Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weddings ... Gurye style

I cannot even begin to place a word for the event I just experienced. I kind of thought that everyone would suddenly turn around and say, "Gotcha! Just kidding!" Okay, here it goes:

I put on a nice blouse and skirt. No jeans for me today. Since my mom didn't say anything, I assumed that I had done good. Then we met up with one of Oh-nee's friends to carpool to the wedding. Note: the wedding was for a friend from work. I think Oh-nee might have introduced them to each other.

Well, what do you know, Gurye has a wedding center, too. There were two weddings going on today. And, like always, I blended in with the crowd. It got especially awkward when they took me to this message board and insisted I write a message to the bride and groom in English. I tried to get Oh-nee to sign it with me, but no. So, a month down the road, the happy couple will be looking at their message board filled up with messages from their closest friends plus an odd message in a different language from someone they have never met. That's me, keeping my reputation as a Korean Wedding Crasher.

Before the ceremony I was introduced to three moms who each had two children in my classes. Six out of 600. I tried desperately to remember them, but I couldn't even fake it. I didn't know if the names were for boys or girls. Teacher fail.

As we bunched in the back of the ceremony room (friends stand in the back, family sit) a woman was herding people away from an area right in front of me. It kind of looked like a track of some kind. Then the ceremony started and that's when things got all Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass like.

The ceremony began with the mothers - dressed in hanbok - lighting some candles on the alter. That's normal, right?

Then the lights dimmed and blared this really loud Korean music. A spotlight shot at the bride and groom standing in this gazebo thing at the front of the room. Okay, a little gaudy, but cute. Then, the fog machine kicked in, blasting fog around the couple (which then spilled into and covered the family). Then, to my already shocked amazement, the gazebo starting moving. All the while this weird Korean nature-techno music was blaring. The gazebo took them from the front of the room to the back...directly where I was standing. It was the most awkward minute of my life, watching them on this moving gazebo. I stood there willing it to move faster.

You think that's good? Well, that's just the opening scene.

The bride and groom dismounted from their floating gazebo (which somewhat resembled Cinderella's pumpkin coach) and made their way to the start of the aisle. The groom was first; he was flanked by two workers from the wedding center (tiny women) carrying swords. They marched in front of him, stopped halfway and raised their swords to make an arch. The groom walked under the sword arch, followed shortly by the bride. The music had changed to the wedding march for this little exchange.

They approached the alter and did insa to the pastor. And that's where I have to stop my report, because Oh-nee and her friend pulled me away and up toward lunch. I guess friends don't have to sit through the ceremony. That was fine by me; I ran 12 miles that morning and was starving! As I was leaving they were playing Ode to Joy.

The after-lunch was another buffet, just like last time, but it looked much less appetizing. But I was pretty hungry and confident that I could eat just about anything. I grabbed some mushrooms, greens, veggie job chae and some other standard Korean dishes. The first bite tasted like Pine Sol. The second was okay and the third tasted like the ocean. Thinking it was just my dumb American palate (and responding to my angry stomach), I pushed through. I've eaten worse, right? While eating I could hear Ode to Joy resuming downstairs.

After lunch, Oh-nee met with more friends, of which all told me I had big, blue eyes and a small face. (Wait, really!?) I ran into a few students and had awkward conversations with them. Finally Oh-nee and I jumped into the car. Home, right? Nope.

Oh-nee: "Mahd-upsoyyo?" (not delicious?)
Me: Trying to be polite, I said that it was okay.
Oh-nee: "Ah-ni-yo. Mahd-upsoyyo." (No, it was bad.)

Thank God. I'm not crazy. So, we went met back up with Oh-nee's friends and one of their houses. The woman owns a flower shop and lives in the back of the shop so it was pretty nice. Everyone had coffee except for me, who had some kind of pine tea (to wash down the Pine Sol). I make it sound bad, but it is actually very tasty. I drink a lot of it because there isn't any caffeine in it.

