PETALING JAYA: Every year on Aug 31, amidst Merdeka Day celebrations, one couple always has another joyful occasion to commemorate – their wedding anniversary.
In 2007, Ashley Pang Yek Sze and Swiss-born Bruno Wilhelm wedded in a vibrant ceremony that embraced the theme “Colours of Malaysia”, transcending conventionality by simultaneously celebrating the country’s multiculturalism.
Bride and groom, along with their guests, adorned traditional Malaysian costumes representing all races, while the festivities came alive with traditional dance performances.
Sixteen years later, the couple took a moment to chat with FMT Lifestyle about their special day.
Welcoming guests from nine countries, including many first-time visitors to Malaysia, their wedding theme was aimed at giving everyone a taste of what makes this country truly unique.
“We love Malaysia’s rich multiracial composition, so we thought, what better day to have the wedding than on Merdeka – what more in its 50th year,” shared 47-year-old Pang.
“When my wife suggested the idea, I loved it at once,” Wilhelm, 50, chimed in.
Their wedding theme was embraced wholeheartedly by guests from all over. “The Swiss ladies came in sarees,” Pang revealed. “In fact, they learnt to tie the saree themselves for the first time!”
Even members of her Malaysian family loved the diverse display of cultures on their daughter’s wedding day.
“We engaged a cultural performance troupe and incorporated traditional bunga manggar with kompang. This was followed by gamelan music for the bride and groom’s entrance,” Pang added.
For her and Wilhelm, the day unfolded like a live cultural show. “Some of our guests even commented that it felt like attending an annual dinner!”
To make the event even more out of the ordinary, Pang said it took place during the month of the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, a period usually considered taboo for such celebrations.
With bride and groom coming from very different backgrounds, they introduced Chinese wedding customs to their Swiss and French friends and family.
“It was a very busy day for us – we had a Buddhist wedding ceremony in the morning, then a tea ceremony just before the dinner,” Pang recalled.
“We were so busy greeting guests from table to table that we missed our own dinner! We ended up just having a burger in our room after the celebration.”
Laughingly, they revealed they plan to make up for this one day. “We will go back to the same hotel with our children and have a proper dinner on our 20th anniversary.”
So, how did their love blossom? “We met online, the Malaysian version of the rom-com ‘You’ve Got Mail’,” Pang chuckled, adding that their connection flourished through the exchange of emails.
For Wilhelm, who has adopted this country as his home, Malaysia’s allure was magnetic. “I came over for work, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
He also admires the warmth of the people here, especially the open-house customs.
“I’ve visited most Asian countries, but I always tell my friends that if I had to choose a country to settle in, I would definitely choose Malaysia all over again, no doubt about it.”
It is clear that, to this lovely couple, Merdeka is not merely a date on the calendar.
“Living harmoniously among Malaysians of different races and doing our part to give back to our beloved country, that’s what Merdeka means to me,” Pang reflected.
In fact, every year on their anniversary, the couple have a tradition of watching the Merdeka parade on television and displaying the Jalur Gemilang at home.
Their children, 13-year-old Alexander and one-year-old Clarissa, now carry forward their values and practices. “We teach our kids to appreciate our rich diversity and peaceful coexistence among all races,” Pang added.
And Wilhelm had this to say in conjunction with Merdeka Day: “Recognise all the remarkable achievements of this nation, and let’s continue working together towards an even brighter future!”