Friends Will Be Friends IV: The Flower of Amsterdam

25 07 2008

With reference to Parts I and II

Lydia (or more endearingly Bobo in some circles, though she has since renounced the nickname) was, and still is, more than a friend to my wife. They had met in a polytechnic orientation camp; Lydia was a freshie, and my wife was one of the group leaders. In a rouse to get closer to the freshies, my wife had masqueraded as one of them and sat next to Lydia, who immediately hit it off with her and became fast friends, before my wife was ratted out by a clueless lecturer who asked her why she wasn’t in class.

Lydia’s mother had always regarded my wife as her own daughter, and had told her that “Fate brought the two of you together, and nothing can ever tear you apart. You are as good as a daughter to me, and I know you will take care of my daughter like she was your own sister as well.”

I first met Lydia 6 years back when I was just starting to date my wife and heard a friend of hers needed help with her actual day wedding photography. Being a fresh boyfriend only too ready to impress, I only too readily agreed to assist her in helping out a friend I hardly knew.

Lydia’s wedding day was to eventually cause a 5-year-old bad impression on me.

After the wedding, I sent some videos of Lydia’s happy day to a guy I knew who did post production work to compile into a DVD for Lydia. I remembered pulling a few big favours to ensure Lydia got the DVD done properly, but what I forgot was to get the DVD done promptly. I received a call from Lydia about a week or two after, which was when the whole trouble started.

I was first struck by the odd tone of voice Lydia used to ask me if the DVD was ready. It was not, and I was then summarily reprimanded over the phone for taking too long for so simple a task. I listened to her rants, thinking to myself, “What the hell…? I thought I was doing you a favour!” My conversation with Lydia only lasted a couple of minutes, after which I reached a point where the only thing I could do was pass the phone to my wife before I said something really bad and things really got out of hand.

For the next five years, I tried to avoid meeting with her as much as I could, which was not entirely difficult, for she had married a Dutch citizen, and was moving to Amsterdam before the year was out. When we did meet, I was less than polite, and often my wife would just decide not to bring me along to any get-togethers of any sort that involved her presence.

And thus the story went, unresolved differences collecting dust on a shelf for five years without a second thought. Until Sunday night two weeks ago.

**********

Lydia had returned from Amsterdam a couple of months earlier, among other reasons, to be with her her mother, who was due for neurosurgery earlier this month to remove a tumour in her brain. She called my wife a while after she had somewhat settled down, and heard of our plans for the wedding. Eventually she was able to put aside the more pressing affair of her mother’s condition to agree to be one of my wife’s sisters for the wedding.

In the course of the discussions with Lydia on Sunday night’s “brothers and sisters” meeting, my wife had asked Lydia, “You’re here for your mother, you should be concentrating on staying with her instead of messaing around with us.” To which Lydia replied, “Your wedding is only one day. For the things you did for me for my wedding, this is the least that I could do.”

Lydia had, in fact, volunteered to do our actual day photography, upon hearing of our troubles getting our other friend to commit to the job and his non-appearance at the gathering that night.

After 5 years, when I first saw Lydia again on Sunday night, the bite of that telephone conversation was still raw in my mind. I had not expected anything more than the fun and games a sister would have on the hapless groom the morning when he would have to try to fetch the bride out of her parents’ domain. When my wife told me about her volunteering her services, I wondered if I was wrong about her.

And then Michelle came up with her proposal. Michelle’s idea was to get Lydia to supplement the professional photographer’s work with the cameras we had, and the fact that she was such a close friend would mean the quality of her photos would by no means be any less than the most heartfelt work a photographer of any calibre could offer to a friend. I lost all notion of my grudge against her when I saw her eagerness and readiness to help out a friend without a second thought.

Later, as I was sharing a smoke with her in my balcony, I told her one of the main reasons why it took so long for me to consent to Michelle’s suggestion to hire a photographer was because of her. I told her my grievances against her the last 5 years and how that suddenly went down the balcony drain that very moment, retelling the story of what had happened that fateful phone call five years ago, how I had thought of her at the time all the way till that moment, and asked for her forgiveness.

The flower of Amsterdam and the Ah Huay of my wife’s social life gave me an endearingly blank stare. She hd absolutely no idea what the hell I was talking about.

So five years ago, I didn’t think I deserved getting scolded from someone I barely knew for doing her a favour without asking for anything in return. This night, I didn’t think I deserved her return of the same favour. And then in a moment of rare honesty between two almost complete strangers that could have turned into a Hallmark moment of forgiveness and grace, she tells me she didn’t even know I was pissed with her all this time. Hmm.

Obviously we’re all okay now. I’m still recovering from the soreness of my slapping myself in the forehead for realising how stupid I was the last 5 years.





