I am not very sure what wedding dinners are like these days because I have not been ‘summoned’ for a long time. Most of the wedding banquets I attend these days are buffets held in our church compound on Saturdays. Prior to these, the wedding dinners I attended were usually held in hotels.
Back in our kampong days, the traditional (Chinese) wedding banquet was made up of two separate sessions; one in the afternoon for women folk, and the other at night for the men. I do not know the reason for this segregation of the sexes. The banquets were usually held under canvass canopy in front of the groom’s house. The afternoon sessions tended to be noisy affairs because most mothers would bring along their children. I myself remember attending one such banquet with my mum. As there were no seating arrangement for children, the kids would stand behind their mothers. When food was served, mothers would busily feed themselves, and pass food to their children at the same time. You can be sure that no food would be wasted as any left-overs would be speedily 'ta-powed'.
Later on, as we moved into the seventies, this practice was gradually replaced by a single wedding dinner, usually held at popular restaurants. I remember 3 such restaurants in particular. One was the Lai Wah Restaurant located at the top floor of a building along Jalan Besar, near to the junction with Lavender Street, opposite the present Eminent Plaza. I think the building is still there today. Lai Wah was well known for its Cantonese cuisine and its celebrity chef by the name of Tham Yu Kai. Another was the Sin Leong Restaurant along Upper Serangoon Road near to Meyapar Chettiar Road. Next to it was a famous night club called Fountain Night Club. The third was a restaurant located within the New World Amusement Park at the junction of Serangoon Road and Kitchener Road. I cannot recall the name. I think it was called Tai Tong (大东)
Sin Leong Restaurant and Fountain Night Club used to be here.
During the kampong days, many of the marriages were arranged marriages between the kampong folks themselves. Usually there would an elderly lady match-maker trying to pair off suitable couples with approval from their respective parents, highlighting the individual's good points. She would get a big ang pow if the marriage went through. If the marriage 'misfired', she would get bad publicity which she would brush off, putting blames on everyone except herself. If marriages turned successful, she would proudly proclaim to the whole world of her professional expertise.
The success rate of kampong-styled arranged marriages were unusually high and divorces were very rare; and widows seldom remarried. Perhaps Chinese traditions were still strong and prevailing at that time. One of the reasons for this success rate could be attributed to the fact that couples usually did not have a high expectations. As long as the husband had a job and look after the family, the wife would be satisfied. As long as the wife carried out her household duties and looked after the children well, the husband would be happy. Simplicity was a way of life then until the advent of HDB. Though there has been serious attempts by the Housing Board to re-create kampong life in the HDB heartlands, there has been little result success.
The first wedding banquet in our family was not held at home. When my eldest brother got married, my father specially booked the hall at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce along Hill Street. My dad was a member of the China Society. He threw a huge banquet and invited many folks, including the member of parliament of Serangoon Gardens, Mr Roderigo who knew my father who as a long time member of the Citizens’ Consultative Committee.
The SCCCI at Hill Street today
Incidentally, my eldest sister-in-law was also from a kampong: the nearby Plantation Avenue; also off Lorong Chuan. No, it wasn't an arranged marriage. They met at a .......... you guessed it; a wedding party of a mutual relative. I understand there were very few brides that came from the city. I suppose the city girls would not interested in us ‘swaku’ kampong boys.
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