Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Busan e-FM Week 13: Weddings and Honeymoons

About 'Open Mike in Busan'


One of the most important events in my life was my wedding, and it happened only a few weeks after I came to Korea – in fact, that’s why I came, to marry my Korean girlfriend here.

Fortune tellers

The Korean wedding experience is quite different from an English one. For example, the first thing I discovered was that in Korea, you don’t really choose a date which is convenient for you – instead a fortune teller picks a wedding date they believe is the most fortuitous based on your dates of births and so on. But the second shock was something I only found out about once I was here – which is that whatever the wedding date is, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s not the same day you sign the official legal documents at the local district office. And of course, it’s the legal documents that really mark the official marriage date. That’s different from England, where you either get married in a local registry office, which is a bit like a district office for weddings, or you get married in a place of worship such as a church, mosque, temple or synagogue. Then, straight after the local official or religious person – such as a priest marries you in the ceremony, you go into an office and sign the marriage register, and that’s when you’re really legally married.

Marriage dates

So my wedding ceremony and district office dates are completely different. In fact, because I only had a three month visa at the time, we signed our legal papers at the district office almost a month earlier. But some friends of ours actually signed their papers after returning from their honeymoon, which is really surprising for a Westerner. I think in our culture we have a long tradition of changing our minds at the last minute and not going through with a wedding – like in the movies. But in Korea it’s not uncommon to sign the legal papers after returning from the honeymoon, and probably – like we did – people get their official wedding photos done a month before the ceremony, so it seems there’s a belief in Korea that once a marriage is planned, it will definitely go ahead. I suppose there’s a lot of social pressure.

Photo shoots and other surprises

We spent an entire day at the studio for the photo shoot, changing outfits and scenery, and I had to wear a traditional Korean costume, so that was a really interesting experience.

Other things about the wedding were surprising as well. For example, in England the bride and groom often organise a lot of the wedding themselves, for example – who to invite, what food to have and so on. In Korea, it’s usually the parents who do it, and it seems as though they invite who they like, and that’s who comes. So, it felt like the wedding ceremony was really for their friends more than ours. I soon learned that because of the whole culture and gift money business, it’s a case of needing to invite people who have invited you to their family weddings before, or might do in future, to recover the monetary loss.

The wedding

We had both types of ceremony – a Western-style one which all the ajummas and ajeossis attended, and then a Korean one with just close family. I had to stand with my father-in-law and shake all the guests hands, I had no idea who they were and I couldn’t really speak Korean at all, so I had no idea once I’d met them either. It was chaos really, and the ceremony was equally chaotic, because it didn’t quite feel real to me – it was more like a fake wedding for the cameras.

Of course, we were already legally married by this point, so in that sense it felt like more of an act that a wedding in England would have been. Then, as we waited to walk down the aisle, all the ajummas and ajeossis at the back were pushing us around, and when we walked down the aisle, the music played briefly and then just suddenly stopped in the middle, so it felt quite rough – you know, as if people didn’t really care about the experience so much as just getting through it as quickly as possible. It was at a wedding hall as well, rather than a church, so it already felt like some kind of commercialised nightmare to me. And as soon as the ceremony began, lots of the adjummas and ajeossis rushed out. Afterwards I found out about the whole buffet voucher thing, and the fact that some people just come out of social obligation and for the free food, and they need to get an early start so they can eat a lot of food to break even on the gift money.

I found it a bit disheartening. Coming here to get married as a foreigner can be tough I think. I didn’t understand anything that was happening, and it was too far for my family to come which was sad. That works both ways as well – last year my sister got married and I couldn’t really go to that. Whichever country you marry in, someone loses. Anyway, I didn’t have any friends or family at the wedding, so it was an oddly lonely experience. They didn’t even get my name completely right. I was 짐 영국 [Kim Yeonggug - Yeonggug meaning England but also occasionally being a Korean male name I gather] on the sign at the buffet. OK, I can see how that happened, and I thought it was funny.

I liked the Korean ceremony – it was quite intimate, and as a foreigner the experience was really interesting. But the Western wedding hall ceremony was really soulless and I’m not sure I’d do it again. Perhaps Korean people don’t mind the fake Western experience, but as a Westerner I did. In retrospect I would have preferred just a larger Korean ceremony.

The honeymoon

I was relieved when it was all over, but afterwards we got straight into a specially hired taxi and went down to Gyeongju for our honeymoon, so the hectic schedule didn’t stop.

We stayed in a ‘pension’ [Korean holiday villa], and you know... one of the top-ten things you don’t want to hear when you arrive is “oh yes, we know about the problem with the sewage smell”. So now every time I smell sewage in Busan – which is quite a lot – I’m reminded of my honeymoon. Looking back, the experience was like a comedy. As part of the wedding package the ‘pension’ offered an evening barbecue with wine, but because of the smell in our room we decided to go through with it, even though it was January. So we drank wine and ate barbecued food outside, in the dark, in temperatures around minus five degrees.

While we were there we hired a taxi for two days to drive us from place to place – mainly cultural sites, museums and temples around Gyeongju such as Bulguksa, but it was hard for me to understand some of what I was seeing because the tourist explanations were only in Korean in some places. If I’d just been a tourist in Korea on holiday, I think I might have been a little disappointed. There weren’t many people around because it was winter – so it was a strange experience, because with the taxi driver it felt like there were basically three of us sharing a honeymoon. But I have to admit, the taxi was a good way of getting around. Still, winter isn’t a good time to get married really. But that’s when the fortune teller set a date. Sometimes I feel that my life in Korea is secretly run by fortune tellers.

Busan e-FM
Inside Out Busan

Air date: 2011-01-19 @ ~19:30

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