We arrived in the city the day before the wedding in Penang, Malaysia and settled into the Airbnb rental the team had found. A funky little one story building housed 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a small kitchen and a sitting area AND room to park Boris! Aptly named ‘Song Song’ which translates to ‘nice’, it really was a nice base for us all to hang out in over the few days we had together.
By the time we had stocked the fridge with beers and prepared our things for the barbecue the following day the team screeched to a halt outside and piled through the gates ladened with bags and boxes, dropped them in their rooms and after a few adventures and collecting everything we needed for the wedding the next day we had time to enjoy a few cold drinks while we waited for Caroline to arrive straight from her family holiday in Cambodia!
The talking and laughing never stopped with Sherly, Agnes and Kel-Li the entire time we were with them. Nigel quietly absorbed everything with his camera and managed to keep his eyes open after 3 back to back weddings with same day edits over the last three days! Poor guy!
We kept him entertained with our adventures and once Caroline had arrived we were set, a dream team ready to get our wedding on all over again.
A 7am start to the wedding day got my nerves kicked in early. The beautiful Angela helped me stay calm as she applied my make-up and everyone ran around preparing outfits and hanging bright red ‘double 8 symbols’ all over the house as in the top picture to the left of my dress.
8 is a lucky number in Chinese tradition and represents infinity, the double 8 is seen as double luck, or double prosperity. The symbol is used to symbolize love and happy relationships and is placed on the door to the bride and grooms doors and the doors to their wedding ceremony.
Nigel and Caroline were such a pleasure, they just blended into the surroundings and happily snapped away making me feel more relaxed than normal and I even managed a slice of toast before we left for the Pinang Peranakan mansion.
Sherly and Agnes (Vanilla ‘n’ lace) had thought of everything, they had arranged for us to hold two ceremonies in the Mansion, a stunning restored stately home, the history of which delves into Malaysia’s rich cultural heritage and reflects the relationships that have created such a unique and wonderful melting pot of culture, particularly in Penang.
The mansion incorporates Chinese carved wood panels, English floor tiles, Scottish iron works and shows how the Chinese that arrived in Penang adopted the ways of the local Malays and later, the colonial British and become a prominent community unique to Penang, known as the Peranakans. They created a unique lifestyle and many customs which left behind a rich legacy of beautiful antiques and cultural influences in cuisine and language which still live on today.
As we arrived in front of the mint green building we met with Harry who had nervously been up all night creating us floral displays and bouquets for the day. He was as giddy as I was and as we all gathered together in the centre of the beautiful home I had to pinch myself once again to remind myself that this was all real.
To be there and about to be involved in age old traditions from a culture I previously knew nothing about surrounded by new friends that I knew already would always be a part of my life since the day we met, was just astounding. A privilege. A PRIVILEGE, in the rawest sense of the word, “a special right, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” How incredibly special is that?
Alex and I were separated at that point, he went one way to be dressed for the Chinese Tea Ceremony, and I the other. The room I was in was resplendent with ancient dark wood furniture, oval mirrors reflecting shadows, silks shimmering and all in a strangely beautiful red light. The sun shone through the red glass windows and I changed into my stunning red Qun Kwa, the traditional Chinese wedding dress.
The Qun Kwa is a striking red two-piece loose jacket and skirt. The red symbolizes luck and happiness for the auspicious occasion and is heavily embroidered or embellished with colourful threads, pearls and coloured sequins. The Qun Kwa is always embroidered with a dragon and phoenix down the front. The dragon in the Chinese culture represents the male while the phoenix represents the female. Having them side by side symbolizes the perfect balance of yin and yang of the bride and the groom. Traditionally, the qun kwa was worn with a red head cloth covering the bride’s face as the groom was not allowed to view his bride until after the marriage, my headdress however, was far more majestic than a cloth! Huge and heavy but bold and beautiful mine was a work of art with a row of dripping beads to shield my face until we were ‘wed’. Headpieces reflect a brides’ wealth or position in traditional Chinese ceremonies and I was lucky enough to wear the red pom-pom adorned crown of a very well respected bride! I think you’ll have to agree it is just stunning!
Once I was dressed and had my crown balanced on my poor ears it was time for the fun to begin. Alex had to take part in the ‘chip san leong’ which translates to the ‘Fetching of the bride ritual’ which sounds as simple as him coming to collect me to take me to the wedding. Alas, he has to get past my dutiful bridesmaids, or ‘chee muis’ first!
Poor Alex had to complete a number of tasks before he could get to see me. For support, the groom would traditionally rally his brothers, or “heng tais”, who would accompany him and help him get past the bride’s “chee muis”….but Alex had to face them alone!
Agnes, Sherly and Kel-li had a lot of tricks up their sleeves and had him loudly declaring his love for me in Malaysian for the whole Mansion and its guests to hear. Next up was to sing me a song so I could hear it through the door to my room. I can just imagine Alex’s face. He later told me his mind went blank and he couldn’t think of a single song until Caroline helpfully suggested ‘The wheels on the bus’ and then that was ALL he could think of!
He eventually managed a very adorable personalized version of ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ by Franki Valli and the 4 seasons and I had to let him in before he made me cry.
He had passed his mandatory haggling session and proven his sincerity and love with style and aplomb…at least from my side of the door it seemed that way, anyone else might say he was a little nervous and embarrassed under so much pressure!
