Saturday, July 2, 2011

Colored lights, bubbles, and a plastic cake: A Korean Wedding Story.

This weekend I finally got the opportunity to attend a modern Korean wedding. Although I was told many times this year by co-teachers and other Korean natives that this celebration pales in comparison to a traditional Korean wedding, I was still really curious to see what it would be like.

Thanks to my friend, Christy, who invited me to a wedding a teacher at her school was having, my curiousity was definitely satisfied, although this event has left me in a slight state of confusion and shock.

We arrived at the hotel where the wedding and reception were to take place. The first thing we were prompted to do was meet the bride. We turned the corner down a crowded hallway to see this tiny yet utterly lavished room designed specifically for the bride to sit and have photos taken with visiting guests. She looked like a Korean princess who just happened to have been placed in the middle of all the chaos: people running around, bringing in flowers, exchanging envelopes, getting meal tickets. We [awkwardly] snapped a couple of photos with her and waited for the wedding to start.

When I walked into the venue where the ceremony would take place, I was pretty amazed. Music bumping, people chatting, and the officiator was getting ready at the front, atop a huge platform-esque pulpit. Not to mention an adorable photo slideshow of the couple and the moving-and-color-changing rainbow lights, which added a certain Korea-ness that is wholly unique. Finally, the main feature-- the aisle-- which looked more like a model runway than anything I've ever seen at a wedding in the States. Lined by lights and raised about 6 inches off the ground, I suddenly became really excited for the wedding to begin. Fashion show! Fashion show!... I mean... wedding?

When the wedding party (no brides and groomsmen at this wedding) came out, there was one person designated to be the official 'toucher-upper' of hair, jackets, and the bride's dress, of course. This upped her 'princess' status quite a bit in my eyes.

For all the pomp, there didn't seem to be much reciprocation from the audience... I mean, er... the guests. Korean culture, even after living here for almost a year, still shocks me quite a bit. During the ceremony, there were full-fledged discussions being held by those in attendance. People answered their phones. And once the officiator began talking, many people (including our small group) left the ceremony room in favor of going somewhere else to sit down and wait until the next portion.

Um.... what?

Usually when I observe another culture, it's just that: an observation. As in, from far away, where I can feel removed from the scenario. Today tested my cultural competency in a way it's not usually tested because I was a true part of the schenenagains going on. And as much as Chsirty and I giggled to one another and wondered what the heck was going on, we also tried to keep a poker face about it and pretend that leaving a wedding ceremony in the middle because it got 'boring' is perfectly normal.

We were beckoned back to the service by the alluring sound of this man's voice as he sang to the newlyweds about getting married:

And later, after cutting the cake (which seemed to be only symbolic; not only did we not eat wedding cake at the wedding, but the bottom two layers of the 'cake' were actually plastic!), bowing to the parents and offering a 'thanks' to all the guests, the bride and groom proceeded back down the aisle as husband and wife. Their first challenge as a married couple: making it through the haze of bubbles, fake snow, and fire-crackers aimed at their faces... and coming out alive.

The final blow to rock all my paradigms about marriage ceremonies was that in Korea there is no dancing at the reception. None at all. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Congratulations to the lovely young couple! It was a beautiful wedding, and it definitely shook up my world a little. All in all, I do love Korea, but I'm glad that getting married here isn't in the cards for me. Some cultural ideas we just can't give up.
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