Couple holds wedding on Pulau Ubin with help of residents whom they befriended through volunteering

The communal way of life is within reach.

By Tanya Ong | March 8, 2018

Often held in hotels or other fancy venues, it is not uncommon for wedding banquets to be a highly elaborate and dramatic affair these days.

One couple, however, decided to break the mould with a wedding held in Pulau Ubin.

Terence Tan and his wife Jodi Thiele’s unconventional choice of wedding venue was not only a departure from the tried and tested hotel banquet, but also testament to the strong bonds they have forged with the Ubin community.

Wedding at Pulau Ubin

The wedding was a simple affair held by the sea on January 28.

The couple exchanged vows and their rings, had a tea ceremony at an Ubinite’s house, and a catered zi char (Chinese cooked food) dinner from the restaurant on the island.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Oei for Mackerel 
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Oei for Mackerel
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Oei for Mackerel

However, because this was possibly the first wedding held on Ubin in recent years, the couple had to work a lot of things out without a precedence to rely on.

When asked about how they managed to pull it off, Tan expresses deep gratitude towards the generosity of the residents and the help of their friends.

It was really all of these people coming together in a concerted effort to make things work, he tells us.

Photo courtesy of Terence Tan.

For instance, they had to borrow chairs from the temple on the island, and engage the help of a lorry driver, Ah Pai, to transport the chairs. Ubin boatmen were also roped in to help ferry all the wedding guests to the island.

One Ubin resident, Ah Kok, even opened up his home for the couple to have their wedding celebrations.

“Suddenly it seemed the efforts we’ve put in came back to us in kind, and we had just enough experience and knowledge to pull it off.”

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Oei for Mackerel

But why Pulau Ubin?

These “efforts [they] put in” refer to the volunteer work that he and his wife have done on the island, together with several other volunteers from various groups.

About a year ago, Tan and his then-fiancee started spending their weekends on Pulau Ubin helping to protect, promote and sustain the Ubin way of life.

They would create and organise programmes for the residents and visitors, and design activities for people to appreciate life on Ubin.

The reason? Because the place simply felt like home.

 “Hearing and seeing the residents’ way of life and neighbourliness, I felt I was home again.”

In his time on Pulau Ubin, Tan told that he has helped the residents in any way he could, however small – For instance, he helped the drinks stall grandma brighten up her fading shop signs and invited young volunteers to clean up a Ubin resident’s house.

Ah Ma’s drink stall. Photo courtesy of Terence Tan.
Ah Kok, with Belinda Low’s artwork. Photo courtesy of Terence Tan.
Tan with other volunteers at Living Fisher Village, Ah Kok’s home. Photo courtesy of Terence Tan.

Other than organising programmes for them, the couple also got to know the Ubinites’ stories and do portraits of them.

Photo courtesy of Terence Tan.
Photo courtesy of Terence Tan.

Given how strongly he feels for the community, it seemed only natural for him to hold his wedding on Pulau Ubin, and even more natural for them to involve the Ubinites as well:

“Jodi and I would be working with people we knew, kampung style, sharing the joy of hosting this day of our lives, giving everyone a really special day to remember too! …Financially, it also made much more sense to us to hold it on Ubin, since we’ve tended to give most our lives to helping others and had little left to spare.”

The value of kampung life

In Singapore’s fast-paced and stressful city life, the sheer volume of sights, sounds and information often result in tensions.

Tan hopes that he can serve as a reminder that kampung life, where humans live harmoniously with nature as well as each other, is well within our reach:

“At the end of it all, Jodi and I just hope that Singaporeans can see what it is to live harmoniously with one another, right next to nature, and that it isn’t out of their reach at all…What I hope is that people find a more meaningful way for spending their time and efforts…and get back to the best way to breathe, give, and live, back to the kampung way of life.”

And more importantly, Ubin’s heritage is not something to be taken for granted or turned into a profit-spinning fad:

“But what’s really important is that no-one takes this state of being for granted, or tries to buy out this sense of heritage. I certainly hope that getting married on Ubin isn’t just going to become a fad that’s synthesised for profit.”


Top photo courtesy of Carolyn Oei for Mackerel.

About Tanya Ong

Tanya knows pi to the 35th decimal place for absolutely no reason at all.

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