Firsts Part 2: The Korean Wedding

On Sunday, I got my first taste of a big part of modern Korean culture: the Korean wedding. The experience in unequal parts left me excited, curious and, well, disappointed.

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This is not a condemnation on the institute of marriage. Besides seeing the recent dissolve of one of my best friends’ marriages, and another’s marriage has only been one of convenience for many years, the actual wedding day for me has been very special. They’re usually fun gatherings of your closest family and friends. Sometimes, they’re in churches. Sometimes, at hotels. Sometimes, at wineries, farms or other less-expected locales. In the west–specifically to me, the U.S.–they can be simple or expensive, all-day events. Some of those more expensive ones can cost as much as a downpayment on a house.

While I am not for putting oneself into lifelong debt for one day, I do love how, even if there is a price to be paid, weddings in my experience have been about big celebrations–about the two getting married and about those they deemed worthy of witnessing what they hope will be the first and last such event.

I don’t know how much the Korean wedding on Sunday cost. But, if time is money, my co-worker and her new husband saved a pretty penny. And, at about 35 minutes, I heard their ceremony was uncommonly long. Most last about 15 minutes.

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It started at what I would like to call the “Wedding Convention Center,” since I don’t know its actual name. We arrived by bus to Seomyeon, Busan’s largest downtown area, to a giant concrete building not much unlike other giant concrete buildings in Korea. Except this one also has a Spa attached to it.

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The first floor housed a number of imported luxury vehicles on display, as if the building was sponsored by BMW and Mercedes (which it may have been. I can remember visiting Nokia Times Square in 2005 for a concert and being welcomed by phones as art displayed inside the walls).

We took the escalator up to the next floor, where we were met with a sea of Koreans. I didn’t realize my co-teacher was this popular.

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Well, not exactly. Besides her wedding, there were at least five or six others going on at about the same time. Each of them in their own little rented wedding space, some left open air for people to come into and leave as time allowed.

Prior to the ceremony, she and her husband were getting arranged photos taken. Family and friends (and co-workers, natch) were called in by the taskmaster wedding planner as well.

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When the ceremony did finally begin, one of the first things that struck me was how much Korea’s “bali! bali! (hurry! hurry!)” culture had permeated what, for many, is supposed to be the most important day of their lives. I do not question whether it was, in fact, the most important day of my co-teacher and her new husband’s life. But, if it was, they barely had any time to revel in any moment of it.

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Michael, my fellow foreign teacher, was the first to note people coming and going as the bride spoke her vows to her new husband, or as her new husband sang his blushing bride a song. Often, attendees could be seen gabbing to each other. All the while, the mass of strangers behind us moved through the massive lobby, a sea of open air voices and footsteps.

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Audio clips were played and just as quickly cut off, with no attention to whether or not clipping Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” mid “yoooooooooo” sounds a bit off. It didn’t seem to matter. We were on a schedule.

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Finally, after what my boss noted was an unusually long ceremony was over, bride and groom began their walk down the flower-petal-under-glass aisle… only to turn around and walk back up to the front once the lights went back on. They took more photos, then the taskmaster wedding planner ushered us all up there for a group shot.

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It was as if the image of a perfect wedding was more important, and worthy the sacrifice. Is this what Martin Short’s character was like in Father of the Bride?

And then … buffet. No, not a buffet where all those invited to the wedding can commiserate over a spread selected by the wedding party. There’s an actual buffet in the same big building, there to serve all weddings and, I even think, just plain folks.

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So, less than an hour later, we were in there filling our plates with food. Not food the bride and groom wanted to serve, just food. It wasn’t bad by any means. It was definitely efficient.

The whole thing left me a feeling that marinated and changed over the course of the past two days, much like the first and only time I saw Michael Bay rape my childhood with the 2007 version of Transformers. When it was over, I was kind of stunned into liking it because of the barrage of images and sounds that had just bombarded my senses. But, when I was able to give it time to stew, when the echoes in my brain quieted, I was left more than a little disappointed. Even now, as I have been typing this, has my impression of my first Korean wedding experience diminished.

This is not by any means a condemnation of the standard (or close to. Remember, this ceremony was apparently long) Korean wedding and a biased endorsement of those I have experienced back home.

I have heard many times that the differences between things in the west and Korea are not good or bad, they’re different. This wedding was certainly different. But, I have heard even from native Koreans (several who, in fact, attended this wedding) who called Korean weddings “boring.” In going past the half-hour mark, in including a nicely-produced music video of the couple singing (I assume) about their love for each other, I think they, too, in their own way made their opinion known about Korea’s “hurry! hurry!” epidemic spreading its disease into their special day. Or, they were at least trying to squeeze as much fun as they could out of their society’s expected norms. By the time I had settled into my second plate of food, the bride stopped by our scattered tables and said “hello,” fully out of her wedding dress and probably counting the hours before she was on a plane for the Maldives.

Ultimately, attending a Korean wedding is something I wanted checked off my Bucket List. I am very thankful for the experience. Now, with it done, I look forward to the next adventure. But, I’ll try not to rush it. Not everything has to be hurried.

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I don’t even know.
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