Monday, March 24, 2008

Weekend Wedding: Day 2

Another early start for me at 5:30am as I would be picked up at 6:10am. However this is pale in comparison to the bridal party who gets up at 4am or so to start the hair, make-up and getting dressed. The music usually starts blaring at 4:30am just in case the village had no idea there was going to be a wedding in their midst.

The first order of the day is organizing the procession of fruit trays and other food items. The close friends and family trot on over to a selected house where the groom and the bridal party (sans bride who is waiting upstairs at her house) get ready to lead about 40-50 people including dancers and musicians down the road and to the bride's house. Since the groom does not live nearby, we borrowed a relative's house (which happened to be the same location where my engagement procession started from 3 years ago).

There are several chairs set up along the walkway which have one tray each of fruit or food on them. As people arrive they sit down in the chairs from start to finish filling in the empty spaces. We were handed little red envelopes which had 500 Riel in each (about 12 cents worth). Because there weren't enough people to carry all the trays, there was some shuffling around and doubling up so that some people carried more than one tray (and more cash, too). I was in between 2 young girls. As we walked the section of my line decided to become less of a line and more of a blob of people. Obviously they didn't care about keeping two neat lines of people walking along the road.

Our procession became the object of some tourists' fancy as were were passed by a bus heading out of town. What a lucky break for them as they got to photograph Cambodians participating in a traditional activity wearing an array of brightly-colored silk dresses. The bus ended up stopping up ahead so that they people could get off and get better shots. I wondered if they would spot the one single white person in the mix. By the time my section of the line got close, though, they had already boarded the bus and were on their way.

We get to the house and everyone sits in chairs along an aisle that has been set up under one of the tents. This is so that the dancers/singers can do a little jig while collecting a piece of fruit from each person sitting in the rows. This collection of fruit is then offered to the bride's parents for approval to allow the bride to come downstairs.

What goes on next is just a bunch of staged photo opportunities of the bride and groom placing jasmine leis on each other's neck and holding flower arrangements. They then head back up into the house for the rest of the ceremony which includes some blessings and tying red string on their wrists. Everyone else scrambled over to the tables to eat the breakfast provided. I wasn't interested in eating as I saw what it was and it didn't appeal to me.

The rest of the morning I chilled out until the music started signalling the beginning of the lunch for all the hundreds of guests who would be arriving. At that point I needed to escape as I didn't care to have my hearing impaired by the unchecked excessive volume and bass that the Cambodians seem to think is perfect for a wedding. I scurried around the back of the house to shield me from the avalanche of noise and to the area behind the speakers where the grandfather's house is located. Underneath the house is the perfect area to sit as it receives the freshest breezes from the field, especially useful then as it was also excessively hot, too. I also wanted to see how long I could hide out and avoid putting my silk dress back on as I knew it would be stifling to wear it. I was supposed to be standing in the front of the party welcoming the guests to the wedding.

Aha! I was found out! Back on went the dress. To the front with all the music and to be a pleasant sight for all guests entering. But, no, there was a little girl standing next to me in the receiving line. Whose daughter she was, I don't know. I think she was a child from the groom's side of the family. She was neither dressed appropriately nor greeting guests in an appropriate way by holding up her hands in a prayer position in front of her lips. Why was she there? Then when she started telling all the guests the obvious fact, that is that I was a foreigner, I decided to attempt to teach her a lesson using my limited Khmer which essentially meant "shut-up." She got the message and shortly disappeared.

Most people acknowledged my presences, while a few didn't care or weren't really paying attention. I recognized a few people who were friends of mine or Da's. But overall it was hot and tiring to stand there. I was thankful when the guests trailed off which meant I could trail off and away from the sound, too. I found a bench in the shade (or what I thought was shade) on the other side of the house where it was only slightly less noisy. The other bonus was that I found a fan, too.

The peace and calm lasted for awhile until I was discovered by an older school teacher who was the host for my engagement party. He could speak English well enough to be understood and we spent some time catching up on old times. He even assisted me with some pronunciation problems in Khmer. However, it soon became very clear that I was merely a resource for him to asking an unceasing amount of grammar and vocabulary questions from me, seeing as I was the English teacher. At first it was cute, but it eventually became dull and my throat was parched. Some child brought him a Coke, but nothing for me. My throat was already on its last legs after the strain of the weekend.

Thankfully my savior arrived in the form of Da asking if I had eaten yet. He politely explained to the teacher that I was being requested to join the wedding party for their lunch now that most of the wedding guests had eaten and left already. Then the new husband also appeared and requested my presence. Yippee! However I had one stop and that was the table full of Da's good buddies and a few of my friends too. I needed to share a drink with them and have chat before they left as a courtesy.

Finally, I sat down and ate some food. It was the leftovers from the party. I didn't really care for much of it, but it certainly was impressive for the wedding food. As we ate, the music and tents were in the process of being torn down. Tables were being cleared away. All this stuff had to go to the next event as this is the peak of wedding season. I think I have filled my quota for participating and attending Cambodian weddings, even my own. If I don't have to do this long and drawn out affair ever again, I will certainly be content.

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