Friday, December 9, 2011

A Singaporean Wedding

Whenever I tell someone in the US that I live in Singapore, they always have a lot of questions about how things are different here. One of the things that I'm often asked about, especially now that I'm engaged (YAY!) is what the weddings are like here. I never have a good answer, partly because I had never attended a Singaporean wedding up until a few weeks ago, and partly because there are so many cultures and traditions here, that weddings are often a mishmash of a lot of cultural components.

The wedding we attended last month was no exception. Bryan's co-worker Edwin and his new wife Septiana are both from Indonesia, but their heritage is Chinese. They studied in Australia and now they live in Singapore (people are always confused by Bryan's and my round-the-world history, but theirs is even better!!). So their wedding was a conglomeration of a lot of their experiences.
A pretty snazzy invitation
The inside was in English and Chinese

The ceremony was at the posh Four Seasons Hotel just off of Orchard Road. We were invited to the ceremony and reception, but no one told Bryan and me that the ceremony would be much smaller and mostly for family, so we rather awkwardly showed up. Oh well. Anyway, it was high up on the 20th floor, with a fantastic view of downtown.

The ceremony got under way and Bryan and I smiled at each other when we realized that the whole thing was going to be in Bahasa! But we just sat back and admired the lovely couple. The ceremony was Christian, so even though we didn't know what anyone was saying, we often knew what was happening. And, interestingly enough, Edwin and Septi exchanged their vows in English.
Exchanging vows

It was fun for us to note the similarities and differences between this Singaporean Christian wedding and the ones we've attended. Obviously it was in another language, so that was different. But the bride was wearing a white dress, was attended by her bridesmaids, and was given away by her father, so that was all the same. There was even a ritual where the bride and groom took their separate candles and lit a larger one together, like I've seen in lots of American weddings. My favorite difference came after the ceremony started wrapping up. An official-looking man stepped up and addressed everyone in English. He said he was with the Singaporean government and very officially pulled a form and a pen out of his jacket, which had to be signed then and there by the bride, groom, and witnesses. It was so funny to me! It seemed so Singaporean that the bride and groom would have to take care of business right in the middle of their ceremony!
Pink bridesmaids walking down the aisle

There was a long break between the ceremony and the reception, so we went home for awhile after offering the bride and groom our congratulations. We returned to the Four Seasons that evening for a dinner reception. We met up with some of our friends from Bryan's work, so that was nice. We had stressed briefly about what sort of gift to buy the bride and groom, but luckily someone advised us that it was appropriate to give money in a red envelope. Good thing we got advice! We would have been the only yahoos showing up carrying a big present with a fluffy bow on top!

The reception room was lovely but very dimly lit, so apologies for my grainy photos!
Elegant reception

The tables were beautifully set with gold china and cute favors: little jars of honey specially labeled with the couple's name!

We had only been seated a few moments when the newlyweds welcomed everyone, and then the food promptly started rolling out.
I think they look like a celebrity couple : )

The food was traditional Chinese, served family style...sort of. A large platter of food was brought out, and then the waiters served each person off of the platter, so there wasn't that passing around of food that usually occurs with family-style serving. As a vegetarian, I was an exception, and all of my food was served separately, and plated as though we were at a 5-star restaurant!

When everyone else's first course came out, there were all sorts of things I didn't recognize. I watched, bemused, as the waiter dished onto Bryan's plate shrimp, duck, jellyfish, and whole baby octopi. Bryan looked slightly less amused than I did. But he ate most of it, quietly scooting the octopi off to one side. He declared the jellyfish "springy" and we moved on to the second course. At that point, I was even more grateful that I was vegetarian.
Vegetarian first course

The second course was shark's fin soup. You may have heard of it, as it's been in the news lately due to the ethical dilemma it presents, and the toll it takes on shark populations. Many Chinese people claim that shark's fin has health benefits, and it has become a deeply-ingrained tradition to serve shark's fin at wedding banquets. However, modern research has shown no significant health benefits for eating the very expensive delicacy, and research has actually shown that sharks have levels of mercury that exceed the limits considered safe for consumption by women and children.

Perhaps more importantly, shark fins are obtained through the cruel practice of reeling in live sharks, lobbing off their fins, then tossing them back into the water to die a painful death. The entire shark is thus wasted for its fins. This vicious and wasteful practice has led several places, including California and Hawaii, to ban the sale of shark fin altogether. Apparently attitudes toward shark's fin are shifting among young people in Asia, but when they get married, they face pressure from older relatives to keep the soup on the menu to avoid losing face. Hopefully attitudes will continue to shift and more young people will take a stand against the sad practice.

In the meanwhile, our table was faced with a tureen of shark's fin soup. A lot of the people at our table were foreigners that knew about the practice of shark finning and there was a lot of awkward shifting in our seats as everyone had a bowl placed in front of them. I dug into my vegetarian soup guilt-free, and Bryan and several others just pushed their bowls away untouched. Apparently the soup is pretty bland anyway...all that hassle for soup that doesn't even taste good.

After that, the courses just seemed to KEEP COMING! I think there were ten courses in all, including these angry-looking fish with their teeth still intact.
These are not the fish I grew up on.
Mine were rectangular and came out of a blue Van de Kamps box.

Even though some of the non-vegetarian food wasn't particularly appetizing to me, it was all presented beautifully. And my vegetarian food tasted fantastic!
Yummy veggie food

The festivities continued throughout dinner, with toasts from Edwin and Septiana's friends and family, a champagne fountain, and a cake cutting.
Oooooooh bubbly

OK, let me tell you about the cake cutting. Americans, this is going to make you laugh. So there was a cake cutting ceremony just like at most American weddings, except as I watched them cut the cake, I thought they were doing it rather awkwardly, just kind of skimming the knife along the cake. And then they didn't actually take out a slice of the cake. In fact, the cake just sat there the rest of the night. No one ever ate any. You know why? Because the cake wasn't real. It was just iced BOXES!!! Isn't that funny?! It's there for appearances and for the cake-cutting, but no one ever actually eats any cake. We had sago for dessert instead.
Looks tasty, doesn't it? Too bad! None for you! Well, unless
you want an iced slice of cardboard. In that case, feel free.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was when the new couple sang a song to honor their parents and thank them for putting on the wedding. Septi had a lovely voice and Edwin played the keyboard very well. It was neat to see them doing something as a team.
Talented duo

Another highlight of the evening was when some of the couple's friends got up and did a choreographed dance to the Bruno Mars song Marry You. It was really fun, but it made me want to get up and dance too! I guess I'm just used to being able to do that at weddings!
A friend of the couple, gettin' down

The thing that surprised me most about the wedding was the extravagance of it. The bride had one dress for the ceremony and a separate one for the reception. The groom also had a wardrobe change. There were fresh pink roses everywhere. There were four professional photographers and a videographer. There was a ten-course meal, wine, beer, and of course it all took place at the opulent Four Seasons Hotel. This would be a swanky wedding in the US, but here in Singapore where prices are high for virtually everything, it's that much more luxurious. It must have been very costly, but it was also very beautiful, and everyone had a great time. But most importantly, at the end of the day, Edwin and Septi were husband and wife!
Next on the marriage roster : ) Posing with that fabulous pretend cake!!


  1. Congrats for your engagement! YAY :) I love these kind of 'mixed cultural' weddings because those become original... and I think that you should have a wedding like YOU dreamed!

  2. Extremely gorgeous wedding!! The couple is looking fantastic in these photographs. Thanks for sharing such a great article! You know, last month I also attended four ceremonies at domestic wedding venues Los Angeles. It was such busy month for me!