Gracie, Gracie, Married Lady*

Last November, I was chatting with Grace Chiam about my dinner reservation planned with my family for Christmas Day at the hotel restaurant and she assured me that everything was arranged as required.

Their wedding bands
With her excellent Marketing-Communications skills, Grace had the privilege to work with International brand hotels like the Hard Rock Hotel Penang, before she moved to Johor Baru to join the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru (DTHJB).

Her career in Johor had taken her to various job opportunities and I had the pleasure of working with her again and again even while she was with the Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast and recently, when she joined the Amari Johor Baru.

I met Grace when she first arrived in JB to join the team in DTHJB in 2014.

The then hotel General Manager, Simon McGrath, had invited me to have a hotel stay experience and provide them with the necessary feedback for improvement before the hotel opened its doors to the public.

The table setting with wedding door gift
In fact, during the construction stage he had given me a back-of-the-house tour because I have a special interest with what was happening at Jalan Ngee Heng, a familiar place where I grew up in our grandfather’s house opposite, at No. 154.

That day in June 2014, Simon introduced me to Grace, who had arrived in JB from Penang and was already busy with the numerous tasks in a hotel’s preopening stage.

It was lovely to meet with Grace, a young lady who had never been to JB and was about to start her career with the hotel here.

Then I learnt that she had hardly stepped out of the hotel since her arrival, so she knew very little about her surroundings, let alone JB city.

Aware that she was a newcomer who was totally alien to our city, I did not hesitate to offer to take her on my famous Fifty-Sen Tour, if she was interested and if she had the time to spare.

Grace at Warung Saga, a stopover in part of my
famous Fifty-Sen Tour with her in June 2014
When she graciously accepted my offer, I took Grace on a drive to show her the layout of our city to get a better perspective of the DTHJB and its location in her new neighbourhood.

After enjoying an overview of our city which was rapidly expanding from the old town to the new developments in Iskandar Puteri, Grace settled in beautifully into JB and her job with the hotel.

I didn’t know it then, but she told me later that, I was her first friend in JB. #FFIJB

Going back to my chat with Grace last November, we continued discussing various subjects until she sent me a photograph of a set of two rings with the caption, “Just bought our wedding bands!”

The pretty place card on the table with the classic Grace touch
I was delighted with this happy announcement and this suddenly brought our chit-chat to a whole new level.

She happily told me that she was going to grow roots in JB – because her Prince Charming is from JB – and they had everything for the wedding all planned out.

We chatted on about her wedding arrangements and Grace declared that her wedding celebration will not be a traditional grand banquet but instead will be 10 small celebrations planned to happen in 2020!

Grace, the beautiful bride, with [seated Left to Right]
Hari and his wife, Sharon, me and Cynthia
On December 29, I received Grace’s invitation to her wedding day planned for February 22, 2020 with the Registration ceremony scheduled at 12 noon.

“We are having a simple lunch and ROM ceremony with family and a handful of close friends in JB,” said her message.

“My most special day with my most special friends!” she added.

“I will always remember your kindness when I first arrived in JB,” Grace continued.

She told me that it was going to be a small and simple celebration with family members and only 10 other guests were invited.

Mr & Mrs Ng Kang Wei
I felt deeply honoured to be counted among the privileged 10 and quickly accepted her kind invitation. 

In the following days, we stayed in touch and had fun doing the countdown to her wedding day.

Grace reiterated, “You will always be my first friend in JB. It was significant for me, during my first few days in JB.”

Then I reminded her that I only did the first bit and she did well to find her own way around, made many good friends and even found herself a husband!

A day before her special day, Grace sent me a message with the seating plan which listed who I would be seated with at the wedding lunch.

They were Grace’s former colleagues, Hari (DTHJB) and his wife Sharon (former DTHJB), and Cynthia (Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast).

In a classic Grace-organised-event, she did not leave out any detail in that beautifully decorated banquet room, complete with a place card with the guests’ name on each table and of course, pretty ribbons and bows tied to the individual door gifts.

