It all started with me putting on a pair of knee-high white socks after a shower today – it seemed like a good idea for keeping warm when wearing shorts at home in winter.
I had worn these only one other time, when a good friend got married two years ago. I was one of the bridesmaids and the dress code for the ‘supporting crew’ was the uniform of my secondary school, which was where the happy couple first met. As a throwback to our teenage years, we donned knee-high socks, put ribbons in our hair and wore thick plastic spectacles.
As I looked through my photos, I was pleased to discover a few images that I had missed previously. It’s always interesting to see how photos taken in the past are perceived differently after a significant amount of time has passed.
Taken in chronological order, the photos below provide a brief overview of what goes on in customary Chinese weddings in modern-day Singapore. Specifically, the bride-fetching 接新娘 tradition.
Early morning: While waiting for the groom and his best men to arrive, the bridesmaids – also referred to as sisters / jie mei / 姐妹 – set up some ‘friendly’ tests for the men outside the bride’s home.
Such celebrations are typically conducted in the early morning. There is usually an auspicious time, calculated using the Chinese almanac, that the groom has to fetch the bride from her home. Time is of essence!
Upon reaching the bride’s home, car horns are sounded to signify the groom’s arrival. A younger male from the bride’s family will be on hand to receive the groom with two oranges and to open the car door for him.
Three-quarter of Singapore’s population live in HDB flats (public housing). The sounding of the car horn inevitably draws the attention of neighbours in the surrounding high-rise HDB buildings.
I especially like this photo below as you can spot the curious bystanders at the window and it is a good example of the facade of a typical HDB block. Singapore’s social housing is a more orderly, polished and less claustrophobic version of what you would find in Hong Kong (just take a look at this recent post).
Once the groom and his entourage make it to the bride’s home, here’s where the fun and bargaining begin!
The groom and his men have to get pass several rounds of games involving some sweat and tears – usually from eating something very spicy during the 酸甜苦辣 (sour, sweet, bitter, hot) test – to show the groom’s commitment.
Red packets of increasing amounts of money exchange hands. Sometimes the men try to pull a fast one with Monopoly dollars or paper! Once a satisfactory sum is achieved – this is arbitrary with no fixed number pegged to it, the gate is opened for all to enter.
The groom has a final challenge that he has to get through before he can enter the bride’s room. A love song or declaration of never-ending love is typically requested. Almost there!
Next destination: The groom’s home. Every Chinese dialect group has its own set of traditional wedding customs. For the Teochews, a red umbrella is used to shelter the bride as she leaves her home, as it is believed that doing so will protect her from evil spirits while red symbolises joy and prosperity.
Many Chinese brides in Singapore opt to wear at least one white wedding gown, changing into a traditional red kwa or cheongsam later in the day when she returns to her home.
Moving on to the groom’s place, here is where the first round of Chinese tea ceremony is conducted.
During the tea ceremony, the bride and groom kneel down to offer tea to their elders, starting with the groom’s parents, grandparents, and down the family tree, including the groom’s siblings and cousins. After accepting the tea, the elders give their blessings to the couple, either in the form of red packets or jewellery for the bridge.
Cantonese families will prepare an entire roast pig, complete with tail and ears, to be brought back to the bride’s home. This is because the Chinese word for ‘pig’ is a homonym for ‘virginity’. It’s amazing and fascinating to learn about the auspicious and unfortunate meanings connected to certain objects, food, numbers, etc. simply because they sound alike to something else in Chinese!
Before returning to her home, the bride changes her dress for a second tea ceremony.
Returning home as a married woman, the bride, together with her husband, repeats the custom of offering tea to her elders and other family members.
It’s a wrap! Here’s a photo of the jie mei / 姐妹 entourage : )
20 replies on “New Perspective: Wedding day / 接新娘”
Really an excellent post! It was like a pictoral guide to a Chinese wedding( something that I haven’t witnessed yet)! And yes, I totally agree when you say that when we view the same photos after some time has elapsed, we perceive them differently!
Glad you liked it. On the other hand, I’ve yet to attend a traditional Indian wedding ceremony and from what I’ve heard and seen online, it sounds like it could be quite a party with a huge number of guests 🙂
Oh yes they are huge and very very colorful!! And people just love to show-off their wealth on these occasions! 🙂
Fascinating. Those are some great pictures too!
So there’s not much of a religious aspect to the ceremony or how does this work?
Thanks David! Some of my Chinese friends are Christians and have a church wedding in addition to the customary Chinese wedding ceremony described here. I don’t think there’s a significant, if any, religious aspect in Singapore regarding this. It’s more of a tradition and a good reason to have some fun + celebrate a happy union!
Ah, I see that’s nice. I’m learning something new everyday! 🙂
Love reading your posts.
Thanks James! I enjoy your pictures + posts too.
I enjoyed this. It reminded me of cost centre number 1’s wedding last May. We followed a very similar routine. I am sometimes bemused at the English names the Chinese adopt. We had a girl at work who was called Hymen and a guy called Adonis. What were they thinking? Maybe they think Andrew is a stupid name . I think the bridegroom and his gang had to drink tea laced with hot chilli when they came to collect R. We have a video of it and they don’t look very happy. The haggling over money took ages and R was upstairs, not allowed to be there so her sister relayed everything via Facetime or whatever it is called! Very clever. A very happy day. But nobody wore school uniform.
“Adonis” I can perhaps understand (maybe he has lofty aspirations), but “Hymen”?! Goodness. Crazy names these. I picked mine out of an old Oxford Dictionary as I getting baptised when I was 8 (long story), but had hastily settled for Angelina after my mum got impatient with my hemming and hawing.
Some bridesmaids can deal quite a tough hand. I rather just tease the groom and his entourage a little but not make it demeaning or painful. To some extent, the red packet(s) determine the run of show too! At another friend’s wedding, the bride’s parents interceded early on as they didn’t want to miss the auspicious hour. Lucky guys!
Incredible! Quite a few similarities between Chinese and Indian weddings. There’s that auspicious time thing and also the taking of the bride and the testing of the groom. The pictures are really good (as usual). Thank you for a nice read 🙂
I find it hard to guess which one of the jei mei in the last picture, you are. Are you the one wearing funky glasses and half-sticking her tongue out?
Interesting to know that Indian weddings also involve some friendly challenges for the groom! I’m fourth from the left with short hair and a camera hanging on my arm. The hair clip on my head is actually something that I bought when I was that age 🙂
Insightful post, and the photos really added to your narrative. 🙂 Nice to see how different cultures celebrate weddings.
This was fascinating Angelina, thank you! Another good way to learn about different cultures and traditions is to read interesting blogs! But ‘pig’ and ‘virginity’?!? That’s so funny… but where on earth is the connection? 🙂
Yup, so many ways to learn about these, including your favourite illustrated English books!
The connection between ‘pig’ and ‘virginity’ is just simply because they sound the same in Cantonese (not in Mandarin Chinese though). There are loads of homonyms in the Chinese language (including the so-called ‘dialects’ which are really different languages in themselves – like French, Spanish and Italian – except that they share the same written script). Quite funny some of things that get linked together.
For example – ‘fish’ sounds like ‘prosperity’ and the number ‘four’ sounds like ‘to die’. Good and bad, and the bizarre!
Lovely. And so true about the difference in perception after time has passed. And so many times the photo brings back something we have forgotten, not just visuals or a feeling, but even a smell or a sound or a taste.
🙂 fully agree about the different senses that trigger our memory. In fact, smell is the strongest memory trigger amongst the five senses.
Interesting. The school uniform reminiscing and all that.