There are always great stories to tell at any wedding – and Thai weddings with all the usual trappings of tradition and intrigue are fundamentally no different to any nuptials the world over.
But the juxtaposition of the rich and poor, the foreign and local and the official and unofficial ceremonies of the kingdom, not to mention the dowries that are usually paid, make for some interesting stories.
Just this week there was the wedding of a gay English businessman and his Thai male partner in Prajinburi where a 5 million baht dowry was laid out as the happy couple posed in their pink outfits in front of the somewhat confused looking Thai mum and dad.
Then came news of a top celebrity plastic surgeon who got engaged to a lady whose face he had previously worked on at his Bangkok clinic. The dowry this time was a little larger, well over 100 million to be reasonably precise!
Earlier in the year was the “marriage” of two twins barely out of nappies in the far south attended by hundreds of villagers. The reason was to assuage the bad luck and ill health that had been suffered over many years by the parents, whose lives, of course, were then miraculously turned around.
Ahead of the birth of my fourth child I was contemplating this week on the two very different marriages that I have had in Thailand.
I originally married my first wife in 1990. I had diligently prepared all necessary papers and translations ahead of our visit to the registry office in Pahonyothin in northern Bangkok. When myself and my wife to be arrived by motorbike at the office – going in the right hand door that said marriage and not the left hand one that said divorce – we were to be disappointed however. The registrar said they did not marry foreigners and Thais at that office.
What to do I asked and the registrar thought for a moment before whispering, and I translate, “You might try the borough of love!”
He was of course referring to Bang Rak district in central Bangkok which on Valentine’s Day is besieged by couples wanting to tie the knot in a place named after love. As it turned out they were indeed familiar with the paperwork needed for foreigners to marry Thais.
This was just a day in July but off we went on the bike to Bang Rak where we were met with smiles. However, it was already late in the morning and there was a big queue ahead of us and we were advised to go for some lunch first.
After a bowl of noodles we waited and waited in the hot office as the clock slowly ticked towards four pm when a sign announced that time would be up for that day. At four pm we were told that we would have to come back the next day.
As all the other couples left over streamed out I asked if there was some way we could help with the staff’s overtime and for a small helping hand, 500 baht, we were allowed to stay on and be ‘processed’. The normal fee was just 20 baht but even 500 seemed a small price to pay for a lifetime of wedded bliss…..
By 6pm the papers had all been signed and we were man and wife. No witnesses, no guests, we put our certificates away and went for a celebratory drink in nearby Patpong…where else!
Many years later my second marriage was an entirely different affair in a village dozens of kilometers off the main road deep into the hinterland of Loei province in the north east of Thailand at a rickety old wooden house in the woods near a small village.
A cow had been slaughtered in our honour and when we arrived we were greeted it seemed by the whole village as hundreds turned out for the wedding, the first of a foreigner and Thai ever heard of in that village.
We declined the raw insides of the cow and had fried rice for our pre-nuptial lunch.
The traditional afternoon ceremony, which was quite unlike mainstream Thai ceremonies I had attended, was carried out at the house. Our hands only were covered in ‘sai sin’ or holy string that was also wrapped round the whole family and we held eggs while our hair was smeared with the earth of the village.
I laid out my modest dowry on the floor of the house and after it was cleared away all the villagers came to give us small amounts of money as a goodwill gesture, all of which was given to mum and dad after! I made a nervous speech with a microphone in Thai that was appreciated and hopefully almost understood.
It was a very happy day that myself and my English ‘best man’ who came with us will never forget. My second wife and I are expecting our second child next week.
Like many long term residents I have been to lots of weddings and a few years back I had the pleasure of being invited as a guest of honour at a Thai teacher’s wedding in a fancy Bangkok hotel. The lady in question was marrying a rich Thai man from the south whom she had met while in England.
The amusing part was at the morning ceremony at the hotel where the dowry was paid. It is traditional when a dowry is offered that the bride’s mother will wrap it all up in cloth and no matter if it is just a few thousand baht she will put it onto her shoulder and pretend that it is very heavy, something that always amuses the assembled guests.
On this occasion however I had never in my life seen such a huge pile of money, gold and jewelry that was arranged on the cloth on a low table. When the bride’s mum attempted to swing it over her shoulder there was no need to pretend – someone was called to help her as she nearly fell over with the weight of all that cash.