Friday, October 13, 2006

Ding Dong the Bells Are Going to Chime

I had the opportunity to attend an Indonesian wedding last weekend, something that I haven't done in quite a while. An ex colleague of mine was getting hitched and she had had the presence of mind to actually remember old Mr. Metro and fire off an invite (via sms).

On the big day I couldn't find my one solitary Batik shirt, which I keep exclusively for weddings. It must have had it away with the laundry fairies at some point. In any case, I dressed as formerly as I could and then headed off for the free I mean to toast the couple at the start of their lifetime’s journey together.

Now your Indonesian wedding differs from your Western one in many ways. Most pertinently, there is usually no booze or dancing. This in turn means no inebriated best man trying to flick peanuts down the bridesmaids’ dresses, no embarrassingly revelatory drunken speeches and no grandma shuffling around the floor to an Elvis Presley number. So perhaps an improvement then.

I found BMWs jamming the road solid when I arrived in my tarif lama Korporasi taxi, resplendent in its handsome green and orange livery. One should always arrive in style. It's usually best to turn up at an Indonesian wedding reception about 30 minutes to an hour late in order to avoid the long-winded speeches. When you arrive you'll be asked to sign the marriage book and then be given a little memento of the event such as a key ring or a fan with the bride and groom's name printed on it. At this wedding though, the names of the happy couple were emblazoned on a shot glass which I was duly presented with by the charming young usherette. Times change huh? Alas, as expected, I found nothing to fill it with when I went inside. I deposited my traditional envelope of money, about enough for a couple of packets of Sampoerna cigarettes, and entered the reception hall.

First things first, at an Indonesian wedding one should, upon arrival, mount the stage and shake hands with the bride and groom and both sets of parents. Usually something along the lines of, "Er.. Hello….You don't know me but good on you," four or five times with a brief interlude in the middle to share a quick word with the person you actually know. The happy couple at my reception both looked fine in their traditional Javanese costumes.

Actually, I have to confess to finding Indonesia's normally very lovely women at their least attractive on their wedding days. The whole bridal look is stylized in the extreme and the white make up is caked on until the young lady's face resembles that of a department-store perfume counter girl or a British Airways stewardess. For a more Asian comparison, I guess there's something quite Japanese about the whole look; like a Geisha or one of those traditional masked dramas. The Javanese groom's appearance is also very stylized and actually quite androgynous. He'll often even be wearing a subtle smear of lipstick to accentuate his face. And don't even get me started on the hairstyles; out of this world.

After my formal greeting it was exit stage left to join the buffet queue. I selected carefully and didn't choose the steak or anything that needed cutting as I could see that there were about ten times as many guests as there were chairs, another common Indo. wedding motif. I served myself, picked up a glass of flat Cola and tried to juggle my meal in the corner of the hall. Still, at least I wasn't the one up on stage getting married. Indonesian couples seemingly have to stand up for hours on end on their wedding day, greeting people and smiling like champions. It's a wonder they have any energy left cooking.

I finished the really rather good food and hung about for a bit watching the photographers in action. There was no beer as I've said but that isn't necessarily always the case at these weddings. If a Western guy marries an Indonesian lady, he'll usually manage to have some stashed away somewhere for his mates. At least this was the plan when my friend Dave married his lady friend Yeni a few years back. Unfortunately, after the speeches, we headed to the back of the hall for our rendezvous with Mr. Bintang only to find that the assembled drivers had got there first. Yes, the Bapaks had quaffed the bloody lot. Whatever happened to the sanctity of marriage?

Simon Pitchforth