gave a flavour of tradition in a ultra modern society.
As far back as I am able to trace, my family could very well be branded as “atraditional”. My parents never had a tea ceremony and as far as I am aware, such was the case with a number of my aunts. None of my cousins ever observed any of the usual wedding rituals and customs, so therefore, I was never aware that there were any. Such common traditions that I knew of were those that I had seen on TV and they belonged to the West, such as,
“Something old, something new,
Something borrowed, something blue.”
The “Tai kum ces”, “Koh tai leis”, and many other such traditions with terms that fail me, belonged to a bewildering culture that ought to have been mine, but was not. The planning for this wedding has been a rediscovery of my roots, foreign though it may be. What I write here are merely my own internatilisation of the things I have heard and not necessarily a correct representation of what they truly are. In this current day and age there is still a clash between holding on to the “old ways” and struggling to break free into the new millennia. My wedding is an attempt to harmonise between two families that live on polar opposites.