Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Wedding Date

Preparation and Waiting
The date for the wedding ceremony finally arrived on Sunday, and in the sense that I felt it was winding my Korean family up ever more tightly it couldn't come soon enough. Although scheduled for 13:30, my partner needed to arrive at the wedding hall by 09:30 and myself by 11:00, so we travelled together with my partner's best friend who was coming along to help out with the preparations.

As the actual process of changing into my suit and having make-up applied only took about fifteen minutes, there was about three hours of sitting around in a waiting room with other brides and grooms. In the UK the groom normally holds a stag-night, where large quantities of alcohol are consumed alongside riotous behaviour. I don't know about the behaviour, but it seems that in Korea the alcohol consumption is at least at the same level - one of the grooms remained slumped in a chair with his head in his hands for most of the duration. It was better than another of the grooms though, who was simply missing, having never made it to the wedding hall in the first place. Apparently, having second thoughts and doing a runner on the wedding day - something of a Western tradition in itself - is not at all common here, so his family merely suspected he had fallen asleep in a spa - which is where Korean men usually try to recover on the morning after the night before.

The Guests
Finally, we were ushered upstairs, negotiating crowds of guests for the various weddings that were starting soon or had just finished. My partner, in her wedding dress by this point, cut an unlikely figure battling through a sea of ageing Koreans in grey before we successfully commandeered an elevator to the wedding hall floor, where we were guided into a side room to wait.

Pictures were taken, and a man with a video camera ran around taking twenty-second shots from various angles leading me to the conclusion that the wedding video was going to resemble some avant-guard independent film when we saw it. The Korean Family began to turn up in suits and traditional costume for the women.

Before long I was told to go outside the room to greet arriving guests as is tradition with my Korean Parents - while my partner stayed inside the room. So we stood in front of four or five large arrangements of flowers on six-foot stands which carried various messages - I learned later that rather than being merely decorative they were in fact specifically sent for our wedding from various companies and organisations who Korean Father was connected with. Guests were greeted with rounds of 'Nice to meet you. Thank you (for coming)' in Korean until Korean Mother told me to drop the 'nice to meet you' bit and just go with the thank-yous. Most of the Koreans were fairly friendly though I guess one or two didn't know how to deal with me and blanked me instead.

I'd had no idea of course who was invited to the wedding, though I gathered it would be basically a mix of the (very) extended family and former police colleagues of Korean Father. What came as a bit of a shock though was guest demographic I was presented with; it seemed as though 99% of the guests were over fifty. In fact, as my eyes probed deeper down the large hallway towards guests arriving for other weddings, the demographic held out. Korean weddings, it seems, really are for Korean parents and their generation.

As our guests arrived they deposited envelopes with gifts of money at a side-desk. Some people didn't come - we had an eventual turnout of about 350 - but they just sent money instead. The money brought in - which goes to the parents not the children - covered the cost of the wedding arrangements although insofar as Korean Parents attended other relatives' and friends' weddings giving generously the whole world of monetary wedding gifts does not sound like a profitable enterprise.

The guests were seated in the wedding hall and watching a DVD slide-show of the wedding pictures we'd had taken a few weeks earlier.

The Western Wedding
At the designated time I walked in with my partner to the accompaniment of some indeterminate tune, while disco lights I hadn't previously noticed played their colours around the walls. Normally, the Korean father would have 'given-away' the bride as per Western ceremonies, but since I had no family present this was dispensed with. We walked down the isle towards the front while a heavy dry-ice mist streamed out of holes in the steps at the front before arriving in before our master of ceremonies - no priest or alter here of course. And that was kind of that. No rings were exchanged, there were a few 'yeses', some advice I didn't understand about trust and commitment was dispensed, we shouted something at the guests to much laughter, and we walked back down to the end of the isle - at which point we unceremoniously stopped to walk back to the front informally to have more pictures taken.

So it was very quick, non-religious, and because of the language barrier I was largely oblivious to the proceedings.

The Korean Wedding
Our wedding package included a Korean Wedding option in addition to the Western Wedding, so next it was off to a small traditional Korean room with mats on the floor and a small table to one side. We got changed into Korean costume, Korean Parents sat themselves behind the table, and there was much bowing. My partner held small cups and I poured some kind of Korean alcohol from something that looked suspiciously like an old copper kettle. The alcohol was then offered to, and consumed by the parents. After this, dates and chestnuts were thrown which my wife and I had to catch in a cloth which we held between us. The number caught indicates the number of children we would have. Unfortunately I turned out to be rather good at this so apparently we will have twelve children...

After the Korean Parents, close relatives followed and various bits of advice were again dispensed. There was more bowing and more alcohol was poured. Some more money envelopes were left, but this time they for us. And that's your Korean wedding. Somehow I'd expected a crowd of onlookers but it was in fact a very private affair which goes some way towards explaining why people perhaps prefer the Western style wedding these days.

Ceremonies finally over, it was up to the top of the building with its much admired view of Busan Docks, where a running buffet was feeding the guests of several weddings. We circulated around the tables we could definitely identify as seating our guests, once again saying our thank-yous and goodbyes in some cases. We'd actually missed some guests already as they had arrived straight from the Western wedding some thirty minutes earlier. It probably wasn't a bad thing though given that we didn't recognise most of the guests anyway.

When we left we noticed that the sign outside written on a paper-noticeboard proclaimed that this was the the buffet (amongst others) for the marriage of 'Kim ......' (my wife) and 'Kim Yeonggug' (me) - the latter translating as 'Kim UK'. So there you are - I am now known as 'Kim UK'. Realising his error, the man on the door prevented us from taking a photo by tearing off the sheet of paper, but he didn't count on my partner's best friend snatching it away from him. He wisely gave up at this point - he wouldn't have got it back.

We had planned to catch a train to Gyeongju, where we were honeymooning for a few days, but it took two hours, so Korean Mother had hired a taxi to take us on what would be a fifty minute journey by road instead. With some final goodbyes then, we were finally in the sanctuary of our car and off on our way.

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