Photography by JX K.
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it … Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
I think of these lines from one of my favourite poems as I stand, DOTA 2-inspired cocktail in one hand, kueh salat in the other, bopping along to a Jewish song I don’t understand. It’s four days into the New Year, and in front of me, guests from nearly a dozen different countries have just hoisted their hosts into the air, clapping and cheering and dancing along. Everyone looks drunk with happiness.
I just crashed a wedding in the name of work, I think, and it’s been a pretty incredible day.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t technically rock up to the wedding of a random couple, pick up a drink, and pretend to have been invited. Nor has this publication suddenly turned into Her World Brides; I’m not going to spend the next 1,500 words waxing lyrical about floral arrangements.
The story is much simpler. On New Year’s Eve, I got a text from my boss asking if I wanted to cover a wedding—an ‘unusual’ one, apparently, between a British Jewish groom and a Singaporean Chinese Catholic bride. I agreed, partly out of curiosity (I’d written about the Jewish community a couple of years ago), and partly because I am a sap who loves seeing other people in love.
I had no idea what to expect, but that didn’t matter in the end. It was a party like no other.
But let’s back up a bit. The story really starts a few years earlier, when the said Catholic and Jew walked into a bar in Angel, London. Sparks flew, the heavens smiled, and the former, in her own words, clubbed the latter over the head and dragged him back to her cave.
It sounds like the opening of a mildly blasphemous comedy, but this was how Sam Tournoff and Andrea Fam met several years ago, when Andrea was attending university in the British capital.
When she moved back to Singapore a few years later, Sam followed, and the two settled into life in a HDB flat in Clementi. Despite having lived all his life around London (“We’re from Watford, but we normally just say London because no one outside Watford knows where that is”), Sam took to chope-ing tables with tissue and ordering kopi with a sense of humour and an open heart.
The couple wanted their big day to reflect not only how their different backgrounds have come together, but how they’ve always viewed these differences as something to be celebrated.
“We’ve been lucky enough to be brought up exposed to different cultures—British, Jewish, Singaporean, Chinese, and Catholic, to name the few that impact us directly. Being a couple allowed us to deepen our understanding and love for each others’ differences and similarities,” Andrea tells me over text. (Their wedding hashtag, Mazel Huat, was a mash-up of their cultures, being a portmanteau of ‘Mazel Tov’—a Jewish phrase meaning ‘congratulations’— and ‘Huat ah’.)
Although Sam is Jewish and Andrea is Catholic, neither will be converting. Both of them identify as fairly non-religious, and there was no expectation that they should give up their own faiths to be with each other, even from their families.
Sam’s dad, John, described it to me as two traditions meeting in the middle. (He was raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, while Sam’s mother, Carol, observes a more liberal strand.)
“Sam and Andrea love each other, and their mutual happiness is all that really matters,” he said.
Meeting in the middle just about sums up their approach to the wedding.
“In a bid to neutralise the expectations from each side whilst also staying true to our own practices (or lack thereof), we decided very early on that our ceremony would be a cultural rather than a religious one,” said Andrea. However, this naturally ruled out being married in a church or synagogue by a priest or rabbi.
So they chose to get married at the void deck of their HDB block instead.
Void decks tend to be associated with Malay weddings or Chinese funerals, but the couple chose the venue for the special place it occupies at the heart of Singaporean life. Just like how the void deck acts as an informal meeting space for residents, they hoped it would provide a casual setting for their celebrations, while giving their foreign guests a glimpse of the life they’d built here.
Over the course of the day, I spy a bunch of aunties stopping to gawk at the festivities. Later, one of the groomsmen tells me he saw a random uncle walk in, pick up a beer from the bathtub, and make himself at home.
Although they opted for a civil ceremony rather than a religious one, Sam and Andrea nonetheless incorporated several Jewish rituals and customs into their solemnisation. (The celebrations the day before, which we didn’t attend, involved Chinese customs like the tea ceremony and gate-crashing.)
