One year ago, on a warm June evening, N and I went down the aisle. We’d been together for four years and knew in our bones that it was the right time.
Truth is, we were more invested in the idea of being together for the rest of our lives than having a wedding. For one, we were clueless about weddings. We only went to a few of our friends’ yet we had no inkling on what it takes to throw one. None of us were party people (plus, I was never the bridal type) and a wedding would be a party of sorts— one that you’d call a celebration— so it seemed to us that our wedding was a lost cause.
But that was only the beginning. Given a few months of research and preparation, we eventually made our wedding happen from scratch along with the help from some of our beloved ones. We learnt all the necessary steps needed as we went along.
The best part was we were able to merge tradition and a bit of our personal flair into our wedding; in doing so, we hoped to honor our families yet make the night uniquely ours. A traditional Malay wedding is usually a distinctive blend of Indian and Arab rituals. In recent years, many couples have chosen to throw some Western-inspired elements into the mix so you can just imagine such marriage of cultures in a wedding!
One of the first steps we took was to choose the place for the guests to gather on our special night. Most of our families and friends were scattered across KL city so we had in mind a place outdoors that’s still within reach yet free from the urban clamor. We knew the place had to be meaningful and somewhat historic in the books of our relationship.
We chose a forest garden called Rimba Kiara that’s nestled deep within the neighborhood of Taman Tun Dr. Ismail. The place itself felt like a hidden secret but a beautiful one, no less. You could only discover it by chance or perhaps, word-of-mouth since the garden itself remains unmarked. We used to take slow walks here early in the weekends and have breakfast underneath one of those trees. Walking around the area made us forget we were still, technically, in the city.
That night, tents and canopies were set up on the grounds and tiny light bulbs were strung on the surrounding old trees (you can take a peek here). Vintage Chinese parasols hung throughout the entrance leading up to the aisle. In turn, the garden radiated a dusky shade of purple and a soft orange glow.
We went by our shared interests when it came to the wedding’s aesthetics— N and his lifelong passion for old P. Ramlee movies and my appetite for vintage homewares (like a true hipster). The golden age of Malay cinema was our inspiration, so to speak. Since we never got to live through that era, we wanted to reinterpret the past and create a retro flavor that would make our moms and grandmas go, “Oh, I remember those days!”
Instead of flowers and soft pastels, we decorated the entire place with thrift store finds and historical objects. Wooden crates topped with centuries-old hardcover books, old-fashioned typewriter, radio transistor, old suitcases and vintage film camera stood along the aisle (more here). These antiques seemed to have passed the test of time and would probably last for generations to come.
In one corner, we placed a photobooth for our guests (or rather, my gorgeous bridesmaids as seen here) to have fun with. Ours was made to resemble a Malay kampong home with a cut-out window and knick knacks from midcentury Malaya as well as our framed photographs. The bubble quotes were all famous lines taken from a number of 1960s comedies. Our all-time favorite would be, "Ulat bulu dah naik daun..." uttered by the late Aziz Sattar in Pendekar Bujang Lapok. It's loosely translated as "caterpillar crawling on a leaf." If you haven't guessed it yet, the line is double entendre for, ehem, getting a lil' frisky.
The kompang drums greeted us once we stepped into the garden. The entire troupe mostly comprised of children who were adorably dressed in their Malay attire. The upbeat drumming marked our ceremonious entrance, signaling the time for us to move in procession led by my bridesmaids.
N took my arm and gracefully led me down the aisle. He appeared calm and charming in his silk Malay suit and the elaborate, crab-shaped tanjak headpiece. If you notice, tucked within his sarong is a small keris. A dagger, if you will. When I first saw him before the ceremony, my heart immediately swelled. He was, undeniably, my pendekar or warrior for the night.
I wore the traditional veil and a simple dress— a modest one— made entirely out of mossy-colored vintage lace and held a bouquet of hydrangeas that my mom picked out that very morning at the flower market.
Only at that moment in time did I feel truly like a bride. Everything around me seemed only ethereal. Together we walked solemnly to our wedding dais. While doing so, I couldn’t help but notice all the people we knew in our lives were present around us, celebrating us, supporting us. It was downright amazing to see many of those whom we care and respect took their time to join us.
Here we were seated majestically on the dais, attended by our best man and bridesmaid. The practice is traditionally known as bersanding or the bridal rite where the newlyweds are indulged as royalty of the day. The best man and bridesmaid would be the key people doing all the fanning for the ‘royal’ couple. Both of our childhood friends, NA and E were actually honored to do the job, much to our delight. E, in fact, volunteered to be the ‘fan’ girl throughout the ceremony. That night, however, was exceptionally warm. E ended up fanning herself more than she did for me. Her classic move, ha!
