Wedding time in Cambodia

Sorry this is such a long post but it will explain the pictures a little bit.

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It’s been a whirl wind party weekend in Prey Veng.  Our office partner Mok and his wife Saiha had a house warming and our part time house keeper had a  wedding for her daughter.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal?  Believe me they are.  I filmed a 3 million dollar wedding in Seattle that was bigger than these but Cambodian wedding are definitely the next tier down if not in cost in sheer length and breadth.   Length being from 5:30 AM to 11 PM breadth being 500 to 1000 guests even for poor families living in a shack.  Cost wise they can cost more that $10,000 to put on which may not sound like much in the U.S. but in a country where a good job pays $180 a month it is significant.

First there is the invitation.  It is ornate and very formal.  You try your best to hand deliver it directly to the person. If you give an invitation to someone they are obligated to come but if you don’t invite them you slight them.  So you must be very careful who you invite and you had better not leave anyone out that could possibly care.  If you are invited you are given an invitation with an enclosed envelope in which you are required to put money. You need to be very careful how much you put in as it sets up other obligations.  At the party the contents of each envelope and givers name are carefully recorded by a trusted person in a book.  The obligation of the receiver is to now give back the exact same amount when the donor has a wedding or their kids have a wedding or house warming.  If you give less it is a insult.  In this way they pay for the party hopefully but set up life long obligations to everyone they invite.

We were asked to arrive at the wedding at 7 AM.  Ryan, Daphne, Lisa and I parked our two moto’s outside the wedding tent and were ushered in to plastic seats draped in full length golden cloth covers the hosts rented for the occasion.  As usual there are tents covering half the street and part of the yard.  Young men drape colored fabric around and a loud speaker is blaring Cambodian love songs. The band was warming up clashing with the loud speaker while an improvised farm cart hauled enough speakers down the dusty dirt road to make a stadium rock and roll band happy.  If Cambodians like one thing it is earsplitting, over amplified music coursing through their neighborhoods.  I can stand it if I’m literally 2 blocks away. Inside the tent I am at serious risk for hearing loss.  Luckily as a musician I have good earplugs with me for these situations because the cart stops and unloads right here.  A portent of what we are in store for tonight at dinner and beyond.

Cambodian men dress in black slacks and a dress shirt for weddings.  No jacket, no tie.  It’s too hot.  But women wear beautiful dresses, fancy hairdos, lots of makeup and sparking glittery blouses and in some cases even showing off one exposed shoulder.  Soon there are about 100 guests for this special morning ceremony. Tonight they expect 700 or so but we have been specially invited to this part of the marriage ritual.

It starts with a group of the wedding planners handing out gold and silver bowls that look like something you would serve punch in.  Each one is piled high with a different thing.  Some have Asian pears stacked high. Some have bananas, others have canned goods.  All kinds of fruit, candy and the like are passed out until each person is carrying one bowl of something each carefully wrapped in shiny cellophane.  We are also given a thin packet which turns out to have 200 riel in it which is ours to keep. At the exchange rate of 4000 riel to the dollar I won’t be buying much with mine though. Next we are directed to stand and go outside.  We walk about a block away and turn around facing the tents down the street.  Soon the bride and groom and families come out and line up in front of us for photo ops.  I find out that we are acting out the bringing of the gifts or dowry to the brides family.  Soon we are each filing in like the wise men at Christmas bringing instead of myrrh and incense, we have bowls of mangos and packaged candy.  We are directed to sit down in two lines one on each side, creating a hallway, and each given a handful of fragrant  flower pedals to hold.  Then the bride and groom and family process in front of us followed by musicians playing traditional instruments while we all toss the flower pedals at them.

When they pass they go upstairs into the house and our bowls of things are collected and sent up stairs.  Now it is time for the early morning guests to eat while the first ceremony takes place for the family.  But in this case we are invited in to the inner sanctum to watch it.