We sat there for about an hour. I listened to their conversation as much as possible, but they had placed me in front of a TV playing an American movie. My brain was hungry for American movies. And besides, the conversation that I could understand was pretty boring. "What does she eat?" "Why does she run?" "Can she use chopsticks?" "Does she not eat meat because she doesn't want to get fat?" "Does she have a boyfriend? Why not?" "Her face is so small!" "Her eyelashes are so long and curly."

Yep, standard conversation topics in my world.

Right as the movie ended the after-party broke up. Oh-nee and I did a few errands before heading home (I'm going to try to make Hershey Kiss peanut butter cookies tomorrow, so we stopped to get supplies). I guess I did alright with Oh-nee's friends, because I'm having bibimbop with them for dinner. I really hope Oh-nee's coming, but I'm not entirely sure. I'll keep you posted. Hope you enjoyed!


  1. i remember this music video from sometime around 1994.

    you need to point out gurye's wedding center to me sometime. i'm going to start showing up on saturdays with a couple bottles of soju...

  2. so they talk about you? and expect you to not understand any of it?

    do you speak with your family in korean? hmmm

  3. Funny and interesting experience. Enjoy your cookies. Momma

  4. you said to just mail you korean-acceptable movies that can play over there, but i'm just going to send you regular DVDs. watch them on your laptop.

  5. That is funny... Somebody must have seen a Las Vegas wedding or something on a movie and decided that was cool?! I can just picture a gliding gazebo with somber bride and groom standing in the middle with mysterious fog swirling around them. All Korean weddings I remember were FULL of people who were complete strangers to the marrying couple. They are their parents' work associates, relatives they had not met, and a whole bunch of people somehow connected to the event. So don't feel bad in any way about not knowing them. They probably felt that it was special to have you there and leave a message for them, as you are "different".

    I may not have told you, but match making, especially marrying off eligible women in their 20's is a national pastime in Korea. Actually not just in Korea, but among Koreans regardless where they live! It is one of the most annoying thing if you are at the receiving end of it. The conversation you heard is a very typical one, and they would not even care if you are sitting next to them. It is a curious mixture of alleged good intention (helping you find a husband) and downright rudeness. Since I was a single until my mid-thirties, I would not have survived if I lived among Koreans. Not sure what I would have done, but pretty certain it would have been something drastic :-) Well by the time one reaches late 20's, it's already too late and you become an official "old miss". On top of that, I was overly educated and so the situation was dire! Because you see, the husband has to be not only older but better educated than the wife. So when I announced my intent to marry a "foreigner", my family were all against it (because he is not Korean), but I believe they were probably secretly relieved that I was actually going to marry somebody and they didn't have to worry about me any more. If one is not married in Korea, one is not quite independent yet (therefore still the parents' or guardian's charge), no matter how old one is. That is a remnant of the old economic reality that women couldn't support themselves. I am sure that is changing too with increasing number of financially independent single women, but the cultural changes happen slowly.

    As for their comments on your features, that's another thing peculiarly rude that Koreans do often without knowing that they are being rude. My kids know it well, as the thing that the "Korean relatives" do. They do not like it but they can laugh it off because they know that the relatives don't mean anything by it. Big blue eyes, curled up long eye lashes, smaller head/face is the western features that are usually considered pretty. So when they see you, that's what they see, sort of confirming the physical "stereotype" they have. I personally think it is a questionable practice of etiquette for anybody to comment on somebody's physical traits even if it's meant as a compliment, but I seem to be in the minority among Koreans in that. You will most likely run into that more than a few times. Hope it won't bug you too much.

  6. Oops..I posted this in the wrong place. Here it is..


    Are you interested in seeing real traditional wedding ceremony? An old friend living in New York and working at the Metropolitan Museum currently will get married in October in Seoul. She used to work at the Korean Tradition Folk Museum before. Could you send me an email if you want to attend it? My friend is totally fine to have you at her wedding. If you want to see real deal, I will bridge you and my friend to get your wedding invitation. Let me know!


  7. YongJoo,

    Absolutely! That would be great! My October is pretty busy with Choosuk and Fulbright meetings, but I'll see if I can attend. Thanks! my e-mail is