The wedding I never attended…

I travelled to the Philippines specifically for a wedding, but I never attended. I was DIS-INVITED!

My sister-in-law’s brother and fiancé, both Vancouver residents, were marrying back in their native country. My brother stayed home as he said the occasion would be too much trouble, but I love travel, adventure, and a good party. I was eager to represent him.

A group of us arrived in Manila after a long 14-hour flight including my sister-in-law, her sister, our children, aunties, and the groom’s mother. We were detained for an extensive period: baggage delayed followed by a no show of our pre-booked driver. It was unbearably hot, and merely standing in the heat was an effort. Despite these obstacles, we were excited to start our holiday. Blue skies and palm trees were in abundance.

We travelled to the groom’s hometown, Bagac, a beautiful beachside village 3 hours away. As we approached, I gazed at the most luscious green trees (mango, cashew, banana), and sparkling blue water. The natural beauty contrasted with the grittiness of town and the odor of garbage burning. My children and I spent 5 days at a secluded resort playing on white sandy beaches, touring the local area via fishing boat and tricycle, admiring amazing sunsets, enjoying cheap massages, and visiting the groom’s family.

I stood out.

Most assumed I was Filipino due to my naturally dark skin, but I am not. They spoke Tagalo. I did not understand, and resulted in mysterious looks. I am sure they were thinking, “Why is that female rude, not responding to my greetings?” My kids and I were the rare few frolicking in the pool and ocean for hours on end. I tanned until I was BLACK. The family, “politely suggested” that I do not become darker before the wedding. White porcelain skin is a sign of affluence and beauty in Asian cultures. I was the anomaly. Many use umbrellas to shade the sun, white cosmetic powder on their dark complexions, and whitening soap. I did not even know that this type of soap existed until my sister-in-law purchased a suitcase full to take home. I threatened her, “If your special soap touches my skin, I may not control my actions.”

Next stop on our itinerary was the bride’s hometown, San Jose City. We squeezed into a van with luggage at our feet, the strong pungent odor of Asian fruit, and delicious deep-fried sugary banana skewers. I reminded myself to be grateful as I plugged my nose. I was lucky to have a seat.

Each time I entered a vehicle, I asked how long it would take to get to our destination? I am unsure why I continually asked as the response was always 3 hours. LIES! Filipino time does not run on a standard western clock. The driver became lost several times. He stopped to ask locals, and they would each point in different directions.

After 6 hours, we finally arrived at the bride’s family home set on acres of land. The view across the farm was breathtaking – vast rice paddy fields and fishing pond.

Both families did not mingle. After a tense lunch, we set off to our hotel. It was blatantly obvious that family blending was not a welcome or easy transition.

The fireworks erupted in the hotel lobby. The bride was unhappy with the lack of support from the groom’s side. Why did we visit the groom’s village immediately upon landing instead of her? She demanded more money to subsidize the wedding.   

I am sure Front Desk thought we were all crazy. Arguments in the lobby and parking lot and “our party” checking in and out several times. It escalated when the bride made a dramatic exit with her uncles. Their car tires screeched – burning rubber. Further debate and tears amongst the groom’s family. His mother wanted to stay to make amends and have peace, but the others wanted to return to their family village.

In the midst of the drama, our driver was busy unloading and reloading our luggage. He noticed hundreds of ants on my suitcases. My sister-in-law exclaimed, “Brenda, your coconuts!!” The family thought it was funny that my children and I hunted for coconuts of all sizes and shapes (pink, green, brown, baby, large) every day as our souvenirs. We tried killing the ant colony with de-sanitizer, but it was ineffective. Aerosol alcohol mists wafting in the air while I was frantically throwing coconuts in the garbage.

This final event added a minor diversion to the family heartache and squabbling.

Eventually, we all agreed to drive back to the village as a cooling off period. I should add another 6 hours away. I had been recuperating from whiplash and travelling for an extensive period was excruciating. It was the most uncomfortable and intense car ride, physically and mentally. There were tears and frantic phone calls. I listened to the family recite the same Catholic prayer again, and again. I am not religious nor am I am immediate family. Awkward bystander.

The groom remained in the city, but his bride went “MIA” for the evening.

Days later, the groom called to say the wedding would proceed, but all HIS guests were “NOT welcome.” This included his frail father, immediate family, cousins who travelled home from other parts of Asia, and our group including his mother from Canada. “Disbelief and upset” are weak descriptions. I tried to be supportive, but really what can one say to comfort.

On the wedding day, a group of us travelled to another beach town and US military base, Subic Bay, in a weak attempt to distract ourselves, forget the drama, and ensure the kiddies had some fun. The children rushed to the pool while the adults watched from the gazebo eating and drinking San Miguel light. Meal portions were tiny. Our skinny plate of nachos was slathered with a disgusting reddish Cheese Whiz spread that is oozed out of a tube. The group eagerly devoured duck fetus eggs instead. You can see the features in the egg. Being a weak-hearted Westerner, I refused to eat this crass food. 

I noticed a bridal coupler and their photographer at the beach. Of course, I had to take photos for Facebook as I told friends and colleagues, that I was travelling to SE Asia for a special wedding. The only wedding, I would be attending would be from a distance.

Despite the unexpected drama, this was one of my favorite holidays. My son asked during our trip, when we would come back. My children and I fell in love with the culture and my sister-in-law’s family. They adopted us as their family. They are the warmest and kindest people I have ever met. 

There was upset, but thankfully more laughs, family bonding, sightseeing, spectacular beaches, exploring food and clothing markets, sampling local dishes including the juiciest mangos I have ever had.

Maybe one day, I will be able to share the story of the Filipino wedding I did attend.


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