Saturday, August 15, 2009

The bride wore black

By Debra Chong

ALOR GAJAH, Aug 15 – The cheeks of the young children were stained with chocolate as they munched on Pocky chocolate-coated sticks while weaving in and out of the many legs that crowded the tiny living room in Teoh Beng Hock's family home here late this morning. Their eyes rounded in wonder.

A table in front of the family altar was laden with cakes and other traditional delicacies, including several kinds of sticky fried sweets peculiar to the Hokkien community during weddings only.

But nobody moved to help themselves to the food. They were waiting.

Soh Cher Wei arrived with her parents and siblings at her late fiance's home close to 11am. Today marked the day she would be formally inducted into the Teoh family, even if her intended no longer stood by her side.

The primary school teacher got engaged to the political secretary to first-term DAP Selangor executive councillor Ean Yong Hian Wah while he was a reporter with a Chinese daily, after a two-year courtship.

Cher Wei, who recently transferred back to her family home in Batu Pahat, was met at the door by Beng Hock's mother, Teng Shuw Hor, 56, and handed a bundle of lit joss sticks, smelling faintly of sandalwood.

Both made their way barefooted to the porch where a small, roofed shrine stood in a corner. Hands clasping the joss sticks, they bowed their heads in respect of the sky god before planting a few into a pot inside.

They returned to the main altar where Cher Wei continued her obeisance to Beng Hock's ancestors and family deities even as a slow Buddhist song played on softly in the background.

The all-important tea ceremony that followed next was highly-charged.

Cher Wei, dressed in a thin, knitted white cardigan over a knee-length black dress, knelt down alone in front of Beng Hock's parents and offered them a cup of tea each.

They accepted with both hands, drained the bitter brew, and completed the Chinese custom welcoming their younger son's wife into the family by handing her the traditional red packet.

The tears that glittered as they slid down her thin, pale cheeks were the only adornment on her face as Cher Wei greeted her weeping new in-laws, especially when 29-year-old Teoh Lee Lan, Beng Hock's youngest sister, slipped a bright gold band onto the ring finger on her right hand, marking her new status.

The 28-year-old would have exchanged rings with Beng Hock himself on July 16 instead of through a proxy had things turned out differently.

As matters stand, Cher Wei who is in her first trimester, is still waiting for word from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on whether her unborn child will be allowed to bear the Teoh family name on the birth certificate.

In Malaysia, a newborn's father has to be physically present and produce the marriage certificate before his name can be recorded on the birth certificate. In the absence of one, the space for the father's name is left blank.

But with today's ceremony over, Beng Hock's sweetheart now holds the right to have her name engraved on his gravestone at the Nirvana Memorial Park in Semenyih as his wife in accordance to Chinese custom, said Kerk Kim Hock, a distant uncle related by marriage to the deceased.

Kerk, who was formerly DAP's secretary-general, was acting as spokesman for the still-grieving family.

Beng Hock and Cher Wei had originally planned to tie the knot on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, a very romantic date according to the Chinese calendar as it marks Mid-Autumn Festival Day, which falls on October 3 this year.

The ceremony was brought forward to today, coincidentally the 15th day of the eight month in the Western calendar, to accommodate cultural sensitivities.

The Chinese believe that the soul of a deceased person remains in the human plane for seven weeks before departing for the next world.

They also believe the soul will take this chance to send a last message to his beloved and his family through their dreams.

Tomorrow marks the fourth week exactly since Beng Hock's funeral. Yet no one in the family has dreamt of Beng Hock.

“We want to dream of him. But we are too sad,” said Lee Lan, bright-eyed with unshed tears.

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