Ten months later, we were all back for another wedding. This time Pim’s older sister, Taem, was marrying Dave, another farang from Derby in central England. Unlike my wedding, Dave knew it was coming, and he and Taem had gone to great lengths to plan the whole day. Friends and family had flown over from Europe, and we were all staying in a large hotel across town from the family home. A bus had been hired first to bring everyone from Bangkok, and then to shuttle us all around.
When the day of reckoning dawned, Dave was visibly nervous and he turned to me for advice, but what could I tell him? My and Pim’s informal ceremony was going to be no pointer for the grand day ahead. I had actually done some homework and was able to explain some of the rituals that would be observed in their more traditional Thai-style wedding, but I certainly wasn’t speaking from experience.
As the bridegroom’s contingent rode in the bus from the hotel to the house, I explained that we would be dropped off at the end of the lane, from where we would walk the last 50 metres or so to the house. Before Dave would be allowed to enter the house, he would have to pass through three ceremonial gates. At each of these gates, he would have to hand over envelopes with money inside in order to be let past. I had been told that this also used to involve being asked a riddle or a specific question about the bride’s favourite flower or other personal information in order to prove the bridegroom’s worthiness, but these days money alone was sufficient, apparently.
Dave wanted to know how much money to put in each envelope, but I had heard different amounts, depending on whom I had asked. “I don’t know,” I told him, “but there should be a higher amount at each successive gate.” My advice wasn’t much help, but I was flying blind here, and Dave was getting increasingly nervous.
Fortunately, when we pulled up at the end of the lane, we were met by people who actually knew what was going to happen. Following their advice, Dave placed the appropriate amounts in each envelope and then promptly forgot which envelope contained which amount, causing him to open them all again to check. He tried putting the envelopes in different pockets but ran out of pockets, so he asked some of his family to hold envelopes for him. He was starting to get into a panic, and I was just thankful that I had not had to go through this. I’ve never had a surprise party, but there’s something to be said for surprise weddings.
Before we set off on our short parade, I was given an umbrella and assigned my official role as brolly dolly. It was my solemn duty to walk beside Dave with the umbrella shielding him from the sun’s rays.
As our procession approached the house, we came upon the first gate. The “gate” was actually a golden chain held across the entrance to the terrace by some distant relatives of Taem’s. Envelopes changed hands as gracefully as a businessman buying a politician and we moved on to the second gate. The second barrier was manned by closer relatives and required a larger toll, but Dave’s confidence was growing now and he negotiated it with aplomb. He was starting to relax and loosen up, but Nid and Chum were waiting to bring him back down to earth at the third and final gate. Chum seemed happy enough to accept his envelope and get back to his beer, but Nid made a big show of opening her envelope, looking inside, shaking her head and frowning as if to say, “You’re not marrying my sister if that’s the best you can do. None shall pass!” Dave didn’t seem to know what to do, and was temporarily rocked back on his heels. He needed counsel. Don’t look at me, mate. You’re on your own. He was ready to hand over more money until Nid relented and gave that “gotcha!” smile, before lowering the chain to let the confused but very relieved Dave into the house. Stitched up by a Thai girl! Wedding nerves or not, I’m never letting him forget that.
Inside the living room there was no pig’s head or lao kao this time, but there were several bowls of fruit, desserts, rice and fish all with little flags, incense or candles stuck in them. Bottles of water, coca-cola and, this time, red Fanta stood sentinel over the spread. The two chalices, one containing the money and candles and the other covered with a folded white cloth, were again on display, just as they had been at my and Pim’s ceremony. At the head of the temporary altar stood a large floral arrangement, and at the centre, there was a decorative box containing two symbolic amulets.
Relatives of both bride and groom crammed into the room, Dave and Taem took up their positions, and we were ready for the service to begin. The ceremony was again conducted by an officiator rather than a monk. He wore a traditional costume of a tartan-like sarong and white shirt with more tartan cloth worn like a sash over his shoulder.
Sitting cross-legged to the right of the altar, he got the ceremony underway by going through his lines and making some gestures. After maybe 10 minutes, the food was taken away and Taem’s parents moved in. It had all been pretty boring up until now, but the fun part was about to begin. First, a length of rope, tied into a noose at each end, was placed with the loops around Dave and Taem’s heads to symbolise their unification. They waied dutifully as the officiator took a stick, dipped it into a white sticky substance, and placed three dots on Dave and Taem’s foreheads. As they leant forward to receive the amulets, bowls containing yellow flower petals were passed around the congregation and we threw handfuls at the happy couple. They were obviously in need of some spiritual cleansing, and the officiator duly obliged by splashing them with his very own bamboo strip brush. Around this time, his monologue changed from dull ramblings to something akin to an all-night rave MC on crack. I think he enjoyed this part; either that or he was trying to finish up quickly to get to another engagement. With his energy spent and his task completed, it was time for us laypeople to tie cotton strips with money around the newlyweds’ wrists. Thus ended the ceremony.
The day was concluded back at the hotel with a formal evening reception, the highlight of which was one of Taem’s relatives, who is a local politician and who had clearly partaken liberally of the alcoholic beverages on offer. As a procession of friends and relatives took to the stage to bestow their best wishes on the happy couple, the extremely happy politician took his turn, hogging the limelight and singing in a manner befitting a Sunday afternoon pub crooner from Darlington. Some things are the same the world over it seems, and it was appropriate that the day of Anglo-Thai harmony and unification should end with an act that transcended cultural borders.
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