Recently I was able to strike another entry from my Korea bucket list – attend a Korean wedding. As with many Korean invitations, this one was extended seemingly out of nowhere and at the very last possible moment – in this case the night before the wedding.
It’s become common practice for Korean couples to have two weddings – a traditional low-key Korean one and a big, brash imitation ‘western’ one. The father of the bride must foot the bill for BOTH sets of nuptials and so for dear dad’s convenience the Koreans have invented ‘wedding centers’ – sprawling, shiny buildings that can be identified by low flying planes from the inflated portrait of a glossy wedded couple plastered across the front. Here you can hit two birds with one big, tacky wedding stone.
Walking in is like stepping onto the set of a Mariah Carey music video. So much diamante and glaring white faux marble. Plastic chandeliers and plastic plants everywhere. Suited men with ear pieces and dark shades striding around would-be-purposefully. Piped chamber music. Waitress uniforms inspired by Britney Spears circa Toxic. Many elaborate water displays involving cupids in improbable poses.
Because wedding centers are roughly the size of the London O2 it is possible for 244598943 weddings to take place at once. Our wedding was happening on the third floor in the ‘Fantasy Fairy Bride Suite’, which was as fantastically tacky as the title suggests.
We arrived just in time for Wedding Part I and elbowed our way into the wedding ‘chamber’, plonking ourselves down on some gaudy golden chairs by a pair of asjoshes making an early start on the soju.
In my experience wedding services can drag on so with a double feature in store I had envisioned a long day. The first service was over in no more than 15 minutes. The priest said approximately five words. The rest of the time was filled with a serenade delivered by the couple’s friends, from a kneeling position at the couple’s feet, accompanied by a women wearing white feathers playing a white grand piano, with water cascading down the wall behind her. Then the couple kissed and everyone clapped and the couple strutted down an elevated catwalk and posed at the end for the bank of waiting well-wishers. All while a montage of photos of the couple posing with cupcakes and harps played on a loop on the widescreen tvs in the background.
After such a long, draining service the guests were in desperate need of sustenance so we followed the crowd downstairs for eats. Instead of trawling John Lewis for a cutlery set that will sit in a cupboard the Koreans cut to the chase and hand over a (small) wad of cold hard cash on arrival at the wedding. This entitles them to a food coupon which gives them entry to the biggest buffet in the galaxy. I only wish it had been a little later in the day so that I could have been as shamelessly piggy as I wanted to be, but as it was I wasn’t prepared to tackle cooked meats and seafood at 11am.
Refueled we headed back upstairs for Wedding Part II. The next western ceremony was already in full swing in the Fairy Suite we’d vacated literally 20 minutes before, which also happened to be attached to the broom cupboard where Part II was about to begin.
While we were chowing down the bride had switched from her western gown to her traditional Korean dress (Hanbok). She looked pretty spectacular and super uncomfortable. It took a couple of people to maneuver her into the correct position to begin the ceremony.
At the heart of the ceremony is bowing. The couple bow to each other. The couple bow to his parents. The couple bow to her parents. I think the parents might have bowed to the couple at one point. It all looked very tiring for the bride. But they did get to eat some tasty looking snacks that represented a long, harmonious marriage, and after that one of the fathers tossed some small objects into a blanket to see how many grandkids he could expect (six). And then it was all over.
I was looking forward to abusing the buffet again at the after-party but sadly there was none – perhaps because abeoji bankrupt himself shelling out for two weddings. So with that we got our complimentary Decoration Cake Box Sets and hit the road.