Tying The Knot – And Maintaining Ties
‘For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.’
Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:7, Ephesians 5:31… amazing what an internet search comes up with.
Basically, once you get married, you tend to make your own life apart from the family. Sort of.
I guess it’s only after writing the last article about having settled down here in the land of smiles (and way, waaay away from my family) that I realised how the statement I made about not burning any bridges had a reinforcing effect on my marriage.
My wife and I registered our marriage in Thailand. The actual wedding ceremony happened a couple of days later, in Bangkok. Her parents, grandmother, and brothers and sisters who were in the provinces had hired a minivan for the occasion. We had the engagement ceremony at the house she was renting at the time; a lot of her relatives are also in Bangkok, and many of my Thai friends who happened to be here also attended. My father, mother and a younger sister had flown in as well.
As the ceremony was held at home, it was fairly informal, and I got to meet a lot of her relatives I had never seen before. A close Thai friend of mine (who my wife has a lot of respect for as well) was the master of ceremonies. A lot of strings were tied, the dowry was displayed, and I developed a major cramp by sitting in that awkward position on the floor while everyone smilingly gave us their blessings.
Even though there was some difficulty in communicating, everyone seemed quite happy.
We had the wedding ceremony at a hotel out near the airport. It was a fairly decent buffet that included a free flow of soft drinks and a complimentary wedding cake. We brought in some whisky and the hotel was decent enough not to charge corkage.
I spent the most of the evening at the entrance, welcoming all the guests. My good friend, and master of ceremonies, kept me company and never let the level of whisky in my glass go down too much. I made a brief appearance on the stage, where her boss placed the garlands on us, and I made a two- sentence speech. (My Thai was practically non-existent at the time). We then made the rounds of the tables, passing out wedding souvenirs; it was good to see many of my old friends again, and renew acquaintances with some of her colleagues.
We then had to take up our position at the door again, to thank the exiting guests…
As my friend put it, ‘On your wedding day, you stand at the entrance welcoming the guests, then go up on stage and watch while they have a good time at your expense, and finally you have to stand at the entrance again to thank them for that. You’ll be lucky if you get anything to eat!’
He was thoughtful enough to have put aside a plate or two for us.
And so I began my life in Thailand.
My parents and sister stayed another two days before leaving for home. My wife and I followed a day later with a very close cousin of hers.
A church wedding had been planned for the following week, so it was a bit of a rush, getting the documents in order, making arrangements at the church, decoration, transport, the works. I was fortunate. A cousin volunteered his BMW, and even decorated it himself. A close friend from work was the best man. The church decorations were all done by family and friends. My younger sister would be playing the organ.
The day dawned bright and early. A good day for a wedding. My wife had been dragged off the day before to my sister’s place. Tradition, my sister said. It’s bad luck to see your bride before the ceremony. Bullshit. I’m already married. Nevertheless, off they went, my other sisters and her cousin too, the lot of them all giggling together, no doubt already planning some shopping, as my sister left with the lines of, ‘Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue.’ I think they were planning on a raid of my mother’s brooch collection, too.
Panic! The tie’s too long! Redo it all over again. Now it’s too short! Hey, where are the rings? Call my sister, Yes, yes, my son’s the pageboy, I’ve got them. Sigh of relief. Where’s my cousin with the car? Right, here he comes. Check. The shoes are already polished. Check, check, pay particular attention to the undersoles. I’m not going to get caught like my other cousin, whose brothers had helpfully painted the letters ’HE’ on the left sole, and the letters ‘LP’ on the right for his wedding…
The wedding went smoothly enough. The priest was a grumpy old fellow, and I was worried he wouldn’t let me kiss the bride when it came to that part. Then there was a bit of a hairy moment where, in the middle of a reading, my contact lens slipped, and I had paused to put it back. Everyone thought I was having an emotional moment… But finally everything was signed and everyone wanted to be in the pictures outside the church.
