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A Malaysian Chinese-Greek Wedding: Betrohal (Guo Da Li 过大礼)

By July 01, 2016

I've been wishing to write this post for a long time now but have been putting it off due to the intense wedding planning that is leading up to the big day. But I am seeking an outlet to procrastinate, so here I am!

A wedding is a joyous occasion celebrating the union of not just two people, but two families as well. Some weddings are lavish, while some are intimate and simple...Doesn't matter what style of the wedding it is, a lot of meticulous planning and emotions are involved. Moreover, Steve is Greek-Australian and I'm Chinese/Teochew-Malaysian. When two cultures meet, I know that we will be faced with lots of challenges and decision-making, especially when it comes to planning a wedding. 

To simplify matters, we have decided to have a wedding in Malaysia, which will follow the Chinese-Teochew rules and traditions, but also incorporate elements of a modern Australian wedding. A month after Steve proposed to me, my parents kick-started the action by selecting an auspicious wedding date, based on our date and time of birth. The Buddhist monk whom my family consult time-to-time selected 23 July 2016, based on the compatibility of our birth date and time. If you think this is a hassle, be prepared - we're only at the beginning!

Another important date, perhaps even more important than the wedding itself is the Betrothal Ceremony, also known as Guo Da Li (which from hereon will be referred to as GDL). Usually held two weeks before the wedding date, it is a formal meeting between the groom and the bride's family. However, due to logistic issues (us being in Australia and my parents in Malaysia), we've decided to have the GDL on 11 June 2016, coinciding with the Queen's Birthday long weekend. During GDL, the groom's family present the bride's family with various proposal gifts such as traditional wedding cakes, fruits, jewellery and various other knick-knacks. 

My family have started the preparation process weeks before the date, because they had to prepare the groom's betrothal gifts (聘礼) and the bride's return gifts (回礼), which means double the work. According to Teochew traditions, all the betrothal gifts are presented in straw baskets which are printed with auspicious motifs of flora and fauna.

Teochew betrothal and wedding baskets

Before the GDL ceremony, we faced a slightly awkward situation, whereby Steve and I were both staying in my family home, which will make the GDL ceremony essentially redundant and silly because the gifts would already be in my parents' hand. We were going to overlook the whole farce initially, but one of our family friend, Ms. Song was so generous to "adopt" Steve for the night and to be his chaperone for the GDL ceremony. Usually the chaperone who accompanies the groom to the bride's house is an elderly woman who lives a "good life," i.e. married with children, good career, bright personality, etc. 

The Chinese are a superstitious lot and believe that everyone's life is pre-destined. So by selecting a chaperone who meets all the criteria, it is believed that the chaperone's fate and luck will rub off on the couple as well. 

So, a night before our GDL, we dropped Steve and baskets filled with the betrothal gifts at Ms. Song's house. It was my first night sleeping without Steve since February this year, so I was a teensy-weensy bit sad when we kissed goodnight/goodbye in front of Ms. Song's house.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early in preparation for Steve's arrival. I was instructed to wear my brightest, reddest dress because red is the auspicious colour. Mum and Dad hung the hong cai (红彩) - red drapes and lantern used to announce to passer-bys about the impending big day. 

Hong cai and lanterns

Soon after, a car honk indicated that Steve and his chaperone, Ms. Song had arrived!

The groom party

The event started with Steve presenting the baskets of items to my dad. Items that were presented include: 
  • 2 bottles of whiskey - Gift for father-in-law
  • 8 oranges - not sure why but mandarin/oranges are always presented during auspicious events.
  • An assortment of peanut and sesame candies 
  • A pair of dragon and phoenix candles 
  • Red envelopes with money in them for various purposes
  • Traditional wedding invitations
  • "Four Touches of Gold" (Si dian jin 四点金) jewellery for the bride
  • A slab of roast pork - which is used to symbolise the bride's virginity (what...)
  • Traditional wedding cakes - to be distributed to the bride's relatives.
  • The bride price (money stuffed in red envelopes to be given by the groom to the bride's parents)

Traditionally, a whole roast pig is presented to the bride's family, who would then carved up the roast pig and distribute it among relatives and friends. However, we decided to simplify it and opted for a slab of roast pork instead.