Inside the family is sitting in a semi circle facing the glittering bowls of fruit.  The bride and groom dressed in all gold traditional dress radiate like a king and queen holding court.  The women attendants are all in gold too with the men in less colorful clothing.  The two moms are decked out and the dads are in what are just above street cloths.  Everyone is sitting on the floor in what is the family home.  There is one big open room about 24 feet by 24 feet.  One small bedroom and that is it.  No plumbing, no stereo, no nothing but right now it looks like a movie set with all the glitter and gold.  Since the bride is Christian a Cambodian pastor reads a bible scripture and prays to start.  Each person that talks from here on out does it through a microphone that is connected to a huge loud speaker blasting it to the neighborhood. Then the matchmaker takes over and starts singing to the couple.  In his song he asks the grooms family if they have brought the requisite amount of gifts.  It turns out there is an appointed spokesman for each the bride and the groom and so the grooms spokesman says they have.  He says they have brought 33 gifts.  Never mind we brought more than 100 in the procession earlier, they have only put 33 in the room and this is a ritual that must be gone through.  “How do we know it is actually 33?” The matchmaker asks.  “We must count them. But how can we count so many?  And who will be impartial?  Oh I know, lets call in the musicians to count.”  So the musicians come in and pretend to count the bowls.  “Yes there are the right amount.” They say.  “Do you accept the count?” the matchmaker asks the brides side. “Yes we do.” He says and a gong goes off waking up anyone who dares to not be alert still.

I won’t bore you with all the details but it basically goes like this:  Matchmaker: “Has the bride been kept pure and not engaged to anyone else?  Dad?”

Dad “Yes”

Matchmaker: “We should ask one that knows here better than anyone else.  Mom?”

Mom:  “My daughter is pure and not engaged to anyone else.”

Matchmaker: “ Anyone else disagree with this? No?  Ok.  Is this enough proof for you grooms parents?”

Grooms parents: “Yeah sounds good to us.”

Matchmaker:  “Ok lets grill the grooms side and make sure he is pure too.”

So they do that and then grill the couple and make them say. “No we haven’t even seen each other until today.”  Of course they have but traditionally they weren’t suppose to.  Most marriages are still arranged by parents and family but usually the kids have some say in it today.  They are allowed to meet the mate ahead of time to check them out.

That being done and the gong having affirmed each answer the parents are ordered by the matchmaker to feed each other fruit, which become a comedy but which no one is embarrassed at laughing out loud at.

Another prayer is said and the matchmakers asks for an adjournment so we can all eat.  By now it is 9:15 AM and the guests have been here for over 2 hours.  So we eat this big meal downstairs under the tent and most guests go home and will like us come back for the evening meal when the crowd comes and we must all deliver our envelopes with the money in it.

The guests arrive in the evening at about 5:30 pm for dinner.  Dinner is a 9 to 10 course dinner elaborately served with soft drinks, water and lots of beer flowing.  Beer is served in a tall glass with tubes of ice in them to keep the beer cold.  You fill up your glass but with the ice you are getting a quarter of a beer at the most.  This is good because every time a toast is called at the table you need to toast and drink up.   The food is served in courses.  A chicken course, beef course, pork course, fish course, and many others.  Rice is finally served at the very end to fill in any left over cracks you might have.

During dinner local children, many who look really hungry, hang around on the edge of the wedding and collect discarded cans from the tables to sell to the recycle places for a bit of cash.  This is good to see in a place where all garbage is burned and plastic litters the landscape.  During a wedding you throw paper napkins, cans, bottles, bones, and plastic wrap on the ground.  The next day the litter is appalling to a westerner.

The dancing is wonderful because anything goes and it is very simple.  People dance around a round table counter clockwise to very loud music.  It’s so loud that talking is impossible. You just move your feet and swish your arms about and everyone is happy.  As the night progresses the music gets more contemporary and Cambodian rock and rap become the favored selection as the older folks head home.

By now the family knows if they made money, broke even or sadly lost years worth of future wages. Careful calculation was given about who to invite and how much food to make or order.  A medium was paid to inquire from the ancestors or spirits which days it wouldn’t rain they could plan the wedding for a non-rainy day.  Consequently there may be 6 weddings in a town the same day as yours.  And at our next door neighbors wedding last week it poured, resulting in some empty tables.  You can tell from the first picture of their house that they could ill afford it.