We were finally allowed to see one another and we laughed and kissed as Alex handed me my beautiful bouquet of ginger lilies. It was time for the tea ceremony, which in a traditional Chinese wedding is one of the most significant events. It includes very formal introductions of the bride and groom and shows respect to their families. Historically, after they exchanged vows, the couple would serve tea to the groom’s family (the bride would have served tea privately to her own family that morning). Today, many couples choose to show respect to both the bride and groom’s families by hosting tea ceremonies for both sides.
Alex and I were seated in the Front hall of the mansion in front of the ornately carved wooden screens which in the past served as a ‘spirit wall’ which prevented evil spirits from entering the home by obstructing their paths, the screens with their gold embellishments made our red outfits glow…like my face, with pride at what we were about to do. Our adopted niece and nephew tried to keep us cool while we waited for the tea!
There are a lot of rules it seems to the simple act of serving tea to our elders, I as the bride must be on the left with Alex on my right, we might be asked to kneel but we are not sure until we begin, we just have to see how it goes, we must serve the men first to acknowledge their superiority and always with two hands. They must accept the tea with two hands and drink it all before returning the cup to the tray, again with two hands. In return for the tea we receive gifts (with two hands, eye contact and a bow) of red envelopes with gifts inside. The rules get more confusing when you throw in an unmarried older sibling or a younger person, who must serve us the tea and we present them with the red envelopes. The confusing yet remarkably calm ceremony was definitely filled with respect and love and as we served our tea and received it we felt genuinely accepted, as strangers, so imagine how a spouse must feel to be accepted into their new family and visa versa through this wonderful exchange.
My heart was still fluttering and my hands still shaking from the important tea ceremony but with no time to lose we were whisked away to be changed into our Malaysian wedding attire.
Our main outfits from Kerawan Klassik for our Malaysian ceremony were matching in striking blue songket, which is the name of the fabric used to make them.
“Songket is a fabric that belongs to the brocade family of textiles of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei”. It is hand-woven in silk or cotton, and intricately patterned with gold or silver threads. The metallic threads stand out against the background cloth to create a shimmering effect and when they catch the sunlight they simply sparkle!
Once changed and with yet another incredible headpiece attached to my scalp we were to take part in a Malay blessing. In a Traditional Malay Wedding the highlight is usually the bersanding ceremony. The couple are seated on a dais while family members, friends and well-wishers come forward to sprinkle the couple with flower petals and scented water as a sign of blessing. Departing guests receive a token of appreciation, usually in the form of decorated egg called bunga telur.
We sat in yet another stunning room in the mansion and received our blessings and well wishes with smiles so wide our faces threatened to split. As petals and rose scented water filled the air I wondered if I would ever be able to attend another simple western wedding without wondering about its lack of deeper meaning.
So much love and respect and more well wishes for more things than I could ever imagine wishing for is rained down upon the couple ready to commit to spend the rest of their lives together. It is SUCH a huge celebration in which everyone is involved, everyone has their part and feels special in turn to be there to celebrate this love that the couple they care for have found. They offer wishes for things that I have long lost sight of, healthy babies, lots of babies, an amazing wedding night, a wealth of happiness, to love your in laws, to have beautiful skin…all beautiful blessings to receive and such a wonderful opportunity to give blessings back to the ones you love on your special day.
The whole day was just overflowing with happiness and once my ‘Chee muis’ had accepted that this man I had chosen was ok for me, it turned into a beautifully gentle celebration of love and respect.
I was blown away by it all, by the meaningful symbology, the reasons behind the smallest actions that had the biggest implications. Drinking all of the tea in the tea ceremony, offering it with two hands and the use of rosewater in the Malay blessing, each thing with deeper meaning, reflecting respect, well wishes and happiness. What wonderful traditions with such timeless meanings.
After spending some time in the mansion enjoying the beautiful rooms (with silent ninjas Nigel and Caroline not far behind us) we all went to eat lunch in celebration. We wandered the mesmerizing streets of Penang in the searing heat which we forgot about momentarily as we gazed up at the famous murals around every corner and we laughed and ate our way through the afternoon. It was such a perfect day spent with fantastic friends and I just loved every second of it.
You will know how well suited we all are as the moment we arrived back to the house we began to prepare our next meal! We had a barbecue that night and were up until the wee hours of the next day laughing, singing, drinking beer, eating, talking rubbish, playing the flute and telling stories around the carefully managed (by Nigel) flames of the barbecue.
I will never forget that night for the rest of my life. I genuinely felt so at home in my heart that it’s pretty hard to describe.
There aren’t the thanks to offer the amazing team in Malaysia for their hospitality (a trait they can’t shake apparently), their warmth, their magical efforts and mostly for their friendship and the experience they afforded us…but I know that they know how much they mean to us.
Photography – Blue Cicada Photography | Planning – Vanilla ‘n’ lace | Tie the knot | Prep | Chinese wedding attire – Red Knot Penang | Malaysian Wedding attire – Kerawang Kalsik Bridal | Flowers – Agapanthus by Harry | Make – up – Angela | Venue – Pinang Peranakan Mansion |
Videography – Nigel Sia Visual Storytelling…keep your eyes peeled for the full edit, coming soon!
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