SEPTEMBER 16 — Last week I attended the wedding dinner of a good friend. As I was (marginally) a part of the planning committee, I noticed that the agenda prepared by the couple included the item “7pm: Dinner Begins.”
I couldn’t help but ask him if he really expected to transform 3,000 years of Chinese culture. He said he could only try.
Lo and behold, the first course came out around 7.30pm. I should have taken a video of that exact moment the dish touched down on my table, for how often do you get to witness a bona fide miracle?
Although this overshot the timetable by half an hour, I am still proud to say that I’ve witnessed an eighth wonder of the world.
Jesus Christ feeds five thousand with a few loaves of bread and two fish; a Chinese wedding dinner starts before 8pm. I can’t tell which was more amazing.
Because, as every Chinese understands from birth, the #1 Iron Law of Chinese wedding dinners is “Thou Shalt Start Dinner No Earlier Than 5 Hours After The Time Shown On The Wedding Invitation.”
If you have the audacity to have the first course come out before the average bedtime of two-year olds, you risk insulting the entire Chinese community and the entire history of China.
No, the law states that you must absolutely wait at least a full half working day after the last guests have arrived before giving the cue to the restaurant folks to unleash the first dish which must appear accompanied by music which Darth Vader could march to, and has some climatologically challenged name like 7 or 8 Seasons.
I’m really not kidding with the Darth Vader remark. Because nowadays no restaurant worth their toilet paper would dare to merely bring out the opening dish and, uh, serve it. No way.
Before the guests even get a whiff (let alone glimpse) of those red mini-squids or meat-balls wrapped in pine-apple or what-not, there must be fanfare.
I recall many instances where the head-waiter was holding some terrifying Sword of Flaming Justice against a soundtrack that sounded like something you’d hear at an Olympics opening ceremony.
You half-hoped that another dude would come out with another burning skewer and both of them would fence until one got stabbed.
Then another restaurant had a waiter ride into the hall on a motor-bike holding the dish; I absolutely kid you not.
It certainly raised a few eyebrows and got people excited until you smelt the carbon monoxide from the bike’s exhaust fumes. Oops, not such a great idea for dinner after all.
Nowadays, the minimum amount of flair adopted is waiters being made to carry out the plates all together, then they make a circle or a line around the tables, wait till the music cuts and almost all the tables get served simultaneously.
But with all the truth I can muster, I can assure you that nobody cares (‘cos by that time, some have been waiting long enough to finish a whole season of MasterChef).
But despite Chinese people making up the community least concerned about a pre-makan extravaganza, restaurants and hotels can’t seem to stop. That first dish can never come out quietly anymore.
Back to the starting time.
My friend’s dinner notwithstanding, this iron law is why many Chinese folks sneak one look at the “official” time on the invitation card and mentally add a few hours.
The card says dinner will begin at 6.30pm? That means I can watch the 6pm screening of IT: Chapter 2 first, then only go lah
Far too many guests (usually foreigners) not aware of Chinese culture have come at the printed time and ended up wondering if they were at the right occasion. They didn’t realise that to arrive “on time” is to be pranked.
Some guests have even thought, oh, I will stick to “Malaysian time” and come just slightly later, only to discover that on this occasion “Malaysian time” can never compare with “Chinese wedding dinner time” when it comes to disparaging the official start time.
“Malaysian time” is for board-room meetings, university classes and rendezvous-ing at TeaLive. “CWD time” makes even the shifting of tectonic plates feel fast.
This is probably the reason why more and more couples are printing earlier and earlier start-times for their wedding dinners.
I don’t think this is a bad idea. In fact, maybe future couples can consider putting this on the card: “Dinner will begin sharp at 2pm. Haha, just kiddin’. No, seriously. Come before 6.30pm. Dammit.”
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.