Our Diary The Grand Wedding Tour

After all the months of planning, it was finally time to get the "Grand Wedding Tour" underway - Rob & Jas achieved miracles by getting about 40 family and friends from all over the world to gather in Singapore & Malaysia to celebrate their multi-national wedding.

This was Keith's first visit to Singapore and we both really enjoyed walking the city - so many different districts - Indian, Chinese, Malay, colonial - the architecture is a real mix of old and new. We thought the street sculptures delightful and the streets so clean and tidy. We met up with Rob & Jas at the Raffles Hotel for a celebratory drink before heading out to enjoy dinner - a feat of endurance as they had just landed after the long flight from London!

Jas' father, Alaga, originally hailed from Singapore and the family still has many relatives and friends living there so they hosted the first of several wonderful wedding events at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. The venue was glorious and we enjoyed exploring the Gardens before the crowd gathered. It was lovely to see Keith's three kids all together again - Emily & Jon had flown in from Perth, Australia, Charlotte & Kayleigh flew from London with Keith's ex and Robert & Jas. The evening included a Chinese Tea Ceremony for those relatives who were unable to travel to Malaysia. It was interesting to get a pre-view as to what the tea ceremony involved as we were to partake on the wedding day in Penang. Apparently there is a very strict etiquette involved as to the order of the guests…

The next event was 5 days away in Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to take a 4½-hour coach across the bridge from Singapore to Melaka (aka Malacca), a World Heritage Site - granted for the living cultural heritage values. When the Chinese started exporting the spices from this region back to China, they inter-married with the local Malay women and the result is Peranakan culture - the best of each world. Since then the region has also been influenced by the Portuguese and Dutch as Melaka was a busy spice port. Today the river mouth has nearly silted up and Singapore has taken over the role of main shipping port - leaving Melaka largely untouched for centuries. We stayed in a lovely converted former warehouse right on the river and enjoyed walking the town.

The traditional Peranakan townhouse takes you back to a time when women hid behind elaborate partitions when guests dropped by - and every social situation had its specific location within the house. The Baba-Nonya Heritage Museum is arranged to look like a typical 19th-century residence and showcases furniture of Chinese hardwoods fashioned in a mixture of Chinese, Victorian and Dutch designs with intricate mother-of-pearl inlay. The Peranakan women wear long, straight sarongs with kebaya - long-sleeved tops covered with ornate embroidery and cut-work. Christine decided it would be fun to honour Jas' maternal Peranakan links by wearing one of these outfits - including the beautiful beaded shoes - to one of the wedding events. So, of course, Keith also needed to suit the mood and we managed to get him a Chinese jacket/shirt. The Nonya cuisine is also justly famous and we had some delightful meals!

Next stop was Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. KL is a hilly city about 50km from the coast and now a bustling 21st century city and home to the Petronas Towers. Once again we set off on foot to explore - just as well we are more-or-less acclimatised to Darwin's hot, humid weather - we're still in the tropics here, and felt sympathy for the other wedding guests from colder climes! We met Rob for lunch at the "stuck-in-time" colonial-era Coliseum Café where Keith tucked into one of their legendary sizzling steaks.

Rob & Jas were staying with Jas' parents who live in KL and we enjoyed a visit to their home and afternoon tea. It was interesting to see inside one of the houses - sensibly designed for the climate - and Swee Lee has a magnificent garden with lots of tropical plants flourishing in the heat and humidity of KL. Once again, Alaga & Swee Lee hosted a reception for their KL relatives, friends and work colleagues. An impressive Chinese Banquet was held at the Grand Imperial restaurant and we all stayed at the adjoining hotel for the night.

Next day we caught a 5-hour coach to Butterworth then hopped on a local ferry to get to Georgetown, capital of Penang Island. We had originally hoped to do some train travel up into the Cameron Highlands, but unfortunately the itinerary didn't work out - however at least we got to see some of the countryside instead of airports! The geology was really surprising - jungle-clad limestone hills jut out spectacularly from the valleys planted all over with palm-oil trees. The hills are riddled with caves that locals believe to be a source of great spiritual power, and over the years meditation grottoes became large-scale temples carved into the hillsides. Malaysia is the world's largest exporter of palm oil and you can see why - the palm plantations are everywhere.

