In February 2012 I made a crazy, but what turned out to be, awesome decions: quit my job and move to Korea. After two years I wrapped up my life there and moved on to travel the world. That was another two year stint before guess what, returning to Korea! So here I am, back in Kimchiland with lots to say...
Before I left for my adventure in Korea (at the time thinking i'd only be a year) I made two requests of my friends: 1. No weddings and 2. No dying. I guess it's pretty obvious why the later would be a request anyone would make when they're leaving the country, but are weddings really that big of an event to miss out on? Umm yeah. Actually next years wedding season is a big pull for getting me back to the United States, food, friends, dressing up, pictures, cake, drinking, dancing and who could forget the chicken dance. With this image of a wedding in my head it was hard for me to imagine what a Korean Wedding would be like, especially after hearing that their wedding halls are so affectionately named Wedding factories, and hearing many friends complain about having to attend. For those reasons I was a bit confused on how I should feel about being invited to my first Korean wedding last winter, so let me explain.
In Korea weddings are definitely a whole different ball game than what you would expect in the States, if I had to pick one word to convey that feeling it would be impersonal. In the US weddings are a day to celebrate the bride and groom, I emphasis the world day because it really is an all day (or two or three) event, as opposed to Korea where you can knock it all down to a few hours.
The first wedding I went to was for one of my co-teachers from last year and held in Gumi at one of the popular wedding halls that many people utilize for their big day. There's multiple rooms set up for the wedding ceremony and generally a large cafeteria / buffet area where the guests can congregate before/after the wedding. I arrived with a few co-teachers, got my picture taken with the bride (who looked like a Barbie on display) and then found seats for the ceremony. I was surprised as the ceremony started and many people were still talking, on their cell phones, and coming and going as they pleased. The whole atmosphere was a bit strange, very impersonal and a little too flashy - the bride walked down a runway with strobe lights, oh and no Wedding March. The ceremony was over within 30 minutes at which point we made our way to the buffet line, ate a ton of food and before long it was time to go home. I should also note that the buffet room was filled with tons of people, most of whom did not actually know each other. Not only were there the various guests from 'our' wedding but also the wedding taking place after this one and those in the other wedding halls which were on the same floor.
My second wedding took place about a month ago for my principal's eldest daughter and was a bit of a different experience. For one it was one of the hottest days of the year in mid August as opposed to a freezing cold January day, but also it was held at my principals church rather than a wedding hall. I had high hopes for this wedding, thinking maybe the church atmosphere would make it a little more like what I was used to. When I arrived I noticed that many people were already enjoying the buffet lunch while others posed for pictures with the bride who was again on display although we arrived a bit too late for that.
My principals church is beautiful with big glass windows and a mountain backdrop, so this was already a big improvement from the neon glow of the wedding hall I was stuck in last winter. The bride also made a beautiful entrance from the upper back corner of the church so there was a lot more attention put on her than my first experience, at least this time it seemed that the only people on their phones were using it for pictures. There ceremony was definitely a lot more personal, my principal and his brothers sang to the bride and groom which was probably my favorite part of the ceremony, I know I would have been crying if it were me. After that the groom also sang while a slideshow of pictures showed on the big screen to display their relationship, very cute. It was still a bit short and the after party consisted only of the rushed buffet where guests mingled with each other, rather than the bride/groom, but I'm glad I could attend.
Father and Daughter
My principal and his three brothers sang, so awesome
I'm not an expert on wedding traditions and customs (in either country) so i'm not going to get into detail about the particulars but there is one other thing I wanted to mention. After telling my mom that I had attended the wedding she said "that was so nice of him to invite you". In America this would be a logical statement as guest lists are generally limited and narrowed down to the closets friends and family. In Korea however, it's a bit different, weddings almost turn into a competition to see how many attendees will come. Also, it's not necessarily the bride and groom who determine who will be in attendance, many guests are actually friends, co-workers, or other church members of the couples parents. For example, at this wedding many attendees were teachers from our school, I had previously met the bride [once] but I have a feeling many of the other teachers hadn't. Okay so why do all these people come? Well the answer is simple, they come baring gifts - in the form of a clean white envelope holding money. Sure it's nice to have many people come, wish you a happy marriage and drop a few dollars, but personally i'd rather have my close friends and family, people I actually know.
Mother of the Bride
Reguardless of the differences in wedding traditions I still feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend these weddings. If nothing else it gave me a chance to learn more about the culture here in Korea and experience some of the differences between my two homes. No matter how it's celebrated weddings are a big deal, after all the second most popular question here is are you married??