Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Khmer Wedding

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend a Khmer wedding in a village not too far from Svay Pak. It was under a canopy on a dirt road. But today's wedding was in a far different setting. In fact, the wedding was over a two day period. It was a more elaborate wedding because the groom's family are extremely wealthy. As a wedding gift, the bride-to-be received a brand new Toyota Camry from the groom's parents. Now those of us in the West may not see that as too expensive of a car but when you consider the import taxes of a brand new car, the price of such a car here is probably around US$40,000 to US$50,000. But that was not all, the bride and groom received two Ptay Lavengs (Khmer houses)---one in which they will live and another one which they can rent out as an investment.

The Wedding Invitation
So today, I had the privilege of attending their wedding as I have known the bride's mum for some years now. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Khmer Wedding culture and tradition. Typically most of the guests arrive at 7am in the morning at the bride's home and they carry fruit baskets into the home which is surrounded by a large canopy that covers the road. If you are the next door neighbor, you can forget about entering or leaving your home during the festivities.
The Morning session of the wedding

My friend suggested that I come at 9am so I skipped the fruit basket ceremony. It was an opportunity for me to wear a traditional Khmer outfit. One of the things I love about Khmer weddings is to see all the beautiful colors, designs and styles that the women wear. It is a sight to see. Whether you are young or old, all the women wear these intricate embroidered close fitting blouses and a traditional Cambodian skirt. (see pictures below).

Jaya and her sister
All the guests eat breakfast which is a rice porridge that those of you who are Chinese or Asian background would call ''juck'' soup and then there would also be fruits. Afterwards, there is a wedding ceremony and given that the bride and groom are not Christian, it was more of a Buddhist style wedding. Loud music was blaring as a hired Khmer singer sang a variety of Khmer songs. This kind of Khmer music is an acquired sound, something that I still have not come to acquire but perhaps if I live here long enough I will a greater appreciation for the loud twangs and the cymbals and gongs.  Some of the female guests were ushered to the front as we sat to watch the wedding blessing. For those who just wanted to stay at their tables, there were a few close circuit flat screen TVs to watch the festivities.
Entrance to the home is decorated

One of my favorite highlights was seeing one of the Khmer dances that I have often seen in Svay Pak. It is a flower dance of blessing. The dancers are dressed in balloon like pants but they are ever so graceful. Below some of the dances were getting ready to perform. 

After a while, a hair cutting ceremony started. This is to prepare the bride and groom for their life as a married couple. Their hair is symbolically cut representing a fresh start to their new relationship together as husband and wife. The master of ceremony performs the first hair cut and wishes the couple happiness, prosperity and longevity. Then the bride and groom's parents and relatives take turn all of whom wish the couple blessings.I am not sure on my wedding day if I would want several people snipping pieces of my hair but alas the bride and groom sat through this ritual with a grin on their face. Let's hope they don't lose too many strands of hair in the process!
 The Bride and Groom

My friend Jaya sitting with her brother next to her new son-in-law and her daughter

The morning events lasted until 1pm but I opted to leave before lunch as I had a meeting to go to which was a good thing as wearing these beautiful close fitting Khmer outfits in the heat is not the most comfortable thing especially when one is used to wearing t-shirts and capris all the time. 

The reception was another fair. While the guests are invited to come at 4:30pm, typically most people don't start showing up until 6pm but my friend Catherine and I opted to go at around 5:30pm. This is one of the largest weddings I have ever attended in my life with about 1000 people who were expected to come. We arrived at the convention center and were greeted with the groom's BMW parked outside the entrance to the pavilion.

Both Catherine and myself have known Jaya for several years so it was a privilege to be invited to her daughter's wedding.
 Catheine and Jaya

In the evening, I opted to switch into a more western style dress. In these settings, the older Khmer still wear their traditional outfits in the evening but many of the younger Khmer are now dressing more Western wearing sleeveless dresses or mini skirts. We were seated at our table but then were ushered back out to the front of the pavilion so we could take pictures with the bride and groom. The bride and groom have to stand and take pictures with every single guests as they enter into the convention center---that's 1000 people---that's a lot of photos for this young couple who have been up since 3:30am this morning. Its a good thing they are young and have energy!

One of the things I love about Khmer weddings is that you feel you are attending some kind of royal wedding. The colors and the traditional outfits for both men and women are so elegant and elaborate you feel you are in the midst of royalty.
The Wedding Party

Dinner however is a whole different case. There is no seating plan per se and when you arrive, the ushers seat you at a table with people you typically don't know. Their objective is to fill the table so that they can begin to serve the food. I am thankful for my friend Catherine as she was able to give me some insights about Khmer wedding etiquette and what to expect. Unlike Asian weddings back home where every one waits for the guests to arrive and then the bride and groom enter in and the food is served, here the guests eat at different times depending on what time they arrive and if their table is full. So you can actually be finished eating and still seeing guests arriving. It is one of the most strangest experiences but on the other hand, at least you don't starve waiting for ever. I can't imagine having to wait for 1000 people to arrive before we start eating. I guess one could argue that the Khmer way at wedding receptions is efficient.

 Unfortunately, there are no speeches but instead we were serenaded by a professional singer who was up front on a stage. The table we were seated at were mostly men and my friend reminded me that if I spoke to the men to greet them as ''Loak''---that's the formal name for a male person of high status that one would typically greet a government official. I am glad she reminded me of this as I realized earlier today when I met the father of the groom, I called him ''Pou'' meaning ''uncle'' and I should have greeted him as ''loak'' as a form of respect. But oh well, this is all part of learning about the culture.
Crisp Roast Suckling Pig
For someone like me who is a bit of a carnivore the nine course meal at tonight's wedding reception was a meat lover's delight. We had fish, seafood, pork and a crab soup to name a few of the dishes. The meal ended with the typical Chinese serving of fried rice and noodles which signifies long life. So with that, my friend Catherine and I watched to see if our male table guests would get up first. And just as she anticipated, they were up and out of there and so we followed suit within a 2 hour time frame. As we left, cars were still piling into the parking lot as guests were still coming in and I was told earlier that the Prime Minister's wife was going to be attended. Am not sure where she was but no doubt, it was a privilege for me to be at such an auspicious occasion. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. A dear friend is having a Traditional Khmer wedding. Knowing what to expect helps a lot, since I'm unsure of proper dress or guest etiquette. Thank you!