'Oh dear*,' I thought as we pulled up, 'there's no way I can go in there looking like this!'
Only the night before I'd felt excited about attending a Cambodian wedding party. I made a point of explaining to my host that, having lived out of a backpack for the past three months, I had nothing to wear that even even resembled a wedding outfit. He didn't seem too concerned and assured me that whatever I wore would be fine.
It came down to a toss-up between jeans and a white shirt or a faded tie-dyed dress I bought in Malaysia for less than ten dollars. The shoes also proved difficult. Hiking boots wouldn't do, my eight dollar Kmart canvas shoes weren't going to cut it and I didn't think my only other shoes, black rubber thongs, were very appropriate. It was at this point I began to regret accepting the invitation.
I took to the local market and shops in Siem Reap (home to the famous Angkor temples) in search of more suitable attire. The only dresses I could find seemed to be cotton boob-tube numbers in floral print, more suitable for the beach than a wedding party. So I found myself searching in vain for some slightly classier shoes to match my tie-dyed number. Apparently the practice of binding feet has been all but abolished in Asia but the only shoes I could find that were larger than a size five were thongs. So I came away from my shopping expedition with a nice silk scarf I thought I could use to cover my shoulders (in keeping with cultural conservatism) and a pair of bamboo thongs with some fancy beading.
I tried to reassure myself that my wardrobe would be fine, considering it's completely acceptable to wear full-length matching pyjamas anywhere in public, at any time of the day (which I think is a fantastic idea). I was hoping the wedding party I was attending would be a low key affair, like the ones I'd seen taking place in marquees on the side of the road throughout the country. However, to my despair, we rolled up to a nice looking function centre, with dozens of beautiful Khmer girls milling out the front. Not only had they all spent at least half a day having their hair and makeup proffessionally tended to but they were dressed in outfits dripping in enough sequins and bling to make Lady Gaga jealous. Any ideas I had about being culturally conservative went out the window, as the women paraded around in short dresses and bare shoulders. It was at this point I began looking for a big rock to crawl under. During my trip I've had to define the words "bogan"and "dag" to my fellow foreign travellers numerous times and in my tie-dyed dress, scarf and bamboo thongs, I truly epitomised both.
After taking a moment to hyperventilate, I did what any girl would do in that situation. I took a deep breath, stuck my chin in the air and marched through the throngs of stunning women attending the party, before promptly plonking myself down at the table and slinking as far as I could under the tablecloth.
The party itself, like the outfits, was far flashier then I'd imagined. The venue had about seventy tables and there seemed to be a procession of singers on stage belting out tunes similar to the karoake hits I'd become accustomed to hearing on the local buses. There must have been about four hundred guests, although it was hard to tell because people would eat, promptly leave their table, which would then be cleared and reset for a new round of guests.
As the only foreigner at the party I found myself seated at a table with only men. Beer seemed to be the only liquor on offer and I had to assume, from the number of times they raised their glasses, that the idea was to drink as much of it as you could. My chopstick skills were put to the test as a range of Cambodian fare was brought out. We all finished eating and the cake suddenly appeared (always the best part of a meal!). The wedding party had been greeting guests at the door for hours and was now lined up at the door, ready to join the party. Then, to my disappointment, everyone at my table stood up and made hastily for the exit, slipping out before the bridal party even made an entrance (and before I got any cake!).
When I questioned my host abour our early departure (we were there less than two hours, it was only 8:30pm) he explained that he only knew the bride's brother and it's unnecessary to stick around unless you're well known to the family. We'd all left envelopes of cash for the newlyweds (US $15 dollars seemed to be the going rate) and I couldn't help thinking that this wedding party was more about making money than celebrating a marriage.
My Cambodian wedding experience might have been short-lived but the night was still young and I had my best clothes on (sad but true) so I decided to hit the town!
*It probably would have been more accurate to use an expletive here to describe how I was feeling but decided against it in the interests of some readers.