Every wedding reception I’ve been to in Bangkok has been an ornate affair in some massive hotel ballroom with hundreds of people, lots of food, some speeches and endless photographs. That’s the reception – but I had never been to a Thai wedding ceremony until I was at my own yesterday. It was quite the trip.
First, the groom has to get together his posse – a bunch of guys carrying these elegantly designed gifts on golden carrying vessels, including a ton of money that my wife assured me would be re-deposited into our bank account this morning. The posse is led by the best-man of sorts (there’s a Thai word for this, but I forget – but since my guy is another blogger here, perhaps he’ll fill in), who announces the posse’s arrival to a gang of folks guarding the bride’s house. The best man then has to bribe the guards by sweet-talking them and handing out envelopes with money – I tell you, pretty much EVERYTHING around here eventually comes down to the cash…
After we’re done with the bribing, the best-man kneels in front of the bride’s parents and says “yo, check out all this cool crap we got for you, so give us your daughter” (OK, he said it in Thai, but I think that’s the gist of it). The posse then offers up all the gifts including the frightening pile of cash, and the bride joins the groom on the floor in front of the parents, and lots of bowing ensues. There are a couple of rounds of blessings and such with various couples including the groom’s parents and other elder relatives. At each exchange there’s more bowing, we got envelopes (which disappeared – where’d they go?) and we gave them wrapped boxes full of god knows what. This goes on until we run out of old couples.
Then, the bride and groom sit on these stools behind this altar type thing that you can pray on. There’s some stuff witht the parents that I can’t totally remember, except at some point we get some white pasty stuff on our foreheads. After that, we hold our hands out over some flowers and everyone (everyone – it takes forever) pours water on our hands from a decorated conch shell and wishes us luck and long life.
And then there are pictures. Actually, the pictures never stop. Before, during, after everything I mentioned above, there are endless series of standing around and waiting for all 2,568 cameras and camcorders (incredible as there are only like 30 people there) to finish their futzing and say “ok, ok, I got it”.
After all this, the monks come. They sit in a line against a far wall with a small shrine next to the head monk. The bride and groom kneel in front of the head monk, who directs them to do some stuff at the shrine – make some offerings, light candles, that sort of thing. Then there’s a lot of chanting. Thankfully, the head monk told me to sit however I was comfortable; this was great since being on my knees was totally killing me.
Cross-legged, palms together, eyes closed – the rhythmic chanting of the monks was quite hypnotic, punctuated intermittently by a wail from one of the several young children in attendance. A friend of a friend, a professional video producer from Seattle, was on hand and managed to record that entire scene on some nice equipment. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of that tape, overlaying it with some background of children playing, and setting it to a techno beat. If i can get my hands on the scripture, we can make a karaoke out of it – chant along with the monks!
Once the chanting was done, it was time to feed the monks. They don’t eat after noon or 2 PM or something (they get up at like 3 AM every day), so this was dinner for them at about 11:30 AM. Each monk places a cloth in front of them and we lay the plates of food on top of the cloth; then they take the plates. Once dinner is over, there’s some more chanting, sprinkling of holy water, and the ceremony is done.
And it’s time for the food. Oh, after some more pictures.
I can’t imagine anyone ever having a more mellow wedding experience than what I had – it was awesome, lots of fun, and everyone seemed pretty happy at the end of it. All the credit goes to my wife, who took care of everything and did an amazing job. This was actually our third wedding – we got married in Las Vegas back in April, but didn’t tell our parents since it was mostly for legal reasons (getting visas and such). But then we figured the folks would find out eventually and would be bummed that we didn’t have a “real” ceremony (though the civil ceremony in Vegas in front of the county commissioner was surprisingly emotionally moving – we both cried as we said our vows), so we decided to have a both a Hindu ceremony (my side) and a Buddhist ceremony (hers).
It’s been so successful, we’re now considering getting married every year in a different place, according to the local customs. Every trip will be a honeymoon, and we get to be the leads in these really theatrical experiences. Sound like fun?
And I’m sure we’ll have plenty of pictures to show for it all!