Over dinner, Chong Choon muttered mutedly that it was time for Kai Chang to settle down. He reminded Kai Chang of his foremost familial duty as the firstborn that was to carry on the ancestral family line. He had made up his mind. He wished for Kai Chang to take the hands of the eldest daughter of a close friend, Hor Choon Kong, in marriage.
In fact, the marriage proposal had been “negotiated” with the help of a “go-between” long before Kai Chang came home. The proposal had already been well-received by Choon Kong. Kai Chang and his fiancee’s birthdates and hours had been exchanged and astrologically confirmed that they were of good and auspicious match. Well, such matter was just too important to be left in the hands of the young, mused Chong Choon.
Her name sounded familiar but for the life of him, Kai Chang could not recall who his fiancée was and how she looked like, as she was not more four, still a toddler, when he first left for Nanyang. Conversation suddenly turned inaudible on cue, mood anxiously tense. All eyes were on Kai Chang, waiting. He was oblivious for he was trying to search his memory. His youngest brother dropped his chopsticks and broke the spell. Everyone was nervously waiting for his reply with bated breath.
Kai Chang knew that his father’s wish was imperial edict, and there was no two ways about it but total obedience. No introduction or courtship, just parental arrangement. He nodded imperceptibly in agreement and his fate was sealed. With a sigh of delighted relief, Chong Choon broke out the best rice wine he had saved for such an occasion. Dinner conversation turned exuberance for Chong Choon was in a celebratory mood, lifted in his spirit by his best spirit. Kai Chang’s mother was all tears. Kai Chang was still perplexed for he still could not recall who his fiancée was or how she looked like.
Over the next few days, the “go-between” began to “bargain” the betrothal money and gifts with Choon Kong, and to select an auspicious day for the presentation of the betrothal gifts and choose among the several wedding dates, all auspicious, suggested by Chong Choon. Kai Chang’s marriage was set for 6 years after engagement as Choon Kong’s daughter was only 15.
Just before setting off for Penang, Kai Chang’s parents presented the betrothal gifts as agreed by Choon Kong after an extensive “bargaining” and on the selected auspicious day. The betrothal gifts of jewellery, money, “Dragon & Phoenix” bridal cakes, sweet meat, sweet candies and wine were presented, always in pairs or even numbers. By accepting these gifts, Choon Kong had pledged his daughter to Kai Chang, although they had never met, and the betrothal was considered binding by customs and traditions.
Six years were a lifetime for many, but for Kai Chang those years were fleeting as business was brisk. Soon, it was time to return home to fulfil his vow, to take the hands of his fiancée in marriage, to honour his betrothal and his father’s wish. He was both anxious and nervous, but assuredly ready.
On the auspicious day, precisely at the auspicious time, fire crackers were lit to mark the beginning of the wedding procession. Kai Chang smartly dressed in the finest traditional long silk “Cheongsam” with dragon embroidery, red shoes and a red silk sash with a silk ball on his shoulder. He confidently sat on blue and yellow teak sedan chair and led the procession to fetch his bride. He was accompanied by attendants bearing a roast pig, dowry and gifts. The bridal chair completely covered in red satin and decorated with fresh flowers. His entourage was preceded by attendants bearing “Double Happiness” lanterns and banners, musicians and a lion dancing troupe.
Upon arrival at his bride’s home, Kai Chang’s companions were blocked by the bride’s friends for a fun-natured haggling for the requisite entrance “Ang Pow” fee and completions of certain road block pranks before being permitted unimpeded entrance. Kai Chang was served sweet longan tea and two hard boiled eggs in sweet syrup while waiting for Choon Kong to usher his daughter from her room. She was dressed in vibrant red “Qi Pao” with phoenix embroidery and wore an elaborate phoenix headpiece veiled with a red scarf.
At the auspicious time, Kai Chang’s bride was then carried on the back of a lady attendant onto the bridal chair. Another shielded her from the sun with a parasol umbrella while the 3rd sprinkled rice onto the bridal chair for good luck. They were chosen carefully. Their horoscope animals were auspiciously compatible with the bride’s. Even the bridal chair was heavily curtained to prevent inadvertent glimpses of unlucky or inauspicious sight. Nothing was left to chance. Once again, fire crackers were lit to ward off evil before she set off to Kai Chang’s home.
Fire crackers were lit to welcome the entourage. The bride then stepped over a lit stove, again to ward off evil influence, and crossed over door threshold into her new family. The house was literally in red, decorated with red curtains, red flowers, red “Double Happiness” symbol cut-outs, “Dragon & Phoenix” on red posters and red carpet. Both Kai Chang and his bride were ushered into his family’s hall, where his whole household were waiting excitedly.
They first paid homage to “Heaven and Earth” deities and ancestors, they then served tea to Chong Choon and his wife, and finally bowed to each other to seal their marriage. The marriage ritual was surprisingly a rather simple affair.
Kai Chang’s wife, Yoo Tee, was then formally introduced to the Kai Chang’s relatives through another simple yet steep in traditions tea ceremony. Decorously, she knelt, addressed aloud and served tea only to older married relatives according to Kai Chang’s seniority in the family hierarchy. In return, they gave her red packets of money or jewellery. To those junior to her husband, she gave each an “Ang Pow”.
They were then ushered into their bridal chamber where Kai Chang could finally raise the red veil with a thong and gaze upon his wife for the first time. Kai Chang’s smiled contentedly at his young wife for his father had chosen well. She was attractively sweet and innocently bashful. Their bed had been ruffled by children scrambling for candies and sweets intentionally scattered on it earlier for good omen of fertility. A cage containing a pair of poultry was opened to foretell the gender of their firstborn, and the cockerel came out. A son foretold, and Kai Chang was all smiles. Chong Choon was ecstatic and his household euphoric.
The wedding banquet was a grand affair. Kai Chang’s was Chong Choon’s firstborn. Family members and relatives from near and afar came to celebrate such a joyous occasion, friends and neighbours too added to the celebratory merriment into the wee hours of the night with food and wine free-flowing in abundance. Chong Choon’s residence was boisterous and noisy from cacophonic chatters, uproarious laughter and congratulatory exchanges, and many were already spirit-filled. Put two Englishmen together you get a club. Put two Foochow together, you get an all decibel pandemonium!