Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Korea Trip: Sunday--Wedding Day!


Sunday was the wedding.  We weren't exactly sure how to do our hair, never having been to--much less in--a Korean wedding before, so we just did what we'd do if we were attending a wedding in the U.S. "Done" but not too fancy. We took a taxi to the wedding location because we didn't want to try to take the subway in the heels we were wearing.  We were in Insadong, and the wedding was in Gangnam, so it wasn't a short taxi ride, but it wasn't exactly long, either.  Nevertheless, it was long enough to make me regret sitting.  I had taken the time to steam my dress--with a steamer we bought at E-Mart and then lugged home on the subway--but it was linen, so of course by the time we got there, I looked like I had slept in it.  When she saw me, MJ assured me that I didn't look that wrinkled, but she wasn't wearing her contacts, so you can't take her word for it.  RR looked lovely. Her dress was not wrinkled, or if it was, you couldn't tell because the skirt was pleated.  So maybe I looked like a homeless financial adviser, which I guess doesn't make me seem reliable after all.

The lobby area of the wedding hall

Where the ceremony took place (L) and the room MJ sat in and greeted guests before the wedding (R).
We enjoyed the wedding tremendously, although we were quite a bit confused by parts of it.  Despite the fancy dress of the bride and groom, the whole process is much more informal and ritualistic than the weddings we're used to here in the States.  There was no rehearsal--right up to the time she entered, MJ had no idea where she was supposed to stand when she got to the front of the room or what she was supposed to do when she got there.  And she didn't seem nearly as bothered by this as I was. I was a little anxious for me and RR because we didn't know what we were supposed to do as bridesmaids, and MJ didn't know either because apparently bridesmaids aren't so much a thing there.  But I was really anxious about what she was going to do. People don't pay that much attention to bridesmaids, but everyone looks at the bride.  If I had known how informal and non-ritualistic the wedding was going to be like, I'd have been completely comfortable with winging it.
Yes, the wedding was also shown on the screen for guests in the back.
I'm sure I annoyed MJ by my asking her several times, "But what are you supposed to do? Shouldn't you ask someone?" As it was, my anxiety about her not knowing the plan reflected our different personalities and how our relationship works. MJ tends to wing it, even on the big things like weddings and finding an apartment in the city you're moving to in a few months, whereas I'm more of the "THERE MUST BE A PLAN!" type. But apparently for Korean weddings, you don't need to know the plan, even if it's your wedding.

I did ask MJ how we should walk--did she want us to have our hands by our sides, or clasped in front of us, or what? And that's when she realized we didn't have flowers or anything. The wedding planner grabbed some lilies out of a vase, handed them to us, and told us we needed to be sure to put them back after the ceremony. That was pretty quick thinking on her part, and it looked like that had been planned the whole time.

So we entered when we were told to by the wedding hall staff, then we walked to the front when directed to, turned at the front of the room, gave a quick bow, and then sat down with MJ's family. RR had asked MJ if she wanted RR to hold her bouquet, or adjust her train, or any of the maid of honor type stuff typically done here in the States.  But MJ told her, no, she didn't want RR to have to do any chores. And no assurances that this is what bridesmaids--bridesmaids--do in the U.S. could persuade MJ that it was an ok thing to expect of her. But I guess it kind of makes sense. If there isn't a true bridesmaid tradition in Korea, then it might look weird to the guests that one of your friends is performing what's seen as chores and doing what the employees of the wedding hall normally do, instead of merely enjoying the wedding.

RR and I were completely confused by the cake-cutting.  Here, of course, you serve the cake to your guests at your reception. That's pretty much the highlight of the event for the guests who are not related to the bride and groom. At U.S. weddings, two things matter to the guests: is there going to be an open bar and is the cake any good. Everyone looks forward to the cake. There is much speculation about what kind it will be. Everyone is disappointed when it's some weird flavor.  No matter what else happens at the wedding, if the cake isn't good, it will always be mentioned in discussion of the wedding. "How was your friend's wedding?" "It was ok. It was pretty, but the cake was terrible. I don't know what they were thinking." We seriously like our wedding cake. And of course there's the quaint ritual of the bride and groom feeding each other cake. It's antiquated but cute, it's expected, and it marks the point of the reception at which it no longer feels terribly rude to leave. Yes, you're supposed to stay until the bride and groom leave, but if you have to leave early, you wait at least until they cut the cake. And that's exactly what people say when you tell them you have to leave early. "But you're going to at least stay until they cut the cake, right? You have to stay until they cut the cake!"

So, based on our friend's wedding, they've sort of borrowed the cake-cutting tradition in Korea, but it's not served to anyone, and it's not cut at the reception. No, what happened was, at one point in the wedding, some people--I think employees of the wedding facility--rolled the cake out on a wheeled table, MJ and her husband cut it in half with a giant knife, and . . . then the people wheeled the cake away.  That was the last we saw of it. I don't know what was going on there.  RR and I looked at each other like, "What just happened?" And of course the fact that they have a designated bouquet-catcher, rather than the random throw into the crowd of single women tradition we have here, I don't understand that, because it seems to defeat the entire purpose of the bouquet-toss.  I'm assuming it has a purpose, just one I'm not aware of. But it was very uncanny valley-esque. Just when we thought we understood what was going on . . . we didn't.

