Monday, June 05, 2006

Kampong Life (3) - Kampong Weddings

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)

Upp Serangoon
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.


Victor said...

My eldest brother, 64, held his wedding dinner in a restaurant (named Kowloon?) in Peck Seah Street. (I think the building is still there but minus the restaurant.) The restaurant was equipped with an antique lift which had 2 sets of collapsible gates similar to the one that the old Public Service Commission (in City Hall?) used to have. You know, the airy type from which you could view all around the outside when you were inside the lift. The speed of such a lift was so excruciatingly slow that strong young people could climb the stairs faster. But then, life was a lot slower than too. The lift was manned by an attendant who was trained in the art of opening and closing the lift gates.

My 2nd brother, 60, held his wedding dinner in Red Star Restaurant in Chin Swee Rd. (And would you believe, it is still in business today at the same location!)

My sister, who is 4 years older than me, was not so lucky - she married 'under the canvas'. But it saved her (and her husband) a lot of money.

My 3rd brother is even unluckier - at 57 he is still eligible. Maybe like you said, his expectation is too high (and his age is too advanced now). But he is luckier in another aspect - he got his CPF all to himself.

As for myself, I held mine in Hotel Grand Central and I have not collected my share of the CPF yet.

Victor said...

Chun See, you conveniently forgot to tell us where you held your wedding dinner. In Malaysia?

One more thing which I am dying to know - was yours an arranged marriage too? :)

Lam Chun See said...

I got married in 1986, 2 decades after we left the kampong so it's a non-event as far as Good Morning Yesterday is concerned. Anyway, if you must know, it wasn't an arranged marriage although I did attend a few SDU functions.

Lam Chun See said...

Oops - 1986 is 12 years after we left the kampong.

Anonymous said...


Chris Sim said...

I attended the wedding of a colleague's son at Shangri-la a few months ago (can't believe how far I've "aged". sniff). But i'm sure many would agree with me that wedding dinners are really boring affairs. You're lucky if you're made to sit with relatives you've not seen for years and whom you hardly recognise. If not, then you would have to sit with total strangers. It's the same routine. Couple made their grand entrance. Couple went on stage. Videos on the couple were aired, with snapshots of their childhood years, through their graduations in school to their adulthood and concluded with how fate brought them together.Then yammmmm..... sennnnnnnngggg.... Couple went around having photo takens. And before you know it, they are at the entrance, shaking hands with guests as the latter make their exit. Yawn.

We I got married in the late 1980s, my wife and I pretty much went through the same routine, except the video part. But if I had my way, I wouldn't have wanted a wedding banquet. My Dad was the one who insisted that we had one. And most of the guests were his friends whom I hardly knew. But I didn't object to his way, really. Cause I wanted to make my Dad happy and proud. The oldies ALWAYS insist that the first born in the family must have a wedding banquet. It's a culture thing, and really more about "face". But I guess time has changed, and I'll not be like my dad.

Anonymous said...

This topic seems to be interesting for all, especially the young and the not so young, who have marriage in mind. The match-maker system (Omei) is still in vogue especially in the Japanese society when life in the cities could be under the 'pressure cooker'. Young people have less time to date each other. Why is the Omei system so effective ? It boils down to the fact that the match-maker usually knows the potential bride & bridegroom and their respective parents well. Hence the Omei has a powerful tool to work on i.e the detailed data-base of both families detailed background already inside her head. Another useful factor of successful marriage, according to many old role-models, is the ever-green principle of give-and-take from the couples themselve, without which the chances of marriage breakdown are almost inevitable.

Lam Chun See said...

My brother just told me that Tham and Sin Leong were 2 members of the so-called "4 Heavenly Kings" of Canto-cuisine. Apparently, they invented the uniquely Spore dish called raw fish salad that Sporeans like to eat during Chinese New Year.

Anonymous said...

The shift from hosting wedding dinners in restaurants to hotel reflects a change in people's emphasis/taste. In the past the emphasis is on the food. Today, the emphasis is on embience.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, rich tai-tai, who wanted to impress their husbands, through their stomachs, went to seek cooking lessions from the Heavenly Kings.

Chris Sim said...

Chun See - I didn't know men and women attended the wedding banquets separately during olden days, not in real life, nor in reel life. There's no such depiction even in the movies leh. So, what happened at the SDU? We're DYING to know. Tell us leh :P

Victor - you wrote "My 3rd brother is even unluckier - at 57 he is still eligible". What makes u think your brother is not happy staying single? Many married men would have loved to be single again. And I dare say women, too.

Lam Chun See said...

Chris,. Nothing happened at SDU and I stopped after a few times.

You may be interested to know that at that time ('84 or '85), I and my colleague in HR dept actually represented NPB at our ministry's (MOL) own SDU efforts. 3 stats boards took part - NPB, CPF and MOL.

My colleague's love story is much more interesting than mine. I don't think she will mind me sharing this as it is a good Christian testimony.