It’s been a whirl wind party weekend in Prey Veng.  Our office partner Mok and his wife Saiha had a house warming and our part time house keeper had a  wedding for her daughter.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal?  Believe me they are.  I filmed a 3 million dollar wedding in Seattle that was bigger than these but Cambodian wedding are definitely the next tier down if not in cost in sheer length and breadth.   Length being from 5:30 AM to 11 PM breadth being 500 to 1000 guests even for poor families living in a shack.  Cost wise they can cost more that $10,000 to put on which may not sound like much in the U.S. but in a country where a good job pays $180 a month it is significant.

First there is the invitation.  It is ornate and very formal.  You try your best to hand deliver it directly to the person. If you give an invitation to someone they are obligated to come but if you don’t invite them you slight them.  So you must be very careful who you invite and you had better not leave anyone out that could possibly care.  If you are invited you are given an invitation with an enclosed envelope in which you are required to put money. You need to be very careful how much you put in as it sets up other obligations.  At the party the contents of each envelope and givers name are carefully recorded by a trusted person in a book.  The obligation of the receiver is to now give back the exact same amount when the donor has a wedding or their kids have a wedding or house warming.  If you give less it is a insult.  In this way they pay for the party hopefully but set up life long obligations to everyone they invite.

We were asked to arrive at the wedding at 7 AM.  Ryan, Daphne, Lisa and I parked our two moto’s outside the wedding tent and were ushered in to plastic seats draped in full length golden cloth covers the hosts rented for the occasion.  As usual there are tents covering half the street and part of the yard.  Young men drape colored fabric around and a loud speaker is blaring Cambodian love songs. The band was warming up clashing with the loud speaker while an improvised farm cart hauled enough speakers down the dusty dirt road to make a stadium rock and roll band happy.  If Cambodians like one thing it is earsplitting, over amplified music coursing through their neighborhoods.  I can stand it if I’m literally 2 blocks away. Inside the tent I am at serious risk for hearing loss.  Luckily as a musician I have good earplugs with me for these situations because the cart stops and unloads right here.  A portent of what we are in store for tonight at dinner and beyond.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cambodian men dress in black slacks and a dress shirt for weddings.  No jacket, no tie.  It’s too hot.  But women wear beautiful dresses, fancy hairdos, lots of makeup and sparking glittery blouses and in some cases even showing off one exposed shoulder.  Soon there are about 100 guests for this special morning ceremony. Tonight they expect 700 or so but we have been specially invited to this part of the marriage ritual.

It starts with a group of the wedding planners handing out gold and silver bowls that look like something you would serve punch in.  Each one is piled high with a different thing.  Some have Asian pears stacked high. Some have bananas, others have canned goods.  All kinds of fruit, candy and the like are passed out until each person is carrying one bowl of something each carefully wrapped in shiny cellophane.  We are also given a thin packet which turns out to have 200 riel in it which is ours to keep. At the exchange rate of 4000 riel to the dollar I won’t be buying much with mine though. Next we are directed to stand and go outside.  We walk about a block away and turn around facing the tents down the street.  Soon the bride and groom and families come out and line up in front of us for photo ops.  I find out that we are acting out the bringing of the gifts or dowry to the brides family.  Soon we are each filing in like the wise men at Christmas bringing instead of myrrh and incense, we have bowls of mangos and packaged candy.  We are directed to sit down in two lines one on each side, creating a hallway, and each given a handful of fragrant  flower pedals to hold.  Then the bride and groom and family process in front of us followed by musicians playing traditional instruments while we all toss the flower pedals at them.

When they pass they go upstairs into the house and our bowls of things are collected and sent up stairs.  Now it is time for the early morning guests to eat while the first ceremony takes place for the family.  But in this case we are invited in to the inner sanctum to watch it.