The bouquet
After the wedding, the guests and MJ's family went downstairs to partake of the buffet.  We were allowed to stay behind and watch as MJ and Husband and his family went through a traditional Korean wedding ceremony of some sort. We didn't understand what was going on,and it wasn't explained to us, so I can't tell you much about it. All I can say is that MJ and Husband put on fancy traditional wedding outfits, and they were very pretty. 

By the time that was over and we went downstairs, most of the guests had finished eating, and many of them left soon after we sat down. That meant we didn't get a chance to talk with MJ's friends or Husband's friends, which was disappointing because we would have liked to have talked to people they grew up with. But I don't think they really spoke English, so I guess it was moot.  After the wedding, her husband's sister drove up to the subway stop so we wouldn't have to try and find it on our own.  His family is really nice.

We wanted to try and find a store that would sell a camera battery, since ours was dead, but apparently there is no place in Korea that sells Canon camera batteries.  I mean, obviously, that can't be true, but it felt true. Even the concierge at our hotel couldn't think of any place but the Yongsan electronics market.  We didn't want to go all the way there just for a camera battery, so we had resigned ourselves to just having inferior camera phone pictures from our trip. After much online searching, we figured out that there was supposedly a Canon store in Gangnam. On the way home from the wedding (after changing into more comfortable shoes and taking off our hose in the subway bathroom, which had the one and only squat toilet that I saw the whole time we were there), we took the subway to the part of Gangnam where the store was supposed to be. 

We walked around quite a bit and--surprise!--never found it. We didn't want to ask for directions because we didn't want to walk up to random people and ask if they spoke English.  In my admittedly limited experience, no matter the ethnicity, nationality, or culture of the person you are asking for directions, 9 times out of 10 the person will feel terrible if the person can't help you, like somehow the fact that you are having a terrible time is all that person's fault.  In retrospect, we should have just stood in one spot and done our best "we are so lost and helpless right now" body language and facial expressions.  It's highly likely that someone who spoke at least some English would have taken pity on us.  But we didn't think of that.  And then it started to rain.  And with that, our solo excursion into Gangnam was over.  We headed home in defeat, accepting that the rest of our trip would be documented solely by our inferior cell phone cameras. And I'd like to say that despite the fact that we walked past a building that, from it's signage, appeared to be affiliated with KBS, I did not happen to run into Uhm Tae Woong. So disappointing.

We managed to get home without incident, despite MJ's fears.  As we walked up the steps at our subway stop, there were some drunk ajusshis in business suits going down the stairs, and judging from the expressions on their faces when they saw us and the "Aaaahh!" that followed, they seemed quite friendly, harmless, and interested in talking to us. But we kept walking. We don't speak korean well enough to deal with salarymen on their way home from hwaeshik--it was Sunday, so maybe they were on their way home from a wedding, too, and not a work-affiliated drink fest, but whatever they'd been up to, it clearly involved alcohol.  I've never been good at communicating with drunk people, even without a language barrier.  So we did not engage. 

Then, as we were walking the last few blocks to our hotel, I distinctly heard a man start singing 10cm's "Americano" as we walked past him, but maybe he was selling coffee, or maybe he's just a 10cm fan. 

On the way home, we stopped at a nearby corner store to by dduk so that we could make ddukbokki with the pepper paste we had packed and brought with us.  The woman who sold us the dduk asked us in Korean if we were twins, and when we said we were, she told us we were pretty. We had that exact conversation a lot while we there. This is why I decided that, in this area, Koreans really are very polite. Sure, your Korean friend might tell you to your face that she thinks you're fat, and ajummas will elbow you out of the way to get to the front of a line, but strangers kept telling us that we're pretty when we're actually extremely average. Of course, it could just be the twin effect. I think that sometimes when people see twins, they think what they're seeing is interesting, or just kinda cool (science!), and they don't really have a word to describe the impression that our appearance makes on them, but they know it's a positive feeling, so they conclude that it must be that we're pretty. I'd be interesting in knowing if this happens to other twins that aren't supermodels.

After we got back to the hotel, we changed clothes and walked around Insadong a bit, trying to find Bizeun, another store that sells dduk.  As you can maybe tell, we're big fans of dduk.   Bizeun sells a different kind of dduk, more like dessert than for making ddukbokki.  We were glad we found the store and found some plain rice cakes we thought we could have, because when we got back to our hotel, we were too tired to actually cook.  So no ddukbokki for us that night.  Instead we watched 1 Night 2 Days and ate the Bizeun rice cakes with peanut butter.  No complaints there.  It was kind of like eating a peanut butter sandwhich on white bread--kind of spongey, slightly sweet.  It was delicious.  DELICIOUS. We immediately decided that when we got back home, we'd throw out the frozen rice flour that was all kinds of freezer burned in our freezer, buy some more, and finally make some rice cakes for ourselves.  

Confession: we did buy the flour, but we have yet to make the rice cake. It is probably freezer burned by now.  We did, however, make the ddukkbokki type of dduk, which we discovered is very good pan fried then topped with peanut butter.

Anyway, it was all in all, an eventful day. And MJ had become an ajumma, much to her dismay. And if you think I'm too kind to call her ajumma to her face, you don't know me very well. I can't NOT do it.

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