The Wedding Post Mortem – I’m Gonna Miss Being a Kid (Part 2)

23 07 2008

Welcome to Part 2, the sombre side of things. For those of you who just joined us, you might want to take a look at Part 1, though it isn’t entirely necessary.

The experience of a wedding is not for the faint-hearted. Fun as my wedding celebrations process was, the amount of planning in the areas of logistics, organisation, planning and finance is enough to make a grown man cry and his wife-to-be scream. Did it happen to us? Hoo yeah. But that’s where your friends come in. If you’re not the very social type and don’t have people around you that you can properly trust and that isn’t family, your wedding planning is gonna be a damn lonely affair. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have a small group of our own personal heroes that made the things we hoped could happen, happen.

That being said, I would encourage any couple who is legalising their union to please hold a wedding. Hold a big, expensive one, with a lot of stuff in it, all them bells ‘n’ whistles. Do it in a good restaurant with good food and responsible managers. And invite a minimum of 200 people. And get as many friends involved as possible. And think up the wackiest possible things to do to entertain your guests.

It might end up being fun, or it may not. But whichever way it goes, and no matter how many words I put into this blog to explain my experience and how it affects me, you just got to do it to yourself, because it’s going to be a fucking wake-up call.

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It was our wedding planning that redefined (or “undefined”) my thinking of what friendship means. Right up to this point, I thought the people I call friends, the people I don’t call friends, and the people I stopped calling friends, was pretty well-defined in my spectrum. Looking at what our friends had done for me to make this wedding happen made me see my social circle in an entirely different light. The friends we had with us that night were friends that give without a second thought. The friends my wife and I were that night were friends in need. And the ones I blamed for not being there for me the night the wedding planner attacked were more in need of friends than I was in need of them.

It is not easy to come to this point, where one stops laying blame and starts empathising. I can only say, now that I’ve seen a friend in need from my own experience, that laying blame is the stuff that breaks relationships, tears families apart, creates crimes, starts wars. So, don’t.

**********

The wedding dinner itself also proved an eye-opener for me. We had only wanted to provide some form of entertainment to an otherwise frivolous, somewhat inane event that involved two people that most of the event’s attendees didn’t even know. We wanted to do a show, to keep people involved as an audience, and to keep us involved as a couple, to our family, our family’s family, and everyone’s friends. What we didn’t anticipate was their response to us, and more importantly, their response to each other, when something as tiny as a skip during a march-in, or as simple as a rickshaw, could get people talking… to each other.

I personally know of relatives and relatives once, twice, three times a-removed, who have never spoken to us or each other for years and years (be it for loss of contact, grudges, family feuds or court cases), who, by some miracle, came together into one small little restaurant of 26 tables to witness the union of a couple, only to find themselves in a reunion of relationships. People who came to our wedding curious, expectant, trepid, bored even, ended up laughing, dancing, cheering, clapping, completely immersing themselves in the moment… all because our invitation card stated rather subtly, “Dress Code: 1930’s Shanghai Glamour”, and my wife’s sister decided on a whim to include a rickshaw she could rent from a props warehouse in the People’s Association.

Proof that making your wedding different can make a difference to people’s lives, even if it’s just for a little while.

**********

The biggest wake-up call of all, was the dinner bill. Not something I didn’t expect, but it really doesn’t hit you until your restaurant manager actually gives you that check with a smile.

In my entire life, I have never had to pay so much money upfront on a single event, until last Sunday. It hit me that the days of my youth, where my supply of spending money seemed constant and never-ending, where things I couldn’t pay for I could still bank on the next month, came to a head with this one celebration. Faced with a 5-digit bill to pay, no wallet (left it in my hotel room), and a bunch of people impatiently waiting for me to attend to their sabotage session involving that infamous “5-course wine, chillied peanuts and a raw egg in a cup”, my immediate thought was one my parents, all my sisters and my own wife had tried to tell me all my years of knowing them: “Don’t anyhow spend anymore.”

Many would think the angpow money would take care of most, if not all, of it. Some might even think they could profit from it, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that you just contributed a big fat fucking wad of money into the F&B industry. It doesn’t take away the fact that in a society such as Singapore, in an economy as inflated as we are today, in a nation where a car costs about twice as much to own because the government takes half of what you pay for it, as a middle-income earner in an island full of middle-income earners, you probably can’t afford the inital expenses of your own wedding and have to ask your family to help.

Thanks to my wedding, I am now as thrifty as an old lady in a one-room flat who keeps everything she can lay her hands on because “they all cost money”. More importantly, thanks to my wedding, “family” has taken top spot in my spending priorities; “gadgets” and “guitars” has been relegated to an obscure corner of Lim Chu Kang.

I am really gonna miss being a kid.








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