For example, they had a chuppah, or wedding canopy, a tented structure with four posts and a covered roof to symbolise the life that the newlywed couple (literally) begins under it. The roof of their chuppah used Sam’s father’s tallit, or prayer shawl.
They recited their vows under the chuppah , followed by a ritual known as the ‘glass breaking ceremony’. A glass was placed inside a cloth bag, which Sam then stomped on, smashing it (to accompanying cheers).
Although interpretations of the practice’s symbolism vary, one is that it represents how marriage involves sharing sorrow as well as joy, and committing to life as a couple therefore means embracing both.
After the glass-breaking ceremony, things wind down briefly for the guests to enjoy the wedding lunch (a nasi padang spread), and I take the chance to chat with some of them.
Are, from Norway, is peering quizzically at the trays of kueh on the dessert table. Although his wife is Singaporean, the couple now live in Norway, and he isn’t familiar enough with local food to know his ang ku kueh from his kueh dadar.
I ask him how he found the ceremony while he decides what to eat.
“It’s been super cool, though I didn’t really know what to expect,” he says. “Weddings in Norway can be quite formal. Most commonly, people tend to have a church ceremony and then dinner at a hotel or restaurant.” (I tell him that’s fairly common here, too.)
At this point, there’s a ripple of excitement around the tent: the ice-cream cart uncle has arrived. Sam and Andrea had ‘hired’ him for the afternoon by promising him a fee, asking to come at a particular time, and crossing their fingers that he would show up.
Are excuses himself to get ice-cream for his daughter, and I strike up conversation with Dagmar and Robert, Sam’s aunt and uncle, who have flown in from the UK for the wedding. (Coincidentally their own wedding was also a multi-cultural, interfaith celebration; Dagmar, from Germany, is Catholic, and Robert is Jewish.)
After patiently enduring my explanation about how the great rainbow bread/wafer divide is a lie, Robert gets up and comes back with two ice-creams: one durian and one raspberry ripple, both in rainbow bread (ie. the only correct option).
He keeps the former and passes the latter to his wife. They each take a bite, after which Robert pauses.
“Do you want to swap?”
“No, thanks,” comes the reply.
As the afternoon wears on, copious amounts of booze are consumed, hugs are exchanged, and the party continues. Everyone is sticky-fingered and in high spirits, borne along by a lion dance performance (requested by Sam) and a round of yam sengs.
After explaining the art of the yam seng, the groomsman leading the toasts makes his pitch: we will be drinking to the couple’s mutual respect, eternal love, and for Watford to win the Premier League.
We raise our glasses. About 20 seconds in, Robert and Dagmar run out of breath; I catch their eye and mouth ‘keep going’. Several of the guests look slightly stunned by the exuberant display of lung capacity.
Eventually, the floor clears, and Pitbull’s Hotel Room Service morphs into an energetic Jewish tune, signalling the start of the hora .
The hora , or chair dance, is one of the highlights of Jewish wedding celebrations. The bride and groom are hoisted onto chairs and lifted into the air by their guests, who then take turns carrying the chairs and dancing around the couple.
As the guests rush towards the dance floor, snapping pictures and clapping along, it strikes me that it’s not any one thing that made this wedding so special: not the hora, not the void deck, not the lion dance or the ice-cream uncle. It’s that all of these things came together to create something so much more than the sum of its parts. The beauty of multiculturalism, after all, lies not only in the individual traditions which make up the whole, but in how that whole is so much better shared.
And as Sam recited in his vows: many waters cannot quench love; nor can the floods drown it. The only thing to do, when you encounter it, is to give yourself over to joy. And on that afternoon, there was plenty.
I’m always up to party in the name of work, so send your invites my way. For everything else, there’s firstname.lastname@example.org .
The post We Crashed An Epic, Multicultural, Jewish-Catholic-British-Chinese-Void Deck-Wedding. Here’s What Went Down appeared first on RICE.