The westernization of Asia was never as obvious to me as it was when I attended a Korean wedding. I’d been invited to attend my coworker’s wedding, and I was excited to experience Korean tradition and touched to be included.
I expected to be overwhelmed by a cultural difference, but in reality, all I saw was a nearly American event with some odd variations.
“Um, no. Actually, Korean people don’t give cards. We just give money.”
My mind was momentarily blown. If brides and grooms in Korea received anonymous gifts they never had to write thank you letters. They also didn’t know which of their friends were generous and which were cheap.
I handed my coworker $20, an amount he’d suggested. “America is quite different,” I told him. “So, should I wear a dress?” Again I was picturing American weddings; the fancy outfits, the dancing and drinking.
“Just nice clothes will be okay,” he said.
Besides the anonymous gifts, I’d also found it odd that my coworker had invited me to his wedding two weeks before it happened. In America, RSVPs were important for a wedding.
That Saturday, I took a cab to the Wedding Gallery. My coworker’s wedding was on the fourth floor, and every other floor had different weddings on them too. It was like a Mc Wedding castle.
I walked in and saw several of my coworkers standing near the entrance of the hall. I said a few hellos and wandered around, waiting for a hush to take over the crowd and for the wedding to begin.
There was no such hush.
The ceremony started and people kept on talking as though the purpose for gathering was to socialize. I felt extremely uncomfortable, so I stood silently in the back.
The aisle was raised a few feet off the ground and was covered with a red carpet: elegant. Above the aisle were giant sparkling chandeliers that lowered down a few feet and then rose back up: tacky.
The bride stood near me in the back in a long white dress and wearing a veil: elegant and very western. Before she walked down the aisle, two women preceded her dressed to look like ceremonial nutcrackers and holding swords: tacky.
Of course there was music. And I was surprised to recognize it. I turned to my coworker and said, “Hang on. Is this Enya?”
“This music, is it Enya?” I was smiling because I could already tell that it was.
“I think that most people like to have something spiritual sounding when they get married,” he explained.
The priest or minister briefly spoke, and within ten minutes, the couple was wed. But the ceremony wasn’t finished.
A young Korean girl holding a microphone walked up to the newly wed couple. She was wearing tight jeans and a flannel shirt, and I suddenly felt overdressed. She said a few things that I couldn’t understand, and then the rhythmic beats of a drum machine began to fill the room. She began wailing into the microphone, singing a Korean rock song along with the digitalized beats. It was the first time that the sound of the ceremony overpowered the guests.
And overpower it did.
All around me, I saw old Korean women with curly black hair raising their eyebrows. I was still smiling. This wedding basically had karaoke. How Korean.
After the song ended, it was time for wedding pictures. “Eun Joe wants all of us to stay for a picture with him,” one of my coworkers said. “They’re taking pictures of their family first, and then we’ll go up with their friends.”
“It’s quite special to have white people in a wedding photo,” another coworker told me.
The family of the bride and groom gathered on the steps behind the couple and smiled. Some of the relatives were wearing traditional Korean clothing, called hanboks, and I was happy to see some Korean customs at this Korean wedding. After a few shots, it was time for the friends. I moved to the back row, knowing I would still stand out as one of the two non-Asians in this wedding photo.
I kept expecting the photo shoot to be done, but it seemed to last forever. We held our smiles for a few group shots, then the photographer wheeled out a cart with an extravagant wedding cake on it. The bride and groom posed with a knife as they fake-cut the cake, and we smiled behind the couple.
Then, it was time for the posing of the throwing of the bouquet. The bride turned sideways and one of her friends stood behind her. She threw the bouquet backwards as we continued standing as the background to the scene. The photographer wasn’t satisfied with the first shot, so she retrieved her bouquet and threw it to her friend a few more times.
As I continued to smile, I recalled that a Korean banana split would have a cherry tomato on top of the ice cream, rather than a cherry. It was as if Koreans had seen a photograph of something western and decided to recreate the appearance. This wedding reminded me of all those tomatoes on ice cream sundaes. Rather than remaining traditional, in many ways Koreans desired a western appearance.
Finally the photo shoot was complete. I checked my watch. The ceremony and photo shoot had taken a little over 30 minutes. Mc Wedding indeed.
I was ushered upstairs where a buffet lunch awaited us. For a seafood lover, this buffet would have been heaven. For me, a vegetarian, I simply walked past all the trays of elaborately decorated raw fish, octopus legs, and rice balls topped with lobster. I scooped some bland spaghetti onto my plate along with some canned fruit mix and went to eat.
The tables were arranged in rows, and each table was topped with two glass bottles of soda, a bottle of beer, and a bottle of soju. It was the kind of centerpiece I could enjoy.
I went up for seconds, this time grabbing a bread roll and onion rings. The onion rings turned out to be squid rings, so I poured myself another beer instead.