Inside the family is sitting in a semi circle facing the glittering bowls of fruit.  The bride and groom dressed in all gold traditional dress radiate like a king and queen holding court.  The women attendants are all in gold too with the men in less colorful clothing.  The two moms are decked out and the dads are in what are just above street cloths.  Everyone is sitting on the floor in what is the family home.  There is one big open room about 24 feet by 24 feet.  One small bedroom and that is it.  No plumbing, no stereo, no nothing but right now it looks like a movie set with all the glitter and gold.  Since the bride is Christian a Cambodian pastor reads a bible scripture and prays to start.  Each person that talks from here on out does it through a microphone that is connected to a huge loud speaker blasting it to the neighborhood. Then the matchmaker takes over and starts singing to the couple.  In his song he asks the grooms family if they have brought the requisite amount of gifts.  It turns out there is an appointed spokesman for each the bride and the groom and so the grooms spokesman says they have.  He says they have brought 33 gifts.  Never mind we brought more than 100 in the procession earlier, they have only put 33 in the room and this is a ritual that must be gone through.  “How do we know it is actually 33?” The matchmaker asks.  “We must count them. But how can we count so many?  And who will be impartial?  Oh I know, lets call in the musicians to count.”  So the musicians come in and pretend to count the bowls.  “Yes there are the right amount.” They say.  “Do you accept the count?” the matchmaker asks the brides side. “Yes we do.” He says and a gong goes off waking up anyone who dares to not be alert still.

I won’t bore you with all the details but it basically goes like this:  Matchmaker: “Has the bride been kept pure and not engaged to anyone else?  Dad?”

Dad “Yes”

Matchmaker: “We should ask one that knows here better than anyone else.  Mom?”

Mom:  “My daughter is pure and not engaged to anyone else.”

Matchmaker: “ Anyone else disagree with this? No?  Ok.  Is this enough proof for you grooms parents?”

Grooms parents: “Yeah sounds good to us.”

Matchmaker:  “Ok lets grill the grooms side and make sure he is pure too.”

So they do that and then grill the couple and make them say. “No we haven’t even seen each other until today.”  Of course they have but traditionally they weren’t suppose to.  Most marriages are still arranged by parents and family but usually the kids have some say in it today.  They are allowed to meet the mate ahead of time to check them out.

That being done and the gong having affirmed each answer the parents are ordered by the matchmaker to feed each other fruit, which become a comedy but which no one is embarrassed at laughing out loud at.

Another prayer is said and the matchmakers asks for an adjournment so we can all eat.  By now it is 9:15 AM and the guests have been here for over 2 hours.  So we eat this big meal downstairs under the tent and most guests go home and will like us come back for the evening meal when the crowd comes and we must all deliver our envelopes with the money in it.

The guests arrive in the evening at about 5:30 pm for dinner.  Dinner is a 9 to 10 course dinner elaborately served with soft drinks, water and lots of beer flowing.  Beer is served in a tall glass with tubes of ice in them to keep the beer cold.  You fill up your glass but with the ice you are getting a quarter of a beer at the most.  This is good because every time a toast is called at the table you need to toast and drink up.   The food is served in courses.  A chicken course, beef course, pork course, fish course, and many others.  Rice is finally served at the very end to fill in any left over cracks you might have.

During dinner local children, many who look really hungry, hang around on the edge of the wedding and collect discarded cans from the tables to sell to the recycle places for a bit of cash.  This is good to see in a place where all garbage is burned and plastic litters the landscape.  During a wedding you throw paper napkins, cans, bottles, bones, and plastic wrap on the ground.  The next day the litter is appalling to a westerner.

The dancing is wonderful because anything goes and it is very simple.  People dance around a round table counter clockwise to very loud music.  It’s so loud that talking is impossible. You just move your feet and swish your arms about and everyone is happy.  As the night progresses the music gets more contemporary and Cambodian rock and rap become the favored selection as the older folks head home.

By now the family knows if they made money, broke even or sadly lost years worth of future wages. Careful calculation was given about who to invite and how much food to make or order.  A medium was paid to inquire from the ancestors or spirits which days it wouldn’t rain they could plan the wedding for a non-rainy day.  Consequently there may be 6 weddings in a town the same day as yours.  And at our next door neighbors wedding last week it poured, resulting in some empty tables.  You can tell from the first picture of their house that they could ill afford it.

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