Yep, I said yes to a second wedding after promising never again, but when my co-teacher asked me, I did not have the heart to tell her no. So I woke up early on a Sunday, the weekend after the first wedding, to hop on a bus and take it two hours to the other side of Mokpo to the border of Yeongam to her wedding hall on the ocean.
After 15min walk uphill to get to the venue from the bus stop, I had arrived. The hotel seemed run down from the outside, but it was anything but that when I walked through the doors. Even the rustic view of the ocean and the industrial complex next door was picturesque.
When you go to a Korean wedding, you’ll find a table with envelopes before you get near the hall or the bridal suite. These envelopes are for your payment to get in. Ok, yes, technically, it’s for a monetary gift for the happy couple, but in reality, you can’t get a coupon to the buffet unless you give money, and since the buffet was in the same hall as my Co-teachers wedding, no money no wedding. Although it is becoming uncommon for the amount of cash to be checked before you go in nowadays, the expectation is that you will give a minimum of 50,000 KRW ($42.50 USDA) if you don’t know the couple well. A minimum of KRW 100,000 ($85.00 USDA) is expected if you are closer to the couple.
Although I’m happy to give people money, especially to start their new life together, this is still one of the most complex parts of being invited to a wedding. Even if your friends just genuinely want you there no matter what. There is a level of shame involved (at least for me) because you can’t meet society’s expectations even though you’re an adult with a job.
From the envelope table, I made my way past the groom’s and bride’s family in their traditional hanbok’s to drop my money off at the ticketing table to get my food coupon, aka entry ticket.
Next, my co-teachers younger brother ushered me to a room off the side where my co was posed in her dress to take pictures with all the guests. I actually really love this tradition. It gives everyone time to see the bride in her glory get a photo, and the bride interns receive a professional photo with every guest who comes and wishes her well.
In my friend’s experience, one of the most exhausting things about your wedding day is the mandatory circling around to every table during the reception. This alleviates that pressure for both the happy couple and the guests who are not interested in staying after dinner. Plus, everyone who wants a picture with the bride (and groom; he’s usually with his parents out front) gets it. The downside is that there is no chance for peace and rest for the couple before they are ushered into the venue to tie the knot.
After wishing my co well, I handed my ticket to the gatekeepers and made my way to an empty table at the back of the hall. Korean weddings have no seating chart, which is glorious. There is no need for awkward mingling when you’re placed at the singles table because everyone is here to see the wedding, eat, and leave.
The music began, the lights dimmed, and the lovely couple’s mothers walked down the aisle together. This seemingly somber walk is actually more of a spiritual part of the ceremony. The grooms’ mother lights a blue candle, and the brides’ mother lights a red candle inviting the greater spirit or god of creation to come to the ceremony. The mothers then bow to each other as a sign of respect and leave the stage. This part of the ceremony is similar to that of unity candles that have become more popular in western traditions.
After the groom proceeds down the aisle, followed by the bride and her father. This is very similar to western traditions. However, in Korea, the father is giving his daughter away is more about welcoming the groom into the family joining the two families.
Although my Co’s wedding was more formal and less chaotic than the other Korean wedding, I went to the attendants and photographers scurried around the stage, making sure the poses were perfect, and they were in the right place at the right time.
The couple read the traditional Korean Wedding poetry allowed then proceeded to have an officiate conduct another part of the wedding. I wish I understood what the official said and was for since the other wedding did not have one. To be honest, I couldn’t tell if it was a pastor or another part of a traditional Korean ceremony that my co and her husband decided to partake in. I knew my co was non-religious; however, there was a Catholic priest and a Buddhist monk in attendance at the ceremony, so unable to understand the language; who am I to say what was happening.
After the vows were taken, the bride and groom watched a video from their schools(Bothe are teachers) wishing them the best, then they listened to the bridal song sung live. Korean weddings traditionally don’t have dancing, but they do have a song sung by the groom or someone close to the couple about their love for each other. Which is quite romantic and fabulous if you can’t dance.
When the song was over, my Co and her husband walked back down the aisle for the first kiss. Then posed for the group photos with family and friends while their guests proceeded to fill their plates at the buffet.
The menu at this wedding was a combination of Korean ribs, steak, sushi, salad spaghetti, and a few other soups and Korean dishes. Once again, no cake but a small spread of traditional Korean desserts. The food was delicious.
I waited around after eating for My Co and Her husband to finish the Pyebaek Ceremony 폐백. This is a traditional ceremony for the parents and couple in which the couple takes vows before their parents then share their first meal together. The ceremony includes wine, food, and gifts that symbolize fertility.
The Payback Ceremony 폐백 only takes about 30min after the couple comes back to say goodbye to their guest who remained after dinner before the go one to have a second larger meal as newlyweds before taking off to their honeymoon.
It was an absolute honor to see my co-teacher wed, and being able to witness the wedding customs of another culture is something I will forever cherish. Yet, even after attending these two ceremonies, I’m still in the selfish mindset of not wanting to participate in another wedding unless I can experience the traditions of another culture.
Between the financial burden, the loneliness ( I didn’t really know anyone at the wedding), and the reminder of my relationship status that weddings leave me with, I don’t find them the most pleasant experience. I am remaining stubbornly obstinate in my position to (try) decline wedding invitations for the near future.
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