Signing the documents witnessed by their mothers
Bunches of hydrangeas in shades of mauve stylishly spilled over from tabletops to the floor and tall candelabras (Cynthia said it reminded her of Beauty & the Beast!) with lighted candles at various heights, adorned the center of each banquet table.

Standing graceful and tall in a matching mauve gown, Grace looked the radiant bride as she warmly welcomed family members and guests to the wedding lunch, hosted in a Chinese restaurant.

Earlier on Grace and I had discussed about her married name – Mrs Ng (Teochew) a Chinese surname which was also known as Hwang (Mandarin) and Wong (Cantonese) – and we concluded that she would share the same surname as my mum because my Teochew grandfather or Ah Kong was also named Ng!

Solemnly reciting her vows
Seated comfortably at the place assigned to me, I couldn’t help overhearing Grace speaking to her relatives at the next table, explaining in Mandarin – my command of this language has vastly improved (ahem!) – that I was her first friend in JB!

I guessed the relatives were just curious to know who these odd-persons-out-from-the-family were, and they couldn’t help asking Grace, to satisfy their curiosity.

When I had the opportunity to have a quick chat with Grace and her husband – Ng Kang Wei – I too had a question for them.

I asked Grace if he was the reason for her to move to JB – and he was a very good reason indeed – but she quickly clarified saying, No, they only met after she came to JB.

Grace with her mother, sister and brother
Well, this Johor young man was the reason for Grace to settle down here!

Then it was time for the wedding solemnization, so Grace and Kang Wei stood before the official from the Registrar of Marriages with the couple’s mothers to sign as witnesses on the legal documents.

It was a simple but solemn ceremony where the couple made their vows in the presence of relatives and friends before they signed the documents and exchanged rings as a token of their commitment to each other.

As I observed the proceedings, my thoughts flashed back to 15 July 2017 – a very special day for me – at the launch of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, held in the DTHJB and witnessed by relatives and friends, including Grace.

A precious and proud moment for Mrs Chiam, Grace's mother, as she witnessed the wedding solemnization
While I should be bursting with joy, I was overcome by a bittersweet feeling because that one person whom I dearly wished could be present to witness this precious moment, was not there.

Kang Wei introducing his bride to younger family
members before presenting them with Red Packets
As Grace solemnly recited her vows and signed those documents, I believed that this was a similar bittersweet moment for her too.

Then it was time to kiss the bride!

Then lunch was served. It was a lavish spread that provided more than enough for us to eat because some of the youngsters seated with us, did not do justice to the food.

Hari, who observes a vegetarian diet, had his meal served separately so there was an extra share in the dishes served to our table.

While the lunch was going on, the family conducted a traditional tea ceremony where the newly weds served tea to their mothers and senior members of the family.

The newly weds with their younger relatives 
Then Grace and Kang Wei sat down for the junior members of their family to serve tea to them.

I have been involved with the tea ceremonies for my nephews’ weddings, so I’ve learnt that this tradition is a good way to introduce family members to the new addition to the family and vise-versa.

Finally, it was the younger relatives’ turn to meet the newly weds and receive a Red Packet from their new family member.

I could not hear what Kang Wei said in Mandarin to introduce his wife to the youngsters, but it was good to see that he was maintaining tradition and teaching the younger generation to address his wife with her proper honorific.

Wedding Blessings to dear Grace and Kang Wei! #FFIJB
With the official part of the wedding ceremony officially over, the bride and bridegroom relaxed and had fun posing for numerous photographs to capture special mementoes of their first celebration in the series of wedding parties planned for later in the year.

“Thanks for letting me part of your celebration today,” I messaged Grace when I sent her photos that I had taken of her with her family.

And she replied, “Thanks for being part of my life.”

Wedding Blessings and Congratulations to dear Grace and Kang Wei!

May you have a wonderful next chapter of your lives together.

*Inspired by the song, Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady, performed by Barbara Streisand in the 1968 musical-comedy, Funny Girl.

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