She quit NPB a few years later and went into full-time missionary work and met a fellow missionary from Hong Kong in Africa. Today, the 2 of them are married and serving God full-time in a church in Spore; doing social work. Our govt wants to pair off graduates. My colleague has a degree from a prestigious British U. Her husband is a former drug addict and probably only primary school education.

God works in strange and mysterious ways.

Ivan Chew said...

I didn't know they seggregated wedding ceremonies for males and females... thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Lam,

My name is Albert Teo, and I am a student from Republic Polytechnic. I stumbled upon your blog while researching on Singapore's heritage and I was wondering if you could provide me with some information regarding your life in a kampong house back in the 1950's. Just for your information, our school has taken some pushcarts just outside the National Liabrary Board and there would be a launch next month with the theme "heritage". These pushcarts would also include some information on our local heritage (eg. samsui women) to serve as educational purposes. Therefore, I sincerely hope that you could tell me more about life back in the 1950's.
Thank you very much.

Yours Truely,

JollyGreenP said...

Chun See, what a marvellous blog site. I have been pointed here via the memories of Singapore website. Many of the values you mention of Singapore in the 50s were also the values that I grew up with, making use of leftovers, clothes handed down from brother to brother, saving small pieces of string to make a larger ball of string, saving odd pieces of metal or wood because they might come in handy. I was brought up in England but lived in Singapore from 1957 to 1959. We lived at Changi 1957 - 58 and then moved to Tengah 1958 - 59, father was RAF Warrent Officer. I was aged 10 when I arrived in Singapore and found it very different at first and did not really want to leave in 1959 when I was 12.

I have been back to Singapore several times since then and still find it an interesting and vibrant place and love it as much as I did when I was a youngster aged 12 attending Alexandra Grammer School at Gillman barracks where you did your Army training.

I have a website with a few photographs taken during those years you can find it at

If you find any of the photos of interest and would like to use them in any of your blogs please feel free to do so. I am sure that I have more photos somewhere from that period and will no doubt stumble across them and get them copied up to the website. In the meantime I'll be working through the archive of your blogs and wallowing in nostalgia and perhaps learning a little of how life was in the Kampongs.

Lam Chun See said...

Hello Jollygreenp,

Thanks for dropping by my blog and sharing your stories. It's really nice to meet old 'friends' that we never got to befriend from all those years ago.

I am sure my readers will be looking forward to hearing more stories about life in Spore during those days from your unique perspective.

Thanks also for the generous offer to share your photos.

Lam Chun See said...

Albert. Sure I would be glad to be of assistance. Pls contact me. My office no. is 67480115 - you can call me in the afternoon. Or email me at: cslam(at)hoshin(dot)com(dot)sg

Anonymous said...

Jollygreenp's input reminds of my childhood years. My father then worked in the British Naval Base at Sembawang, and one day he sneaked me into the base for some sight-seeing. Being a country boy, I was astounded to notice the 'paradise-like' facilities provided by the base - swimming pool, NAAFI cafe, games rooms and sport facilities even a small theatre showing a Frank Sinatra film during lunch time ! Not far away, at the naval basin, I spotted a submarine and some small naval vessels. From this personal episode, I draw a conclusion that the British people really know how to live their lives.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lam Chun See,

I was one of the 'Brits' who lived in the Naval Base. I moved there from a house just off Dunearn Road opposite a kampong (on Google earth I can still see the green roof of the house - it is nearest the the road that comes down from McRitchie Res. & joins the Bukit Timah. Close to where the Japanese confronted the British in WWII. We had moved there from the York Hotel(Scots Road?)a beautiful colonial style hotel which looks like is has been pulled down.
I lived in the Naval Base for 2 years, at first over looking the Naval Stores Basin as it was then called (This house has been pulled down)

The final move was to Kenya Cres over by what was known as the Asian Lines. My bedrooom looked out over the southern end of Sembawang Village.

I loved the Singapore I knew in the early sixties. After my father died (1996), 100's of photo's came my way of the 3 years we spent there. (I was 17 when I left) I even have 8 hours of Radio Singapura!!! But have yet to find a reel to reel to play them.

I learnt to speak Malay then but can only count to 10 & say trima casi, satu lenget or something that sound like it!!!! I was there when Singapore TV started which was a big joke. But the announcment that started the programmes I can still say (phonetically) Singsha pur ten she hi, quim me qiun shon. Which I believe was Singapore TV Good evening.

I am at present writing a book about the three years I spent there from a European boys eyes (the working title depending on my mood is either 'Singapore Days' or '1095 days in Singapore.' Luckily, my parents embraced the experience out there so we did many things with & for the locals that many Brits didn't. Though because I was a teenager I did other things as well that teenagers get up to. I even joined the Malayan Air Traning Corps .

Used to love the Amah's Markets (was Serrangoon Gardens the big one on a Sunday??

Would love to hear from anyone in SIngapore. But am at present in Chicago gettimg ready to return home to West Wales in the United Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Further to the above my email address is Oh! how I miss a Magnolia Ice Cream.Dad used to drive all the way from the naval base to Orchard Road on a Sunday to get a ice cream in Singapore Cold Storage.