Georgetown hails back to the 18th century when the British East India Company set up shop here because Penang was strategically located in the Straits of Melaka. Today Penang is one of the Malaysia's hottest tourist destinations. Rob & Jas had fully booked the magnificent blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion for the wedding guests and, although open to the public for daily tours, it was amazing to have the opportunity to explore at our leisure. Built in the 1880s, the house was commissioned by Cheong Fatt Tze, a Hakka merchant-trader who left China as a penniless teenager and eventually established a vast financial empire throughout east Asia, earning himself the dual sobriquets "Rockefeller of the East" and the "last Mandarin". The mansion blends Eastern and Western designs, with louvred windows, art nouveau stained glass, beautiful floor tiles and surrounds an open courtyard with cooling verandahs. It is a rare surviving example of the eclectic architectural style preferred by wealthy Straits Chinese of the time.

Rob & Jas organized a walking tour of Georgetown which took in Chinese and Indian temples and assembly halls - the architecture and carved details are amazing. In the courtyard of the Khoo Kongsi a Chinese family clanhouse, a film crew were making an advert for Korean food - the Asian film crew got all excited at the prospect of including some Westerners in their ads - and (from left) Rob, his mother, Yngve (Jas' Norwegian brother-in-law) and Jas are now famous in Korea!

To respect Jas' family culture (and to have some fun!), the wedding day was loosely based on the traditional Chinese wedding. The groom is supposed to arrive at the bride's family home to begin "bargaining" for his bride. Since Rob had been staying at the hotel, he and all the other young males took a ride around town in beautifully decorated trishaws. Meantime the bride and her girlfriends set up challenges that the groom must meet before they will let him get to his bride. The challenges included eating hot, HOT chillies, the best man having a leg wax, guessing which lipstick kiss was Jas', and many others. We all thoroughly enjoyed watching this process - and the guys had to hand over an appropriate amount of money in little red envelopes to the girlfriends. They had no idea how much was acceptable and the decisions took quite a lot of negotiating! Eventually Rob was successful and the couple (and entourage) graduated to the garden to enjoy a visit by the lion dancers. On a more serious note, the Tea Ceremony was an exercise in exemplary diplomacy - Rob & Jas must have slaved over the correct order and got it exactly right. Keith and I were honoured to receive tea from them - and took the opportunity to give them the Welsh Love Spoon we had commissioned to be carved especially - the handle incorporates a Chinese Phoenix and a Welsh Dragon - very appropriate as Rob's heritage is Welsh through Keith. And, according to tradition, the youngest sibling serves tea to the happy couple - and Keith's younger daughter Charlotte, joined by Kayleigh, made a lovely job of serving Rob & Jas.

Finally the moment was here - Keith's other daughter Emily acted as celebrant to take Rob & Jas through their vows to each other. Jas arrived on her proud father's arm looking stunning in her bridal dress carrying a bouquet of orchids. The ceremony was simple but moving and we are delighted to welcome Jas into the family.

The wedding reception was held in the inner courtyard of the Blue Mansion and the next day we all moved to the modern Lone Pine Resort on the north coast of the island for a few days of well-earned rest and relaxation! Our room even had a spa bath on the balcony which was a real treat for us yachties! After lazing around the pool during the day we all enjoyed eating at the local "hawker" stalls - particularly when we discovered a genuine tandoori oven! The food was wonderful…

In a gesture of appreciation for all the generosity we had received, Keith and his ex-wife hosted a guided walking tour of the famous Penang Spice Gardens followed by lunch in one of the pavilions - it was a lovely way to end the two week holiday before everyone flew back to their home countries. Rob & Jas are London based - Rob is working for Goldman Sachs and Jas is a doctor currently studying to become a consultant. Emily & Jon are both working in Perth, Em as a physiotherapist at a private practice; Charlotte is nursing in Reading in the UK. They have all done really well and we are very proud of them. We had a great time and thank Rob & Jas and their family and friends for inviting us to share their very special wedding.