We had the wedding reception at my parents’ house, as we had decided on a small ceremony for close relatives and friends only. One of my aunts, who is an excellent cook, made her special wedding cake and gave it to us as a wedding present. It was appreciated by everyone there. Another cousin had flown in from England; he had spent many years as a boy in Thailand, and was able to take advantage of staff pricing for airline employees. My wife’s cousin, who had basically been hanging on to my wife all this while as she didn’t speak English, was more than happy to detach herself from my wife when she found out he was fluent in Thai. She later declared they were going shopping together and I could have my wife to myself.
My wife was in conversation with one of my aunts – she was admiring the intricate weaving of the wedding garlands and the centrepiece – my wife had brought them over and they had been in the fridge the past couple of days. My aunt just couldn’t get over the fact they were all made out of real flowers and banana leaves!
It was a real party atmosphere. The front sliding doors had been open wide, and there was ample seating in the house, on the front porch or in the garden. The family had made a special effort in providing special dishes that are usually only seen over Christmas, as they can be very time-consuming to prepare. The cans of beer were in a large cooler at the back of the house; we had a nice sitting area there with a large table that was usually used for informal dinners; today we had set up the bar there.
People were sitting, standing around conversing, eating – the uncles, aunts, cousins, friends – the party went on till early evening.
Many friends said it was the best wedding party they had ever attended.
And so I slowly settled in Thailand. I have learnt the language, met my wife’s family, found work, become a father… and have come to take this place as home. I have submitted many articles to Stickman that touch on many facets of life in Thailand, in the hope that it may at times put a smile on the reader’s face and at the same time educate. There was something else, though, that I never really touched on..
…And that is the loneliness at times, in a strange country, trying to understand a culture quite alien in many ways to your own, wondering at times why you came here in the first place…
There was a telephone in the first place my wife was renting. It was quite reassuring that I was only a phone call away from home, as I was to them. Long distance rates at the time were quite high, so I’d limit the calls home to about fifteen minutes or so once a month. I’d also get occasional phone calls from my old office when they ran into problems and needed a little advice. Less than a year later, though, the owner gave us notice as she was retiring and wanted to renovate to property before she moved back in. She was kind enough to let us stay till we found alternative accommodation.
We put a down payment on a house in another part of Bangkok, and eventually moved in a couple of months later. There was no infrastructure, no street lighting, and we had to use artesian water. The one advantage of the place, though, was that it was a ten minute walk to the main road and the air-conditioned bus service.
The next-door neighbour had a telephone, and (being a friend of a friend, which was why we bought the house in the first place) had no problems with us having access to it. It’s not the same as having your own though, and it took years before we finally got one.
Contact with the family and friends was sporadic at best; if I needed to make a long-distance (or even provincial) phone call you’d have to go to a major post office. The phone booths only catered to local calls. No mobile phones or pagers at the time.
Still, I called home every month or so. Send my regards to the cousins, uncles and aunts when you do meet them. I’d try to get up around Christmas most years with the family and make it a point to visit. See how things were changing, the cousins growing up, the uncles and aunts growing older, just as they were observing the changes in us and our lives. They’d always enquire after the wife, and later the kids.
This has gone on for many years; the internet has now reduced communications to just a mouse click away, airline schedules have increased exponentially while travel pricing is affordable. The older folks won’t use the internet, it’s too impersonal for them. But I’ll still call some of the special people in my life once in a blue moon, the telephone is not an alien piece of equipment to them. Some of them have even celebrated their Golden Jubilee. It feels really good when you hear the happiness in their voices when they receive an unexpected phone call. They’re lonely too. Call them before it’s too late.
What you said about Thai style weddings is oh so true. The bride and groom seem to have so many "duties" that they seem to have little chance to enjoy it. Actually, it is almost as if the whole way it is done is flawed – like they're there to look after everyone else and make sure the guests have a good time. Weird.