Our marriage was solemnized with prayers before my mom took to stage to say a few loving words. She spoke of how arbitrary life and marriage can be. “There’s no fixed recipe for love,” she said. “There’s no one cup of this and that which will promise a good relationship. You’ll learn as you go. There will be times when things will work and other times when they don’t. But such is life and the most important thing is for us to cross the bridge one foot at a time, together.”
That’s my mom. She’s often pragmatic with her advices (“Never give up your career for anybody,” she’d tell me over and over again) and I couldn’t thank her enough for that. It made me think of all those wondrous years of having her by my side and the amount of work she put in to support my sister and I. I could never be half the person she is.
My maid-of-honor S came to my side just to tell me how beautiful she thought the speech was. S was another person we were grateful for. She helped us with the wedding preparation, coaxed me during those stressful hours, made herself a beautiful saree dress for the occasion and ran the show together with my mom. She did it like a true sister.
Soon after, we feasted us on a lavish menu of traditional wedding favorites— including roasted chicken and deep-fried prawns— while our guests were served a classic Malay buffet of assorted meats in black and red sauce, pineapple chutney and biryani rice. Malay weddings tend to be generally laidback when it comes to seating. You could pick out any table you want without being assigned to. Our guests easily found themselves sitting with their plus ones and good friends.
Then there’s the story about the cake. Truth be told, we’d actually forgotten all about it. The thought of having one didn’t really cross our mind until the last hour so we thought, “Why bother?” N was never a cake person and those tiers could unnecessarily stretch our budget by a mile. So imagine our surprise when we found a wedding cake waiting to be cut and devoured. The cake was simple yet filled to the brim with blueberries and became a party favorite among our family. Now who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
We mingled around with our guests toward the end of the night. It was good to see our friends, both old (childhood) ones and new, congratulating us with cheers and hugs. Even our former teachers and students came to see us that night! I hadn’t seen some of them in years and to have them celebrating our big night was plain amazing.
On that note, let me tell you a story about the man in pink. W and I went to college together and became good friends overnight. Before N came into my life, W was there for me all along as I cried seas over silly rejections and breakups. During one of those tear fests, I told him that I’d like him to be my ‘bridesmaid’ if I ever got hitched. Boy, was I serious!
My wedding happened but of course, the bridesmaid deal was out of the question. Still, it was incredible to have him turned up in the same shade of pink as my bridesmaids that night. He was as usual funny in a cynical manner – a real life Stewie Griffin, I must say. He held the glass of rose syrup as if it was wine the entire night (well, truth is, you wouldn’t be able to find booze at a Malay wedding).
Meanwhile, my sister M and her husband sang a hilarious version of my favorite Sharifah Aini and Broery Marantika number; they were newlyweds themselves as they had their wedding just two months before us. M also sang Feist’s cover of “Inside and Out” and the remaining night saw our guests enjoying themselves at the karaoke joint we set up. You could never tear Asians away from the karaoke machine!
Since we’re corny Asians ourselves, we sang a few evergreen songs like there was nobody’s business and danced an awkward twist like Peggy from Mad Men…
…and we took countless of candid photographs with our family on the dais. When N’s entire family came for the camera, we had the chance to put his twin baby cousins on our laps and cuddle them. Everyone teased us that they were our babies-on-the-go. For a few seconds, we had ourselves a ready-made family. We were showered with rose petals soon after, which made it one of my favorite moments of the wedding.
It felt surreal for us to come out victorious with our love. We’d gone through so much just to get here. Any fear, uncertainty and doubt were defeated that night as our love prevailed. We were surrounded by those who care and matter to us, all in unison, to support our union. As the night ended, we knew that the happiness shared and encouragement given by our friends and family, were the beautiful things that mattered.
But most importantly, we were relieved. A phase of our lives had passed, allowing us to craft a new chapter. Now we could peel off our heels and shoes at the end of the night, walk around in bare feet and be absolutely, busily, wholeheartedly, married.
Venue Rimba Kiara at Taman Tun Dr. Ismail (TTDI), Kuala Lumpur Photography Firefox Studios Videography Anak Wayang Makeup Min and the Makeup (by default since she’s my baby sister, ha!) Dress and Suit Eilla Faizshah Shoes Christy Ng and Giraffe Catering Anjung Ekslusif Décor Supercun Wedding Lighting Kerja Kahwin Design & Collection