Saturday July 24, 2010
The wedding doctor
By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
A scientist has “transformed” herself into a wedding planner to help couples realise their dreams of a fairy-tale wedding.
Call it a girlish fantasy but most little girls dream of having a fairy-tale wedding and living happily ever after.
Dr Khoo Kien Ling was no different. Only in her case, she went from being a scientist to becoming a wedding planner in order to help others realise their dreams of walking down the aisle amidst a beautiful setting.
“I love happy endings. Couples should be stress-free on their big day because it’s a celebrated occasion,” says the founder of Adamas School of Weddings (www.adamasweddings.com), Malaysia’s first wedding planning school.
It’s the international division of Weddings Beautiful Worldwide, the oldest wedding planning school in the United States, which was established in 1968.
Dr Khoo, 32, finds it challenging to educate couples on the importance of having a wedding planner.
“I tell my clients they should enjoy their own wedding. In Malaysia, a lot of people want to become wedding planners but are not confident of going out there and doing it. Or, they don’t know how to acquire the knowledge,” she says.
Since young, Dr Khoo loved planning events, especially her own birthday parties. She would do the artwork, design paper cuttings for decorations, prepare party packs, make cards, organise the games and generally ensure the event was a success. Anything girly interested her, including wrapping gifts, cross-stitching and origami.
How, then, did she end up as a scientist?
“My results were good in school so my parents encouraged me to take up engineering, which was my basic degree. My supervisor commented that I was quite an organised person and suggested I pursue my PhD. So, I continued studying and enjoyed it,” she says.
It’s hard to imagine the sparkly-eyed Dr Khoo behind a computer analysing ions and molecules but that’s exactly what she did after graduating from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Her doctoral dissertation was in computational modelling and dielectric properties of the hollandite (a naturally occurring mineral).
A mouthful indeed.
“It’s basically about structuring ions and discovering new things,” she says, giggling.
Dr Khoo then worked as a research associate for a year, but after being away from home for seven years, she opted to return to Malaysia. Armed with a doctorate, she quickly got a job as a quality management representative. The daily grind of working continued for three years until she chanced upon a wedding planning portal offering home study courses.
Something was triggered in Dr Khoo’s mind and, suddenly, all her childhood memories of organising events came flooding back. Her business sense kicked in and she visualised herself having a wedding school. So she signed up.
“Before enrolling, I registered my private limited company because I knew this was what I wanted to do. I hired a company secretary and a lawyer. I named the company Adamas because it means ‘diamond’ in Greek,” she recalls.
After a year of study, Dr Khoo became a certified wedding planner, quit her job and bade a temporary farewell to science.
It was a bold move — after all, she was a newbie and had to compete with other established wedding planners in town. This did not deter her. The pie was big enough for everyone.
From her home, she started operating Adamas Weddings, a wedding consulting firm, and in 2008, obtained a licence from Weddings Beautiful Worldwide to offer a similar course to produce wedding specialists in Malaysia and Singapore. The first intake was last November. Students can opt to do a home study programme (maximum one year) or attend classes (four-month duration) at the school.
But while she had all the theoretical knowledge, Dr Khoo discovered putting things into practice was a new ball game.
“Right after my course, I planned my friend’s wedding for 500 people. You can get all the theory from books but, in practice, it’s totally different. I had two staffers to help me out and it was frenetic. The dinner was held at a restaurant, and I had to control the lighting, do the audio and double as MC! It was a nightmare but a learning experience nevertheless,” remembers Dr Khoo.
Now she knows better and has eight to nine assistants during an event. To enhance the course, Dr Khoo also incorporated practical lessons for her students, who range from teenagers to those in their mid-30s looking for a career change.
They have practical sessions with different professionals on fabric types, bridal make-up, photography, Internet marketing, wine tasting, venue visits and whatever else the industry needs. Students are also given a chance to do real planning for new clients of Adamas.
“I had to learn it the hard way because all I learnt was theory, but I want to make sure my students have field experience. Once they graduate, I will still monitor their progress or hire them to help me out.”
To date, Dr Khoo has planned 10 weddings and birthday parties — a small number but one that is growing, thanks to her attentiveness and care in getting things done. While she used to regularly attend international conferences for scientists, these days she attends wedding planning conferences to share new ideas with her students. Naturally, it’s more fun.
“Of course I miss developing new things as a researcher but both science and wedding requires analysis, concept, execution and action. Researching for science requires attention to detail, and planning a wedding is similar in that sense. Since I’m from a science background, I do everything according to procedure,” she says.
Dr Khoo sees wedding planning as understanding the couple (analysis), proposing concepts and flavours for couples (concept), sourcing for suitable vendors while keeping to the couple’s budget (execution) and ensuring the wedding proceeds without a glitch (action).
She charges RM9,000 for consultation based on two functions i.e. wedding and reception.
“If people think something is impossible to achieve, I want to do it and do it fast! So far, I’ve been lucky and haven’t made any boo-boos. I want my school to grow bigger, and perhaps, be able to invite famous planners from overseas to give talks.”
Adamas School of Weddings has three intakes a year: January, May and September. Courses are conducted in English and Mandarin, and the average class size is around 10 students.
Incidentally, Dr Khoo herself will be tying the knot at the end of the year and is giving her students the chance to plan the event.
“I’m having an eco-friendly theme and I’ve told them they must use recycled paper. The rest is up to them to propose to me,” Dr Khoo gushes.