We arrived about 3 to 4 hours before the start of the ceremony to be dressed and made to look ultra-pretty. I didn't need to get that much done so I spent most of the time sitting around outside with my Mum and Dad, who had come to Korea specially for the wedding. My mother had come to Korea before, but it was the first time for my father. They both weren't really sure what to expect or what to do, but I just told them that everything would be extremely different to what they are used to and to simply enjoy a day of culture which most people in the world couldn't buy with all the money in the world.
By the time the actual day of the wedding came around I wasn't as anxious about the quality of it as I had been a few weeks before. This was to the credit of the people at the wedding venue and the venue itself. As I said last week, it was a really nice place and the staff were extremely attentive and helpful. Because of all of this, I was in fine spirits about the wedding.
The only thing that was bringing me down slightly was my wife. This was partly understandable because of the amount of stress she was suffering from leading up to the wedding. She had a great many things to sort out, not only because of the wedding, but also because she was going to Australia to study shortly after (I am following her there next year) and because of my parents. My parents really didn't need any worrying about as I was more than capable of taking care of them, but there was quite a lot of pressure on her to translate and from her own parents to make sure they were well looked-after. My in-laws - I have heard - are not the exception when it comes to worrying about the parents of their daughter's husband and no amount of assurance that the endless etiquette and stresses and strains of a typical Korean family situation need not apply in our circumstances would calm them down about it. Still, because of this, my wife was ever-so slightly driving me round the bend for a few days up to our wedding day. Thankfully, the burden visibly lifted off her shoulders as the day progressed and by the end of the day she was back to the her wonderful self and not the fire breathing dragon she had temporarily been in the days previous.
While I was outside chatting to my Dad, I was watching the people who were getting married before us and chuckled slightly when a BMW covertible drove up for pictures and drove the bride about 20 metres to the wedding hall. The bride sat on the top of the passenger seat and I could here lots of the relatives commenting on the car, which I knew was specifically chosen because it was european and "classy". It was a bit silly really. Little did I know, however, that my wife and I were to receive exactly the same routine. It actually made me smile and was just the start of quite an amusing day.
About a thousand photos later, we had eventually arrived inside the wedding hall, a little early so we could meet and greet the guests. My parents and I had to wait and greet everyone at the front, my mother looking fantastic in her Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) and all of us wearing white gloves. I was determined not to wear these because I had seen them present at every Korean wedding I had seen and didn't really understand the necessity of them, they just reminded me of a snooker referee. However, when I handed them back to the woman who gave them to me and insisted a couple of times that I didn't want to wear them, her and the rest of the staff looked so shocked that I thought they would stop the wedding. So adamant they were that I must wear them, I ended-up caving in and putting them on.
While we were waiting for guests, the guests from the other wedding were pouring out and giving me and my family a few stares. My Mum and Dad were staring back and commenting on how under-dressed many of them seemed, especially the older people. Older men and women were walking out in tracksuits, hiking clothing, T-shirts and trainers - not what they were expecting. Even some of the younger people were extremely casually dressed for the occasion. We were all quite amused by the sights and sounds of the place, but there was one person that was taking the whole thing deadly seriously.
It was my father in-law that insisted on us having a wedding service in Korea for family reasons, to make it all official with everyone, so he was mightily concerned that the family were all meeted and greeted with the utmost care and attention. Unfortunately for him, I had no idea what was going on in the service itself, so one of the wedding hall staff took me aside to explain what was going to happen. My father in-law wasn't happy with me leaving my greeting spot and twice came to pull me back, on the second occasion he was visibly angry with the member of staff and while everyone else was smiling and laughing about the uniqueness of the whole thing, he sported the face of the iconic bulldog chewing a wasp.
Despite all the explanations, my parents and I still had no idea what was really going to happen and after a few bows from everyone to each other my wife and I finally made it to the platform.
My Korean language ability has improved lately, however the language being used by the master of ceremonies was obviously quite poetic and a bit outside of my everyday Korean conversations and we had no interpreter. With this in mind then, my wife did the duties. My ear turned to her mouth, I simply smiled and nodded through most of it. I think our guests were quite amused by it all as there was always a delay between sentences as things were explained to me.
