Monday, March 05, 2007

The Filipino-Chinese Engagement

Want a little satire of our Fil-Chi world?

Kevin Ong and Mandy Chua will be getting married, and today is their engagement day. I, the omnipresent and omniscient narrator, sit by the Chua residence’s open front door.

The living room is steaming, and I can only imagine the heat those ladies in gowns must be feeling under their three layers of foundation and piles of parlored hair. The men have already resorted to strolling and smoking in the parking area outside the door, but the women are somehow still trying to fake composure in their perspiration.

Over to my right, three senior ladies are discussing the couple while furiously flapping their handfans. The first is Josefina Chua, the aunt of the bride-to-be, chatting incessantly about how she had been the matchmaker of the couple (which we know she really was not). Next to her is Mrs. Gomez, the godmother of the groom. She seems relatively quiet compared to the other two, probably because of the tight dress that had been measured for her three months ago, back then in early December. Then lastly, there is Mrs. Adelaida Ong, Kevin’s mother. Oh the pride in her eyes as she talks about her first born!

The three women seem unable to agree whether the groom or the bride deserved the other more. Miss Chua obviously praised Mandy as the undeservedly lucky one, but Mrs. Ong would always argue the contrary. As they will probably not reach a conclusion even if we let them argue for the next five years, let’s leave them alone for a while.

Right across the room from where I sit, there lies a long table filled with pairs of everything. From gorgeous watches to stacks of cloth to the latest hello kitty slippers, the table is laden with red packages and the word 囍. Little Nicole and Lawrence Chua skip over to the table, grabbing at the elaborate gifts. They are immediately rebuked by Lilieth, however, their mother and the wife of Mandy’s older brother. So the chiasmus of toppling presents is delayed for the moment.

As the hour draws near, the guests brave the heat and try to fit into the suddenly very cramped living room. There are insufficient monoblock chairs to go around, and the dining chairs, living chairs, and office chairs are put in continuously by Mandy’s male cousins.

At long last, we are ready to begin. Mandy, who had spent the last four hours in the air-conditioned master bedroom, obviously had no idea of the summer heat, and she appears in a tight pink dress with a curtain upon her shoulders. Everyone could see Kevin smiling broadly as he looks upon his bride-to-be. Escorted by her mother and father-side aunts, Mandy is led backwards down the stairs. They say it’s for good luck, but if luck is defying common sense and walking downstairs in a long gown and silver high-heeled sandals, then I don’t know what’s unlucky.

So she descends in the midst of admiring murmurs. Young Lawrence lets out a scream which brings a loud, “Sh!” from his father immediately. Delighted by this encouragement, the toddler screams again, and again, and again until he and his little sister make quite an orchestral accompaniment to their young aunt’s entrance. Then just when Mandy’s walk is near completion, Lilieth successfully leads her two precious ones to a back corner of the adjacent dining room, though not without a farewell scream.

The ceremony begins! The people take turns putting chains, and watches, and bracelets, and rings, and all sorts of shiny objects on either Mandy or Kevin. The photographer, who is actually an elder cousin of Kevin, snaps picture after picture as he nudges closer and closer to the front.

He trips over a pot of flowers. “Oh!” “It’s okay.”

He sits down on the seat of the bride’s father, which he really shouldn’t, but nobody has the heart to tell him.

Then just when the ceremony is about to close in total amateur perfection, a symphony of boxes tumbling and paper ripping echoes through the living room. All eyes turn. Yes, Nicole and Lawrence have done it again. The tableload of packages is now on the floor by means of a pulled tablecloth. In the very center of the chaos, Lawrence smiles proudly while his sister tears the gifts apart.

Now, the displeasure in everyone’s mind is quite clear enough to me, and to everyone else in the room, for that matter. However, these future relatives seem to find it better if everyone pretends that he or she is not at all disturbed and that the catastrophic gift avalanche is a lovely little episode of childhood innocence.

With such a mutual understanding quickly spread throughout the room, the Chua aunts all help to bring the children aside, examining them ever so carefully for any possible injuries. After a full ten minutes, Lawrence and Nicole are declared fine, and everyone exclaims at the kids’ ingenuity of pulling the tablecloth in order to reach the gifts. Kevin and Mandy exchange the final tokens (which they would have done eight minutes ago if the photographer had not demanded his own presence at the exchange), and the people clap.

Now is time for the tea ceremony. Since someone had apparently remembered to prepare the tea set but not the tea, the ladies have to fan their make-up for five more minutes before the couple is ready to serve them.

First, Mandy holds the tray while Kevin serves the barely-flavored tea. Since he had been visiting with her relatives throughout their courtship, Kevin basically knows her family, and the couple pulls off the first round wonderfully.

Now, round two. Kevin holds the tray while Mandy serves the tea. All smiles, the two offer the symbolic cups to the five representatives of Kevin’s family (it would have been six, but someone told Kevin’s poor little bro that he was “odd-numbered” and could not come). After serving one godmother and one uncle, someone whispers that Kevin should be introducing them to the bride.

Kevin is surprised at his own negligence, and he immediately picks up, “Oh, I’m sorry. Here, this is Mandy.”

The tea ceremony being done after double rounds of introductions (compliments of Kevin), it is time for the all essential food. Everyone is passed a bowl of misua, served in mixmatched bowls, and perhaps a chopstick or two. The three elderly ladies we had mentioned, the parents of the couple, the couple themselves, and all other important guests (which theoretically includes everyone) gather to the dining table, where they are served two eggs in a bowl each.

Nobody is hungry, but everyone has to eat. So they do. Everyone eats one egg and splits the remaining one. Well, to be honest, this activity isn’t at all environmental. Why cook double the eggs when people are just going to eat half of their servings? Ask your grandmother.

At long last, the day is done. As the sun sinks nearer to the horizon in its golden glow, the tired guests finally have a reason to call the time “late.” Companies start their cars and leave off one by one, each family carrying a basket or packet of candies and biscuits. Everyone is happy. Well, at least until they realize they don’t have enough baskets to give away.

In a flurry, Lilieth and husband John rummage through the house, searching for those evasive baskets until they find the said baskets underneath the collapsed table cloth. They breathe a sigh of relief as the most important guests take off with the most damaged baskets, and the ceremony is done.

Wonderful engagement, wasn’t it now? Simply unforgettable.