Saturday 19 November 2011

Wedding fever

The only picture of the wedding party I could get.
This weekend I went to a Korean wedding. It was a pretty last minute thing, I mean I was technically invited, but that's only because every teacher at school was invited. Korean weddings invites are dolled out to anyone from the bride and grooms place of work, and if they happen to be a teacher, who out here move schools every 5 years that can mean from their previous schools too. In fact at this wedding the big boss from our school district made an appearance too. So this week my co-teacher Lee Eun Hee (Mrs Lee or April to the students) offered to take me. It's probably a bit of a burden for her when I attend school things because she has a kind of responsibility to look after me and talk to me as I never really know what's going on or who else I can speak to in English, so I'm always grateful when she asks me to come to things with her. So on Saturday I made my way over to sinpung station and waited for her to collect me from exit 4 (I really am kind of like a small child she has to look after!)

Faux-European style?
 We entered the beautiful (by Seoul standards) building which is teeming inside and out with people. My co-t rushes (we tend to rush about everywhere, I'm not sure if we're perpetually late for things or if this is just her way) up to the second floor. We're at the top of the stairs outside what seems to be the ceremony room. There are two blocks of chairs with an aisle though the middle and an alter/stage at the front. Everything is bathed in blue light. Outside we rush over to a cashier style desk where she picks up a white envelope from the counter. She stuffs inside a few 10,000 won notes. "This is Korean tradition," She says, turning to me. "We give money to the bride and groom for the start of their married life," This isn't alien to me as I know this custom from China, where you give money in red envelopes and even in the UK as today couples prefer money to household gifts. I try to take my own envelope to add my own gift but she waves me away "It's not necessary for you," As much as I'm glad I don't have to part with any money it's sometimes disappointing, as a foreigner, to be treated so apart from everything.

People milling around outside the ceremony room
While we're standing in this atrium area we bump into one of my old Co-teachers who is now on maternity leave. Phew, another guest I can converse in English with! The three of us go to see the bride. Off to the side of the ceremony room are a few smaller booth style rooms. Inside the first is the teacher from our school whose wedding we are here to celebrate. She's sat on a small bench wearing a fantastic meringue style white wedding dress. This is a custom taken from the west, and later she will change into a traditional Korean Hanbok costume. These are very colourful and to be perfectly honest not very flattering so I don't blame her for going for a white Western gown. Hot spotlights bear down on her, I don't envy her sitting there. Surrounding her are an official photographer (with fancy camera), cameraman filming and numerous other people with smartphones snapping away. My co-teachers go to stand with her for a picture. I join in the snapping on my new iPhone.

My co-teacher and the bride
I don't want to intrude, because I only vaguely know her. She's one of the special needs teachers and we usually eat lunch in a group together. But I'm apparently wanted for a photo so I oblige. I can't understand what the photographer wants me to do so I try my best to just smile and look at the right camera. I tell her she looks beautiful because, well, she does, and I'm not sure how much English she understand so pretty sure she'll know that much. 

Back outside in the busy atrium we then rush upstairs and into a large banquet room. The food is excellent. A huge buffet of Western and Korean food, a freshly made to order sushi bar and grill area and amazing dessert section. I've been told that food is the most important part of a Korean wedding. We sit with some of the other Singil teachers along with both our previous and current Vice Principals. 

Everyone has a smart phone these days
My Co-t becomes somewhat of a translator as the current VP talk to me. I'm nervous at first because I can hear him talking to her about one of my other Co-teachers, who there have been a few problems with. I had been called to his office as one of my grade 6 classes complained about our class (I might add my worst grade 6 class who clearly couldn't care less about my lesson which disgruntled me somewhat). I'm soon put at ease however as the previous VP (who I had impressed by downing makoli with last year) asked if I drank soju. I'm fairly certain the teachers at school would be horrified if they knew how much alcohol is involved on a night out with my friends. I reply 'of course,' and am handed a paper shot glass. In Korean culture someone has to pour your drink for you, it is poor show to pour your own, and when they do so you should be holding said glass with two hands. Personally this makes me a little uneasy, as after a few soju shots we are all endowed with a less than steady hand. In fact later on I see one VP pour a soju shot for the other VP only for it to overflow and spill onto tablecloth and trousers. Anyway, for the VP to pour one for me is quite a big deal. A couple of shots are exchanged (I also pour for him) and we're all having a lovely time. He later on offers me his paper cup. This really shows that there is no beef between us as this is a gesture of kindness. To share each others glass is a show of friendship. I just hope he doesn't catch my cold; some Korean customs are less than hygienic...

The screen we watched the ceremony on
While we're sitting eating, my co-t points out a small TV screen in the corner of the room. It's showing the wedding ceremony going on downstairs. The one we're here to celebrate. "See, I told you food is the most important thing at a Korean wedding," 

One more plateful later the other teachers at our table hurry off to get into a picture with the happy couple. We're stuck at the table however, as the VP has asertained that I know who Robin Hood and William Tell are and wants to tell me a story, in English:

"Once upon a time, there was an archery competition. The first man comes out. He shoots his arrow and it goes in the centre of the board. Everyone claps and cheers. He says 'I am William Tell,' But he is lying, He's not William Tell. Another man comes out, shoots his arrow and gets a bulls eye. He says 'I am Robin Hood,' But he's not Robin Hood. He's lying. A third man comes out. He shoots his arrow. It goes up to the sky. It completely misses the board. Everyone is jeering. He turns to the crowd and says..........
'I am sorry,'
Imagine this joke, told with strange English expressions by a tipsy older Korean man. It did actually make me laugh. Not quite as heartily as my VP but sufficiently enough not to offend. He reverts back to Korean and tells my Co-t he's so glad I knew who Robin Hood and William Tell are because at his previous school the foreign teacher didn't know and he couldn't tell his joke. I'm fairly certain they would have got it but I guess it puts me one up on them! I don't mention that I initially got William Tell mixed up with Alexander Graham Bell...

Great food!

We are now a little late for pictures. We rush downstairs but for some reason, that never gets properly explained to me, we don't make it into the ceremony room. We head back down the stairs and out. Passing past a TV screen with today's wedding schedule; 2pm, 3pm, 4pm. Weddings booked all afternoon. From a western perspective this seems like a conveyor belt of weddings, one in one out. It's not much of a special day. The wedding I flew back to the UK for earlier this year wouldn't really have been worth it for a meal and quick photo with the bride. And I can't imagine my friend Jane being very pleased if most of her guests were off scoffing their faces, watching her ceremony on a TV screen in another room.

But then again, I suppose it's the marriage that is more important than the wedding in the end anyway.

The bride and the token foreign teacher

My current and previous Co-teachers.

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1 comment:

  1. looks interesting! I never got to go to a korean wedding and they look so different... very cool experience :)