From Cambodia to Japan

A Cambodian Student Looks at Life in Two Different Worlds

Counting Weddings

It was ten in the morning when my plane landed at Phnom Penh International Airport."The Hair Cutting Ceremony" from a wedding, held in a village nearby along National Road 4, was proceeding.

As we started to drive off from the Airport heading toward our hometown- in Kampong Speu province-I took a glance at the scence of the wedding and found myself relaxing to the sound of Cambodian traditional wedding music that I hadn't heard for almost a year. " I am home", I said to myself, and smiled. Along the road, two hundred metres away, another " hair cutting ceremony" from another wedding was procceeding. "Two weddings", I thought.

As we drove pass the second wedding, the somewhat similar traditional wedding music from ahead was coming closer and closer. "Another wedding?", I felt rather amazed. And I was right; it was another wedding. Three weddings in just 500 metres away. " No surprise. It's wedding season", said my father as we drove past the third wedding.

It was early March and my third visit to Cambodia in three years. Wedding season begins in October and March is generaly the peak season. My hometown is some 40 kilometres away from Phnom Penh International Airport. I was busily doing wedding counting all the way from the airport until I got home. Three, four, five,six...then 18, 19, and as I reached my hometown I had 20 or so weddings, held along National Road 4 alone. Busy season. Everyone is getting married. To my surprise in my village there were two weddings on the same day.

It was 11:30AM when I eventually got home. 11:30AM: for weddings it was time for reception. My aunt who lives next door was waiting for me in her wedding-goers's dress. My mother too was wearing her traditional clothes, specially designed for wedding ceremonies. My uncle-in-law was also dressing up as if he was about to attend the wedding or other party. And surprisingly so was my cousin, who is my aunt's daughter.

" Big party for me?", I thought. "Or perhaps my mother and my aunt had been invited to one of her close relatives weddings?" In Cambodia you do not bring your spouse or your kids to a wedding with you unless you are a relative of the bride or the groom, or unless you are a special guest. But her explanation was quite different." I have three weddings today", she said, looking at her daughter and her husband. " So, I decided your uncle will attend one wedding, your sister (my cousin) will go to another wedding, and me, I'll go to another one". She said last month she got more than twenty invitations, some of which she was unable to attend, mainly because they were held on the same day. Since this month is the peak season, she expected more wedding invitations to come.

Weddings seemed to have ruined much of her time. A week or two before going to a wedding, she'd spend hours at the tailor ordering her new wedding clothes. " You can't just wear the same dress every time", she said. On the wedding day, she'd spend hours making up her face and her hair at the hairdresser. " Women are a little different from men", she told me, " you can't just take a bath, comb your hair, dress up in your same ordinary clothes and head to the wedding ceremony". Then she'd spend one hour at the receptions head table. Finally, she'd have to pay; that is, politely and generaly speaking, giving her wedding gift. No wedding is free - ever. Sometimes even when she does not wish to go or can't go, she still has to pay or else she'll risk losing face, losing her friends or losing her relatives.

She is not alone. My mother too. My friends's mother too. And as it seems, everyone.

The next day when I went in the market for T-shirt shopping I noticed the same conversation being discussed by market vendors. Everyone was talking about weddings. " His son is getting married tomorrow", someone said. " So tomorrow, I'm going to have 2 weddings". And then another voice replied:" You're luckier than me. She's not inviting you. I've got three and I don't know whose I'm going to attend and whose I'm going to abandon".

Time is probably the reason everyone is complaining about weddings. Weddings are time consuming. But the real reason is probably money - weddings are resource consuming. At the moment, in the centre of my province, each wedding gift is usually worth $10. Of course, the wedding gift is usually money, no material gifts unless the wedding belongs to the upper and richer class; for example, certain high ranking government officials; in which case a modern expensive car or jewelry is expected to be the wedding gift . In remote areas it is worth less than the urban area, probably $5 or even less. Whilst in Phnom Penh, wedding gifts are now usually worth $15 or higher as it represents the most advanced and richest area of the country. Suppose you are in the centre of my province, and you were invited to two wedding's reception on the same day. You'd have to give away $20. If your income is satisfactory, you probably wouldn't care much. But if you are a high school teacher whose salary is around $25, it seems you work the whole month only to support weddings. In fact, some of my friends are primary or high school teachers, who earn less than $2 a day. When wedding season comes they say they are terrified. They even joked that [ the wedding] is the cause of poverty. Weddings have turned out to be a sad and scary story, so to say.

But then there are the good sides of wedding invitations. " I keep complaining about having a lot of wedding invitations ", said my former high school literature teacher whilst I was visiting him. "But I keep attending. And in case it's a wedding of someone I know well but they failed to invite me, I'd be rather upset as I feel I am being forgotten". He said weddings have been one of our longest and oldest, valuable traditions. We Cambodians have the culture of helping each other, any where, on any occasion. Twenty five years ago when he got married, he invited his bachelor's friends. Later on, when they got married, he was the guest. Last year when his daughter got married, that friend was the guest. At the end of this year, the son of his friend will be married and he is expected to be the guest again.

Back home, my aunt had just returned from a nearby wedding reception. "The food today was really nice", she said. "We didn't have to cook today as all of our family members had their lunch at the wedding reception".

Well, that is probably another good point of wedding invitations. Today it is her turn. When her daughter gets married it will be their turn. So goes the circle and the tradition.

We keep counting the weddings, but we keep going. Wedding invitations are nothing bad, after all.

4 Responses to “Counting Weddings”

  1. # Anonymous Sky

    interesting..nice to see for a change  

  2. # Blogger Nomore

    I like your writing. You got great sense of humor!! Too many weddings like that, so when it's going be your turn ?

    Since you mentioned the wedding months tend to fall between Oct-Mar, now I just realized. In 2003, while I was in Cambodia in February month, I saw a lot of weddings are happening en-route from PP to SiemReap.

    Speaking about the topic, remember one thing: At the wedding, ALL brides are beautiful !!  

  3. # Blogger Nomore

    Geee...if your income is $20-30/month and you'd give at least half of your earning to 'charng dai' or give as wedding gift that is a lot. Something doesn't work right. Salaries and standard of living have to be improved for our Cambodia.  

  4. # Anonymous Anonymous

    hi.. kindly enlighten why is it oct to mar? linked to some khmer folktale? is there a khmer valentines' day? haha. hope i am not asking too much.  

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