According to the ancient customs, there were supposed to be more items in the baskets. But we simplified the process and used red envelopes stuffed with cash to symbolise the items instead. In no particular order, the purpose of the red envelopes:
  • Gratitude money to my mum for bringing me up (离乳金)
  • A few red envelopes for the bride's family to clean and fix up the house (厅仪大礼,门仪尊礼,洗洁礼)
  • A red envelope for the bride to buy a pair of bridal shoes (新娘鞋)
  • A red envelope for the bride's hair and make-up (修容礼仪)
  • A red envelope to symbolise banana (not sure why parents didn't just buy some bananas...)

All red everrrthang.

One of the items that my parents particularly insisted on was the "Four Touches of Gold" (si dian jin 四点金). As the name suggests, the Four Touches of Gold is a parure of gold jewellery (1. necklace and pendant  2. bracelet/bangle  3. ring  4. A pair of earrings) requested by the bride's mother and given by either the groom or his family, as a wedding gift to the bride. 

The teochews are a money-savvy lot and the bride's mother would request the "Four Touches of Gold" for her daughter's safekeeping. It is also a welcome gift to the bride to show that she'll always have a roof over her head. Auspicious motifs such as dragon and phoenix, or the double happiness sign are prominent features of the gold jewellery. The bride will be presented again with the gold jewellery during the tea ceremony and she'll wear it throughout her wedding. 

Four Touches of Gold with hand-carved dragon and phoenix.

If you're starting to think that the Chinese culture favours the bride's family more, save the thoughts for later because it is customary for the bride's family to return gifts for the groom's family too. But first, Steven presented the traditional wedding invitations to myself and my dad. Written in traditional Chinese characters in the ancient Chinese wording and format, the invitations read more like formal letters: The first letter/invitation is addressed to myself (the bride) formally asked for hand in marriage, whereas the second letter/invitation addressed to my dad is a letter requesting for my dad's permission to marry me. The letters also include the date and time of the wedding. Essentially the letters act as a "contract" of sorts. 

Steven presented the wedding invitations to my parents and myself

The Chinese are also a reflective and respectful lot. After all the fuss with presenting the betrothal gifts, it's time to introduce Steve to my ancestors (namely my late-grandma and grandpa). We stood in front of the family altar and prayed to my ancestors for a blissful marriage ahead.


After prayers to my ancestors, my parents adjourned to the dining area to prepare the return gifts, which was packed in one of the wedding baskets. The return gifts consist of:
  • Two boxes of the traditional wedding cakes
  • Part of the bride price money
  • Two bottles of Fanta (I'm not sure why not Coke or Sprite, but Fanta has always been the norm..)
  • The dragon candle
  • Gold ring for the groom (to be presented again during the tea ceremony)
  • A few packets of the peanut and sesame candies presented earlier
  • Oranges 
  • Ginger - to symbolise that our life will reach as far and deep as the ginger roots...
  • Seeds and grain - a symbol of fertility
  • Dried longan 
  • Charcoal ("black gold") - a symbol of prosperity
  • Traditional wedding invitation from bride's parents to groom's family.
  • Red envelopes with cash for son-in-law: birthday money, money to buy property, money to buy shoes
  • Red envelopes with cash for groom's family.
  • A strip of roast pork belly from the betrothal gifts

Return gifts

...and with that, our GDL is complete, and we are officially engaged! Throughout the whole process, I feel that my parents have invested a lot of thought, effort and money to ensure that it's a memorable event. Not only that, each element and steps involved in the GDL are blessings for Steve and myself. Modern beliefs and lifestyle may have make the GDL seem backwards and and irrelevant, but it is centuries of tradition which shows the parents' love and blessing for their children, plus a show of respect and goodwill between two families. Moreover, the somewhat tedious process is also a groom's show of love and commitment towards his bride, a proclamation that the marriage is legitimate, witnessed and blessed by the elders. 

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