He finally came towards the end and asked in Korean, "it is now time for you to show how much you love your wife" (or something like that). This sentence was put in such a way, however, it was quite difficult to translate and even once I got the meaning , I then asked my wife, "like how?", and apparently that was up to me. It all took a couple of minutes to get this straight, though, and those gathered began to murmur and giggle and when we just told the man to skip that bit we got a few more laughs. It was all working well, despite this, because it was adding to the charming amusement and unique feeling of the day. I could get the feeling that all our guests were engaged in the ceremony, interested in what was happening, something that I had not experienced in other wedding days in Korea as most people just chatted their way through them and left early to eat.
It appeared, though, that someone had made plans to force me into proving my love for my wife with a few other activities. I was not surprised that something would happen after the official business because I had seen it before at other weddings. Usually, a friend or friends of the bride or groom would do a performance, which was often cringe-worthy to sit through. A couple of such people had offered to do so at our wedding but my wife and I quickly, but politely, refused. I had three tasks to complete in-front of everyone: The first was to shout, "나는 봉 잡았다!" as loudly as I possibly could (roughly translated it means, "I caught a good one", or something along those lines (see picture below).
The second task was to do ten press ups with my wife sitting on my back. I was a little worried I might split my suit and I was already quite hot, but managed it fine with a little embarassment. I was also thankful that my wife had lost a little weight recently.
The third was to do a ten second kiss, which is actually quite difficult to do if you can't use your tongue (definitely no tongues infront of a Korean audience) as it just doesn't come naturally.
With my missions complete, and the people thoroughly amused we only had all the photos and the food to come, while my wife, her close family and I proceeded to the traditional service.
Unlike my friend Darren, I was not especially comfortable with the idea of changing into the traditional clothes for the Korean service. They looked ridiculous on me and I also wanted to feel comfortable at my own wedding and celebrate where I was from. I am not Korean, so in my mind, I didn't want to dress like one. I also wanted to make a statement to a Korean family, who I really like, but am also slightly weary about with how much they like to control my actions sometimes. I wanted to say that on my day, that I would be doing it my way with no negotiations and no compromises, this was how it was going to be, because I said so, period. Begrudgingly, they agreed on this before the day, which is why the suit stayed on.
I really enjoyed the traditional part afterwards, I keep using the word 'unique', but it really was and my parents thoroughly enjoyed such an interesting cultural experience. We poored drinks for our relatives, bowed, and received money in return. Towards the end, I had to piggy-back my wife around the room and then my wife had to catch a selection of chestnuts and dates (I think that is what they were) in her dress that her parents threw to determine how many children we would have and what sex they would be. Apparently, we are going to have 4 daughters, which I really hope is a prediction that doesn't come true; 2 children maximum, thank you.
Overall, the atmosphere created by the day was a memorable one. It was a wedding without too much cliche, that didn't take itself too seriously, wasn't cheap looking, had a great sense of fun, was definitely original, and perhaps most importantly, created great memories for my wife and I. These are memories we could not have expected to be so cherishable because of our fears about what might have been. This made everything that much more wonderful and I couldn't have wished for a better day. The only thing would have been great is if more of my family and friends from England could have come, but I understood that this was not really possible.
What I didn't also realise was the tremendous relief of not having an English style wedding. The whole thing was over in about 3 hours, it didn't cost us an arm and a leg, we were able to relax afterwards and not have to entertain others, and we also didn't have to worry about impressing anyone, at home or in Korea. The originality of the fusion of cultures made it something that was not really comparable to anything else, we had managed to transcend all of that without even trying to be different or special, it just was.
Coinicidentally, my best friend from back home in England had a wedding two weeks later. His was a super-traditional English church wedding, with the reception in a village manor house. It looked spectacular, and from the pictures I have seen, exactly how I would picture a perfect English wedding to be. I wish I could have been there and I wish he could have been at my wedding, but I am happy things worked out so well for both of us. Our respective weddings suited our own characters perfectly and although we couldn't experience each other's at first-hand, we are both lucky guys to have married the women we love and in a manner which suited us so well.