Today we attended our first Korean wedding. Joey, one of my good friends and fellow University of Washington alumnus, married his sweetheart at a wedding hall in the Jamsil area, not far from the site of the Seoul Summer Olympics. The wedding ceremony, reception, and photo shoots were fascinating. I was happy to attend the event, not only to wish my friend and his bride well, but also to experience a side of Korean culture I rarely see. The wedding ceremony was a western-style affair, although the photo shoot included tradional Korean wedding poses. The reception was held in a large banquet room. I was stunned by all the hustle and bustle surrounding the event. People attending several different weddings simultaneously milled around the reception area at the wedding hall. We snaked through the crowds and found the check-in counter for my friend, signed in, and gave the attendant our wedding gift. We gave our friend 100,000 Korean won (about $100) in a decorative envelope. My coworker told me that guests typically give the happy couple 50,000 won to offset the cost of the wedding; good friends give up to 100,000 won. Korean weddings are typically very expensive.
Joey waited near the check-in counter, and he greeted us warmly when we arrived. He ushered us into the wedding hall, where Bart, another friend and alumnus, waited. (I last saw Bart in the COEX Mall at a student emigration fair in March.) Bart served as our guide for the rest of the event. We sat to the back of the hall in case we needed to make a quick exit to attend to our son. Fortunately, he had fallen asleep and slept through the entire ceremony. I was a shutterbug, taking dozens of photos at the event. As the ceremony began, I found an ideal location to capture the best moments of the wedding, some of which I will post here soon. I was struck by how noisy it was during the ceremony. While the groom, bride, ring bearers, and immediate families marched to the front of the hall and participated in the ceremony, guests sitting at the back of the hall carried on conversations. The hall doors stayed open, and hallway commotion poured into the hall. It was an unfamiliar and distracting nuisance to someone like me who is used to sitting through muted American church weddings. Somehow though, the noise was an appropriate reflection of a Korean culture that values social interaction. The wedding ceremony was truly gorgeous. The room was beautiful, and the decor was very tasteful. A trio of musicians on piano, flute and violin played festive wedding music. The ceremony was also high-tech, with video of the ceremony projected on two large screens at the front of the room. The happy couple exchanged vows, and at the end of the ceremony they bowed to their families. Before exiting the hall, in lieu of a wedding kiss, my friend let out three triumphant yells and stretched out his arms three times. Although similar to an American-style wedding, my friend’s wedding was uniquely Korean.
After the ceremony, we joined the newlywed couple for photos. Unlike in the U.S., where friends typically pose for individual photos with the bride and groom, a large group gathered around the couple for a single group photo. I was the only Caucasian in the entire event, and I joked to Bart, "백명 한국사람 하고 한명 백인 있어요!" (Translation–"One white guy and 100 Koreans!" It’s meant to be a funny wordplay, because the word for "white guy" is similar to the word for 100, and the word for Korean is similar to the Korean word for "one." Koreans often use Korean wordplays to express humor.) Bart laughed.
We then went upstairs to the reception hall. We sat with Bart and Peter, another college friend. I noticed that the video projected at the reception was a feed from the wedding hall. Workers in the video were busy preparing the hall for the next wedding. I thought it interesting that you can watch the next wedding as it happens while you’re at your own reception. The food was delicious. We ate galbitang (갈비탕), or short-rib soup. The table was filled with delicious side dishes, including salmon sashimi and a variety of kimchi. Partway through the reception, we offered a toast to the newlyweds. I wish we could have stayed longer to eat and visit, but the reception hall cleared out quickly in anticipation of the next wedding group. One unfortunate aspect of marrying at a wedding hall is that it can feel rushed and impersonal, almost like an assembly line where you’re herded from one location to the next hurriedly. Pardon the sports metaphor, but much like golf, a wedding at a wedding hall tees off on time, and the wedding party must move on before the next party tees up. Still, wedding halls are good at what they do and take care of virtually everything for you. Imagine not having to plan your wedding beyond your wedding attire. Wedding halls are professional wedding planners.
After the reception, all of my friends gathered for some group photos. We went to where Joey and his bride and their family gathered to take photos. They wore hanbok (한복), or traditional Korean clothing. The newlyweds re-enact excerpts from a traditional Korean wedding and capture the memories in photos. Following the photo shoot, we joined the bride and groom for a couple of photos. We were thrilled to be able to participate in something normally reserved for family.
On our way home from the wedding, we stopped at Hangang Park along the south bank of the Han River, which runs through Seoul. We stumbled upon the Seoul International Kite Festival. The park was filled with people flying all sorts of kites ranging from small butterfly kites to a giant dragon kite and a group of ten kites strung together, one on top of the other. My family had a great time walking in the park, along the river, and enjoying ice cream.
Blog Notes: I finally decided to post some personal photos of our family in the photos from the wedding. Enjoy! Also, my wife says the font I use is too small and hard to read, so I’ll try a different font and make it larger. Hopefully this size is easier to read. It will take up a lot more real estate, but I aim to please.