Nothing is done in small measures here, so it was of little surprise when I arrived on Saturday morning, on the back of Sinuan’s scooter, to find that the entire road outside the Bride’s family home was blocked off by marquee rooftops with tables and chairs beneath. The wedding itself would not take place until the following morning, but half the guests had turned out the day before to help set up and prepare.
Hundreds of hands were put to work, erecting the marquees, assembling the (excessive) displays of plastic and paper flowers, decorating tables and, of course cooking.
The wedding took over the Bride’s family home, as well as the house either side and two opposite. The yard of the house opposite was turned into a huge outdoor kitchen. Long trestle tables and bamboo platforms were set up on either side of a walkway underneath tarpaulin covers. Women from across the community were sitting side by side, preparing food. More garlic than you can imagine was peeled, beans topped and tailed, meatballs made, rice bagged into portions, cucumber chopped, the list goes on. All of Saturday and Sunday people were cooking, preparing food, and washing up in order to keep the constant stream of guests-come-helpers well fed.
Though preparation took up most of Saturday, it was a relaxed day. People came and went, helping out for a few hours or the whole day, depending on what time they had. It was not just a means of helping a friend on her special day but also an event in itself; a way to socialise and relax with friends. The whole day was noisy with laughter and chatter all day long, a hum of excitement in the air. Some people even came to help prepare knowing they would not be able to attend the ceremony itself.
Pre-wedding celebrations, involving Karaoke, started late afternoon. The men sat and drank as they worked but come evening most of these had gone home (dunk) to be replaced by the women of the town. The party went on late into the night which is unusual by Thai standards. I enjoyed myself a lot, dancing and drinking with many of my friends in the village until one of my Headmasters got up on stage and announced, “Laura will sing next”. Though I love to dance, I hate singing in public. However, I had little choice but to accept when everybody was pushing me toward the stage. Luckily for me, the Bride came to my rescue and offered to sing a duet with me, as long as it was the only English song she knew, “When you say nothing at all” by Ronan Keating, an apt song given how badly I sing!
It is Thai culture to give gifts and money to the Singer if you enjoy their song, a kind of tipping I guess. I was incredibly moved when the Groom’s father, an elderly man, called me over after my song to give me 3 US dollars. It was simple gesture, but one that left me feeling incredibly accepted. I knew I had sung terribly but it is not in Thai culture to tease, but to encourage.
I got up bright and early the next day at 7am to find Sinuan had already left to help prepare for the day’s celebrations. I got dressed, drank my instant 3in1 coffee and walked down to the village.
No sooner had I arrived than I was given a huge portion of “Thai spaghetti” for breakfast. After which my simple English dress was replaced by a beautiful Thai-yai outfit (one of many traditional Northern Thai dresses). I had my make-up done Thai-style by none other than the Bride’s make-up artist, with painted on eyebrows and bright pink lipstick. It was not my style, but I loved feeling a little bit Thai! 🙂
The wedding ceremony started at 9.19 because 9 is lucky in Thai culture (I think it was due to start at 9, or any time in the hour of 9!) It began with a procession. The Groom and his family walked through the guests, carrying offerings and gifts for the Bride and her family. In the final stages he had to persuade three pairs of friends (of which I ended up being one half of a pair) holding metal chains across his path by giving them gifts of money (I later posted my envelope into the house-shaped box for gifts of money for the Bride and Groom).
Eventually he ended up in the front room of the Bride’s family home, which had been transformed by flowers and fabric, where he finally was allowed to see his Bride for the first time that day, and her family. The gift giving continued for a while until the younger members of her family moved to make room for the older members of his. Afterwards the new couple knelt on the floor to be blessed by each family member.
Once the blessings were over, the couple sat on two throne-like chairs whilst they were slowly tied together with small strands of string by every guest there. Each guest blessed the new couple in their new life together.
Whilst the blessings continued in the small room over the Bride and Groom, the rest of the guests took hundreds of photos and started to party outside. There was a seemingly unlimited supply of food, whisky and beer and it was difficult not to drink before 11am! I held off until then before joining in wholeheartedly!
The party continued all afternoon and into the early evening, although I missed a couple of hours to go to the local Hot Springs for a soak with a couple of other teachers but returned early evening to commence once more. As with the preparation, take down was an entire community affair and everybody pitched in to help out. By 7.30pm all that remained were a few lingering guests and a few tables and chairs.