SINGAPORE — It was one of the most unusual requests that the boatmen plying the waters between Changi and Pulau Ubin have ever gotten: Over several hours, they must ferry more than a hundred wedding guests, many of whom came from faraway lands and have never set foot on Pulau Ubin, to the island.
It took about 10 to 15 trips in all – each bumboat can take up to a dozen passengers – with several boatmen helping out. Others on the island, including van drivers and restaurant owners, were mobilised too for the wedding of artist Terence Tan, 37, and his Australian wife, which took place on Jan 28.
Professing a love for the rustic life on Ubin, Mr Tan, founder and executive director of social enterprise Artsolute, said the chance to hold the wedding someplace “off-the-beaten track” came about by chance last year, when an Ubin resident called Ah Kok had offered to his house to hold the wedding celebrations. In the weeks after, the event quickly became the “talk of the town” among the Ubinites and the boatmen, who till today could not believe he managed to pull the wedding off.
Mr Kit Kau Chye, a 70-year-old boat operator who heads the Changi Point Ferry Association, recalled: “(When Mr Tan first broached the request with the boatmen), everyone was quite puzzled because it’s not common for people to organise their wedding on Ubin, so it was something quite unusual.”
Mr Tan noted that even as wedding preparations were underway, many were sceptical and initially thought “it was a joke”.
When the big day arrived, the sleepy island – which is currently inhabited by fewer than 40 residents – was transformed into a flurry of activity with a big wedding bash being held there, possibly in recent years.
To the amusement of the Ubin residents, who were also invited to the wedding, some 120 wedding guests turned up, comprising a mix of nationalities with people from Singapore, Australia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Japan, South Korea, India, and the United Kingdom.
A no-frills wedding ceremony, where the couple exchanged vows and their rings, was held by the sea. The area was decorated with sprigs of baby’s breath, candles, ribbons and colourful bunting.
Later, a tea ceremony and the cutting of the wedding cake took place at an Ubinite’s house, near the famous Ah Ma Drink Stall on the south side of Ubin. The party continued into the night, accompanied by the soundtrack of Chinese oldies, ethnic Malay music which played out on speakers powered by generators.
The wedding would not have been possible without the generosity and warmth of the Ubinites.
Mr Tan had gotten to know Ah Kok and his family a decade ago on a television shoot. Subsequently, he was invited by the Singapore Heritage Society to do volunteer work on Pulau Ubin, which involved getting to know the island’s residents, doing portraits of them and collecting their stories.
Mr Tan had met his wife in 2013 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She was traveling in Southeast Asia to learn puppetry, and had volunteered for a youth puppet arts education programme which he was leading, after she had heard about it through a friend.
The couple jumped at the idea of holding their wedding on Pulau Ubin as it was also economical, even though they had the uphill task of getting everything ready within three to four months.
As he had not heard of anyone holding a wedding on the island in this day and age, they “couldn’t exactly get a wedding planner”, said Mr Tan, who noted that planning the big day themselves made it “much more authentic”.
Among other things, he had to negotiate the costs for the catering of the food for example, and there was a lot haggling and working things out from scratch as there was no template or precedence to speak of.
There was also a lot uncertainty, with the wedding coinciding with the rainy season, and the couple could not be sure how many guests would turn up or what time they would arrive. As a result, they had to reassure the van owners and boat operators that things would work out, Mr Tan recalled.
The zi char (cooked food) restaurant on Pulau Ubin catered the food while chairs were borrowed from the temple. Guests were free to don casual attire to beat the humid weather, and some showed up in sarongs, for example.
Some friends were stationed at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal and the Ubin jetty to hold up a picture of him and his wife, and to help direct guests to the party venue. During the dinner, the Ubinites reminisced and traded stories about weddings held on the island in the distant past.
Mr Tan recalled that because of a flight delay, a guest had to come to the island straight from the airport. As he was the latest to arrive at 10pm that day, a boat trip had to specially arranged for him at the last minute.
“That’s what made (holding the wedding at) Ubin very easy because everyone was so nice… As long as you needed help, someone will help you,” said Mr Tan.
He said the experience has brought him and the Ubinites “closer together” and helped them strike up a kinship.
For Mr Tan, Pulau Ubin offers a respite and change of pace from the stressful city life.
“It’s a culture that is familiar to me even though I wasn’t born in a kampung… The second you step in, seeing (people of different ethnicities and nationalities working together) … This is precisely what our forefathers talked about…That is the lifestyle I am trying to protect,” he said.
He has since been invited back to Pulau Ubin for steamboat during the recent Chinese New Year festivities. In appreciation of the Ubinites’ hospitality, he gave hongbaos and oranges to the villagers and the businesses.
Adding that some of his friends have expressed interest in holding their weddings on Pulau Ubin as well, he said with a laugh: “I hope we’ve started a trend… Hopefully another brave soul will turn up and do the same!”