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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wedding Crashing in Thailand

Few things make me bounce with excitement like the prospect of attending a wedding. It's a cultural fair like no other. I believe it provides a unique view into the heart of a country. It's fascinating to see how people celebrate the most special of all occasions. Being the clueless foreigner just adds to the fun - there's always some surprises!

I can divide my wedding experiences into three categories. Most of the time I've been "the bellydancer". Like all my sisters in New York, I've performed in lots of weddings, especially Arabic ones. A handful of times I've been "a guest", with a formal invitation and all. And sometimes while traveling I get to be "a crasher". Yeah, there's some sort of verbal invitation from an audacious someone who thinks it's okay to bring extras. But I consider myself a crasher when I don't even know the names of those getting married.

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Cutting the cake. Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire 2010
Snagging an invitation to crash is such a random thing. You never know when and where you'll get lucky. I've spent a total of ONE YEAR of my life in Egypt, and never attended a wedding there! That's odd even statistically speaking, considering how marriage-happy and easygoing Egyptians are. I've had more luck in Africa than in Arabia. My most glorious moment came in Burundi. I entered the country, where I knew no one, on a transit visa. And somehow during those 72 HOURS I managed to invite myself into a wedding. Ha!

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The bride wore white. Bujumbura, Burundi 2012
Oftentimes, a wedding is a days long affair and attending once doesn't cover nearly all of it. Case in point: I spent three days at a Sahrawi wedding (in the occupied Western Sahara) without seeing the bride once. She was going to make an appearance late on the third night. Unfortunately I had a bus to catch. I'm sure she looked pretty.

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Sahrawi women get fresh henna for each wedding. Laayoune, Western Sahara 2012
Thailand turned out to be another lucky country for me - Nakhon Si Thammarat being the lucky town. A Thai wedding was a whole other animal. I had no clue of the dos and the don'ts. My main concern was the dress code. I googled and found plenty of info. None of the dresses I had with me were temple-proof. For a Buddhist wedding, you cannot wear a short skirt - you'll be sitting on the floor and shouldn't flash your crotch at Buddha. Black is a funeral color worldwide, but here it's a serious no-no: the Thais are a superstitious bunch and wearing black could bring some serious bad luck to the happy couple. Bare shoulders and cleavage may be fine in a church, but not cool at the temple. And you shouldn't go too fancy as to not upstage the bride. So what's a girl to wear? A moomoo or mosque gear? That didn't seem quite right either. Finally I went for a long blue strappy dress, which was definitely on the beachy/maternity/casual side. A belt, bracelets, earrings and a shawl later, I hoped it would do the job.

I arrived at the wedding location - house, not a temple - and all my concerns evaporated. The bride's friends were all in knee-length dresses, or even pants. Well, better safe than skimpy. Aside from cutesy frocks, I saw lots of casual attires, including guys in T-shirts and jeans. They looked severely underdressed to me, but I'm sure they knew what they were doing.

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The girls
The ceremony began at 9:09 am (nine is a lucky number and plenty of weddings start at that time). It was held inside the family home, on the living room floor. The Thai way of getting hitched is deeply traditional and ritualistic, yet friendly and non-pretentious. In other words, it's the perfect reflection of the culture. Even as I didn't understand anything that was said, it was a super interesting thing to watch. The bride was gorgeous in her traditional outfit. (The groom was alright in a suit and color-uncoordinated blue socks.) The couple received blessings from parents and grandparents, water was sprinkled on their heads, the bride spoon-fed the groom (she stuck some really spicy stuff in his mouth, which made everybody laugh). At one point the ceremony took a surprising turn. We all flocked into the bedroom, where rose pedals were thrown onto the bed. I suppose it was the bed where the couple would, you know...take a nap later on. That was a little too much information for my Farang eyes. My favorite part was when each guest blessed the newlyweds by pouring water on their hands. By being present, we all were contributing to their future happiness. I felt honored to be a part of it.

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Blessed by water
Once the ceremony was over, guests moved into a tented area on the street. A couple of female singers took turns on the little stage. Food was served. It was standard Thai, nothing unusual. There was some sort of coconut soup for dessert. After the food, the guests in my table got up to leave. I was stunned - the reception hadn't even begun! The newlyweds hadn't made their grand appearance yet, there had been no speeches, no wedding cake, no (belly)dancing the afternoon away...It dawned on me that none of it may be coming. This was it. People ate, and then just left. On the way out, they took pictures with the groom and the bride, who had now changed into a white wedding gown.

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I loved both her dresses
So I followed suit. I took my final photos with the newlyweds, received a party favor (a mug wrapped in pink mesh), and signed the (pink) guestbook. I left the party with my head in romantic pink clouds, and loving Thailand even more.