Today, I went to the wedding of one of my colleagues.
In Korea, they don’t seem to get married in churches or town halls like we do – instead, there are specially-designed “wedding centres” or “wedding halls” which cater for both the event itself, and the preparations. There’s everything you might need for your big day, from a wedding dress shop to a skin and “beuauty” salon, and the whole place is an example of Korea’s expert organisation and careful planning. They like their events to run like clockwork!
When we arrived, we were taken to the “bride’s room”, which reminded me of a Santa’s Grotto experience. Everyone took their turn at going in to get a photo taken with the bride, although she was admittedly a lot prettier than Santa. To my delight, all the children from her homeroom class were in attendance, looking very cute in their bowties and party dresses, and very excited at seeing their teacher “dressee like sparkle princess”.
The wedding hall was beautiful:
And the ceremony was fascinating to watch, as a foreigner. Rather than having bridesmaids, the Korean bridal party is led by the mothers of the bride and groom, dressed in traditional Korean costume (“hanbok”).
They walk hand in hand down the aisle, to represent the joining of the two families, and perform a ceremonial lighting of candles at the front before the groom walks down the aisle to wait for his bride. Then the bride and her father walk underneath a sort of miniature guard of honour before the bride joins the groom at the front.
After the person performing the ceremony has done his talking (obviously I have no idea what any of that bit was about!), the couple approach each set of parents in turn, and thank them for looking after them until they were ready to be married and leave home. There’s bowing, and lying face down on the floor, and that sort of thing. Then the couple walk back down the aisle and the whole place erupts in showers of streamers and glitter and party music and cheers.
And of course, that was only the modern, “westernised” part. After that, when the guests go into the banquet hall for a wedding feast (noodles (representing a long and happy life), raw beef and fish, kimchi, steamed duck, and many vegetables, presented in the usual manner of dozens of small dishes spread across each table for everyone to share), the family stay behind to perform the traditional Korean wedding ceremony. In days gone by, the first part would never have happened, and it’s mostly for show. As a result, the atmosphere in the wedding hall is a lot less formal than at typical Western weddings – people mostly chatted amongst themselves as the person performing the ceremony spoke to the couple, and there was no hushing or shushing.
It was an interesting experience. Do you ever kind of sit back and look at yourself in a situation like this, I asked Terri (the newest foreign teacher), as we tucked into the galbi, ate soup using chopsticks, and toasted the couple’s health with soju, and wonder how on earth you got here?!