Monday, 19 December 2011

A Guy's Perspective ... Getting Married the Korean Way!


I thought I would spend this week finishing off our journey with Jon and Soh-ee and their Korean and South African weddings.  Part four is the last to the Korean celebrations. 

Eventually I was at the front of the hall. I bowed deeply to the minister then walked over to where Soh-ee’s parents were sitting. I bowed to them in the formal way where you go down onto your knees, place your hands on the floor and then your head on your hands. A regular deep bow would have sufficed but this type of bow shows ultimate respect. There were gasps of surprise and approval from the guests. Surprise because, as a foreigner, I knew to do this, and approval since I was showing this type of respect to my wife’s family. 

Next I walked over to where my mother and sister were sitting and bowed to them in the same way. Finally I made my way back to where the minister was standing and awaited the arrival of Soh-ee and her father. She looked so beautiful as she walked towards me. For some reason I didn’t feel nervous, I just felt incredibly lucky. 

The guests were sitting at round tables or standing at the back talking. Very few paid any attention to what the minister was saying. I remember being very surprised by that when I first attended a Korean wedding. Apparently when you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. The minister did speak beautifully though. He spoke in Korean for a few minutes, then translated into English before continuing in Korean again. 

It wasn’t long before the minister was finished and two of Soh-ee’s church friends were singing a song to us. Korean weddings always have a friend or two sing to the newlyweds. Once the song was done we had the photos taken at the front of the hall. Photos are the most important thing at a Korean wedding. Often props like multi-tiered wedding cakes and champagne glass towers are used to give them a more western feel. 

Next came the 폐백 (p’ye-baek) which, for me at least, was the most interesting. Soh-ee and I took off the western wedding outfits and put on traditional Korean wedding clothes. We were then lead to a private, little room where just her parents, my mother and sister and two Korean women, who would show us what to do, were waiting. We then went through a custom that was used to marry Koreans before they adopted the more western style. 

We sat around a table with lots of traditional Korean food and alcohol. Soh-ee and I had to pour alcohol for my mom, who doesn’t drink, and her parents, who then gave us some advice about getting married. Next Soh-ee and I sat across the table from my mom. My mom picked up a hand full of Chinese dates and chestnuts which she had to throw across the table. I had to hold the bottom of Soh-ee’s dress and together we had to catch as many as we could. The number of chestnuts we caught represented the number of girls we’d have and the dates the number of boys. We caught more than I’d have liked to! 

Finally we went back to the hall where everyone was eating. We walked around and thanked everyone for coming and ate some of the delicious food. Our wedding was unique in that it lasted for a good couple of hours. Usually a Korean couple has 30 minutes for the ceremony and photos and after that they have to leave since the next couple is already waiting in the antechamber. Once the ceremony is done the guests shuffle off to the eating hall where they eat a buffet with guests from all the other ceremonies which have finished. Some of the wedding halls have 8 or more “wedding rooms” in the same building so there could be a thousand or more guests milling around. Luckily for us ours was the only wedding taking place in that hall on that Saturday night (Koreans prefer to get married on a Sunday). Our guests could relax in the hall and food was even served to them there. 

And so phase one of our marriage was complete. It was a fantastic experience which Soh-ee and I thoroughly enjoyed. Everything worked out as planned, or close enough that it wasn’t of any significant importance. We now had a few weeks to get ready for the next wedding; in South Africa.

Until next time ...

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