No, love is not in the air for me (sorry to get your hopes up Mom, haha). I went to my first Korean wedding this weekend! I met my friend Seongho (English name Saint) pretty early on when I came to Gunsan, and his English is good and he like to hang out with the foreigners. He got engaged to his girlfriend a couple months ago, and I was really happy and honored to be invited to their wedding. It was in his hometown of Sangju, a small city smack in the middle of the country, over 3 hours from Gunsan.
On Saturday morning I caught a ride with some other friends to arrive in time for the 1pm ceremony. Here weddings are earlier in the day than in the U.S. Outdoor weddings are very rare, instead they are mostly all in designated Wedding Halls or churches. This one was at a hall in a wedding hotel, which probably holds an average of 3 per Saturday, slating bookings one after another.
There are fresh flowers on easels like this, which you always see for major events, such as funerals, grand openings of a new business, and apparently weddings. Before the ceremony, the bride and groom were standing in the back of the room to greet guests. Saint was wearing a tuxedo and the bride was wearing traditional Korean hanbok. This is a colorful silk dress that consists of a short outer jacket and large skirt. It is customary to give money as a wedding gift, and there was a small, staffed gift table that has special envelopes ready. The older generation writes on the envelope in Chinese characters (hanja), as was customary for special occasions. No card is necessary, you just sign the envelope and give it to the helper man in exchange for your reception lunch ticket.
Then we all sat down, and here you can see the hall. It looked like a gaudy 1980's hotel conference room. There is an aisle with a bride and groom's side, and fake flowers. There were wedding hall staff who were young women in these hilarious outfits that looked like 1970's flight attendants, complete with the little cap. I really wish I had gotten a picture of one of them bustling around, seeing to last-minute details. It was past 1 o'clock and the chairs were only about half full, with many guest still standing and talking in the back of the room. I thought we would wait for them to sit, but then two older women started walking down the aisle. They were the mothers of the bride and groom, dressed in hanbok, and walked to the front to light a candle then sit on their respective sides.
After that Saint walked down the aisle. Meanwhile, there were 3 adorable little girls in white Western-style flower girl dresses, who had empty plastic baskets and sort of wandered around. Then Pachelbel's Canon started, and the bride walked down the aisle in a white dress with her father. She and Saint stood in front with their backs to the crowd while the officiant spoke.
To my surprise, the guests in back never sat down, and they continued to chat, answer their cell phones, and let the kids run around. This was probably the biggest difference from a wedding back home, where listening to the ceremony is very solemn and important. I asked a friend about it and she shrugged, saying the officiants all say the same stock speech, and it's nothing special worth listening to. The important part is physically being at the wedding, not focusing on what's said. The the couple is given a big saber-type sword, and they use it to cut the cake. The cake was 3 separate tiers, also at the front of the room, and together the couple makes one cut and that's it. What do they do with the cake, pristine except for one cut? After the man was done speaking, the couple stood in front of each respective set of parents, and bow to show their gratitude to the family. Finally they faced the audience and the groom shouted 만 세! (Mansay!) 3 times. This translates "victory!" or "hooray!", sealing the deal the way the kiss might in an American wedding. They receded down the aisle to claps and cheers and confetti and sprays of shaving cream... on the bride's perfect hair and dress. That surprised me too. Then they walked back down the aisle for pictures. First there are family portraits then one with friends.
Apparently at this time, it's normal for the couples to do a short, more private, traditional Korean ceremony. The bride puts back on her hanbok and only the immediate family is present. To my relief that's also supposedly where the cake gets eaten! All the other guests went downstairs for the reception lunch. Don't forget your ticket- it proves you were an invited guest who gave a gift, not some random off the street! No wedding crashing here, that's for sure. The buffet was one of the most huge and ecclectic I've ever seen- Korean food (rice, crab, duck, pork, clear noodles, tofu soup, marinated veggies), Japanese food (sushi, sashimi) and Western food (kernel corn, potato salad, green salad, crab salad). For dessert there were little cookies, rice cakes, and lots of fruit. For drinks you could have pop, beer, or soju. I met this little boy wearing hanbok who was all smiles. Eventually the bride and groom came down to mingle with guests, and the bride had changed yet again, into a modern black party dress.
Saint was kind enough to invite us to stay the night in Sangju, and spend the rest of the evening with him and his hometown friends. Usually after the reception lunch, all guests go home, but Saint and his wife weren't leaving for their honeymoon until midnight, so they would be hanging out anyway. He had gotten us all a room at the hotel, so we checked in to our rooms before going out again. We went to a nearby hof, which is a Korean cafe/sit-down bar, with the foreigners and about 8 of Saint's hometown friends.
We ate typical hof food like fried chicken, French fries, dried squid, fresh fruit, and nuts. We drank rice wine, beer, and soju. The drink of the night was 고 진 감 래 which is a shot of coca-cola under a shot of soju, dropped inside a large stein that is topped with beer. As you drink, you get a stronger soju flavor at first, then more beer, and finally at the end, the coke. The name comes from Chinese characters, and means "After struggle (or bitterness) there is sweetness". Here you can see one. I didn't try one, and was fighting a cold, but had a nice time meeting Saints friends and trying to communicate in our respectively broken English and Korean.
After the after-party, the party continued. We went to Noraebang! (Korean karaoke) We switched between English and Korean songs and the festive atmosphere continued. Eventually Saint and his lovely new wife had to leave for their honeymoon to Japan, and we had to get to bed. I don't know how typical my wedding experience was for Korea, but I'm very glad I got to see one during my time in this country, and share this special day with friends. I wish Saint and Sujin a long and happy marriage!