May 17, 2009
Potty over nuptials
By Fiona Chan
As a general rule, most stories end in only one of two ways: in marriage or in death.
I used to wonder what similarities authors saw in those two events. Now I realise how they go together - planning a wedding can sometimes make you want to kill yourself.
Last week, for instance, I found myself contemplating the purchase of a chamber pot, a thought I hope never to entertain again.
This wasn't because the idea of my upcoming marriage in August made me weak in the bladder. But it is apparently a time-honoured Chinese wedding tradition that on the happiest day of a bride's life, her family proudly presents her with a portable potty.
What this represents depends on which sceptical website you look it up on. Some say it should come with a baby's bathtub, sewing kit and other domesticated items, in order to create a welcoming environment for the dozens of babies that are assumed to be on the way the moment you get engaged.
Others say it hails from the olden days when Chinese wives would have to empty the chamber pots of their new in-laws every morning. If it weren't for modern plumbing, I think a lot of girls would happily remain spinsters.
This isn't even the, well, pottiest tradition I've encountered so far in the wedding run-up.
Another friend who is also getting married says that his family wants little boys to roll around on the new marital bed on the eve of his wedding, to guarantee that his first child will be a son.
'I don't even know what to say to that,' he told me. 'When will the craziness stop?'
I totally understand how he feels.
Like every modern bride, I thought my own wedding would be just that - mine. It would be breezy and cool, with enough formality to be weighty but enough quirkiness to be memorable.
As you can probably guess, this happy delusion didn't last very long.
The fact is that even in cosmopolitan, sterile Singapore, some traditions never go away. And trying to figure out which ones really matter is like trying to catch an escaped terrorist leader: In the end, you have to rely on someone else to do it for you.
Fortunately, lots of people have weighed in with various 'essential' wedding customs. At first, I resented them as just unnecessary burdens that took away from the more pleasurable task of designing my wedding dresses.
But as I delved deeper into my bridal rituals, I came to discover that behind every seemingly inexplicable tradition is an interesting - and often quite touching - significance.
The groom's family, for instance, is supposed to deliver gifts to the bride's family before the wedding, chief among which is a roasted pig. +
The bride's family should then cut off the pig's head and tail and return the rest of the pig to the groom's family.
When I first heard this I thought it was nuts. 'That's my dowry?' I railed. 'I'm being exchanged for a beheaded pig?'
One of my colleagues tried to comfort me. 'Maybe the headless pig is supposed to be a warning,' he said. 'Like, 'Take care of your wife - or you'll end up without an important appendage'.'
But it was only after I learnt what the severed limbs really represent - the pain of the bride's family upon losing their daughter to marriage, as well as symbolising a 'head' and a 'tail' to the union - that I started to realise the importance of maintaining these customs.
I've also discovered that while these pre-wedding headaches are easily taken care of, they are really just the tip of the whole marriage iceberg.
The bigger question is one that has plagued women ever since Stepford Wives was made as a horror movie: How do you fulfil the traditional roles expected of you - including stitching hems, cooking a five-course dinner, and vacuuming in a French maid's uniform - while still holding on to your own fiercely independent identity?
I haven't quite figured out the answer to that yet.
But if there's one thing I've learnt from the chamber pots, it's that taking the p*** out of marriage traditions - literally and metaphorically - is really the wrong way to go. You may just end up p***ing off the people who matter to you the most.