Last weekend I attended the wedding of a Korean former coworker in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul (made famous by the wealthy inhabitants and a certain song by the singer Psy). Korean weddings are slowly but surely becoming more Western, but the country still has their own traditions that make the wedding experience unique.
First, transportation. Like I said, this wedding took place in Seoul, and I and my coworkers were home here in Ulsan. Normally for an event required such a trip, we would take the high speed KTX train up to Seoul, as the price ($56 for a day pass or $73 for a 3 day pass) is more than made up for by the convenience and speed (2 hour trip compared to 4 hour bus ride). But because a large number of our co-worker’s family members still live here in Ulsan, she was providing a charter bus to take us from one end of the country to the other.
As I mentioned in the post about going out to eat with your coworkers, eating is usually surrounded by tradition and, as in most cultures, treating your guests right is of the utmost importance. These things combined with our long bus ride (made longer by frequent stops for the older patrons on board), meant that our co-worker’s brother was on board to keep us fed, as well as on the bus and entertained (with the large TV screen you can see in the photo of the bus). When we first sat down and the bus headed out just after 9am, we were given plastic bags full of drinks and snacks. A can of plum juice and one of coffee, tiny toasted rice bars, a paper cup of cherry tomatoes, a few mints, a little container of toasted and salted seaweed, and a foil wrapped ball of rice with red beans mixed in. And that was just breakfast! A few hours later we were given a lunch of pigs feet and kimchi. (Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of either of those, so I had more rice for lunch.) And then on the ride back, even after access to a buffet at the wedding venue, we were given plates of pressed pig’s head and mung bean jelly (no photo, sadly, but you can see some video of it over on my youtube channel later this week). According to the mother of the Korean friend I went with, these are all lucky foods for weddings.
After that very long 5 hours (made worse by the blisters I got on my feet during the 20 minute walk to the bus in new heels (I am not a smart woman)), we arrived right in front of the venue. It was a kind of unassuming building, blending in with any of the other tall glass buildings of Seoul– even once you entered, the lobby was cold grey and glass. The entire second floor, on the other hand, was bright and covered in flowers, made up of a bridal room, two stations to give gifts, and the hall itself, with alter, aisle, and pews, despite the secular nature of Korean weddings. Before the wedding, the bride sits in the pretty little bridal room on a white couch to receive guests and take photos with just about everyone. It was there that I delivered a pretty little notebook full of notes from the students that my coworker and I had shared.
Then was the ceremony. It was actually kind of similar to secular Western weddings. They played music and the bride walked down the aisle, although in this case, the groom walked with her. No one was waiting up at the alter except the man officiating the wedding, although the mothers of both families had walked up and lit candles on opposite ends of the alter and then some in the middle, something I’ve seen at lots of Western weddings, symbolizing the joining of the two families. (Which is incredibly important here. The parents of couples only meet a significant other if marriage is on the table, and they also meet your parents at the same time.) The officiant wasn’t any religious figure, as far as I could tell, and online sources say that it was likely an older family friend or work superior. I and my friends were the only foreigners, so the entire ceremony was conducted in Korean, so I’m also not entirely sure what he was saying. But it did seem very nice, and at the end we got to see the cake cutting and champagne drinking before we even left the hall. Then, while everyone and their mother and cousin and their baby got lined up for photos with the bride and groom (seriously, everyone gets to get in on the group photos done by the photographer, one set with the family, and then one with friends and coworkers), my friends and I ran upstairs to the third floor to grab some food from the buffet before the bus ride home.
And that was, well, quite the finale to the day. Like any good celebration, it involved booze, karaoke, and dancing. Except it was all on a bus, and most of the riders were over 50…
All in all, it was a lot of fun, and as always, a great experience. Best wishes to the bride and groom, and if anyone is interested in hearing even more about Korean wedding traditions and my experiences, (because I still have so much more to talk about!) you’ll be able to see and hear more in my upcoming vlog over on the J Hens channel. Hope to see you there, and remember to submit questions or comments if you’ve got anything you want me to talk about in the next Ahnmul!