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.
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 : )