Sunday, April 13, 2008
Taking Another Swing at Korean Weddings
My Wedding Journal
Saturday, Sept. 3 2005
It’s been two days since I started teaching English at the Seventh-day Language Institute in Suncheon. Today, the staff and church members took a trip to the neighboring city of Yeosu, which is a port city about an hour southeast.
They took us new teachers to Yeosu so that we could have a look at the East China Sea, as well as the scenic parks located in the middle of town. However, long after my Hippocampus has banished the sights of the East China Sea and Yeosu’s parks to the outlying regions of my brain, I’ll remember the wedding.
Actually, it was only the ceremony following the nuptials themselves, but apparently it’s a vivid metaphor for the groom’s future. If I do remember the park, it’ll be because that’s where I saw him being led, via a leash-and-collar, by his new bride. Both newly christened spouses were dressed in traditional clothing, although the groom was only allowed the pants.
In place of the shirt, his chest was covered with duct tape and magic marker scribblings, which I suspect did little to provide the comfort of a shirt. I can’t read Korean writing yet, but I’m told that the etchings on his chest meant, “We will be happy forever.”
But the groom’s happiness appears to start a bit later than the bride’s.
I watched as several of the groom’s friends seized him and held him in a position parallel to the ground and proceeded to whack the bottoms of his feet with a baseball bat. No foreigner whom I tell this story to is likely to believe me when I tell them this later, but the pictures I have taken indicated that the men weren’t swinging the bats any harder than, say, Barry Bonds, pre-illegal substances.
The Korean staff of our institute says that this part of a ritual that extends to Korea’s pre-Christian days. At the time, the groom’s feet would be beaten with dead fish, so that the bride would later attribute the smell of his feet to the fish, as opposed to naturally sweaty male self.
Fish are no longer the weapon of choice these days, but the use of the bat on the bottoms of his feet is employed, apparently because they believe it will aid the groom’s performance later that day.
If you know what I mean.
So far, Korea looks like a nice place to live, but I’d definitely rather not get married here.
Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007
Tonight, I proposed to my Korean girlfriend. She said yes, and we’re planning a wedding for next year at this time. I’ve only just begun to think about it, but I know this: I want a modern ceremony, not with any arcane feet-beating traditions.
I’ll not be dissuaded on this.
Sunday, Sept. 17, 2007
Today I went to Chuncheon, where my fiancée and I attended my first wedding ceremony in Korea. It was a co-worker of hers and a former student of mine, and they had a modern ceremony.
Koreans do, however, make a few alterations. There are no groomsmen or bridesmaids, so the couple stands by themselves at the altar while the minister reads their vows. Upon completion of the vows, the groom barks the Korean word that means “Yes!” to signify his devotion. Then, a song is played, they read a promise to the respective parents of their spouse, and they are proclaimed husband and wife.
Then, the groom must perform a physical test. In some cases he must shout something while doing push-ups while his bride sits on his back. Since my former student’s physique is closer to that of Penguin than Batman, he was instead allowed to do squats while holding her in his arms.
As he completed each repetition, I’m told that he obliged to shout, “I’m going to love you tonight!” to which she would reply, “I like it!”
But I can promise you, I won’t be stripped of my dignity at my wedding.
Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007
Because of Confucian tradition, Koreans are only considered to be “friends” with those who are of the same age as them. As a result, those who were born in the same year tend to be very tight-knit.
This I learned long ago, and recently I have discovered that 28 is considered prime age for marriage in Korea. Also, I am apparently engaged to Korea’s most popular woman in the 28-year-old age bracket. Almost every weekend she gets invited to another ceremony, and she expects to me to go along to each one.
I could not go with her to her friend’s wedding today because it was took place during our day of worship, and as a missionary teacher I have duties in church. When I told her, though, I could tell by the tone of her voice that no excuse short of a religious exemption will ever suffice in the future.
It’s going to be a long year.
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008
This weekend we observed a Korean traditional wedding in full. My fiancée thinks a traditional wedding would be good for us. I agreed, since she was using that tone of voice again and I couldn’t think of a good enough religious reason not to.
However, having observed the tradition ceremony in person, I was struck by its beauty and tradition. Also, as a bonus, baseball bats seem to be optional, after all.
Maybe I can do this.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
At this point I know the ceremony by heart. I know when the bride and groom’s respective mothers will light the candles, when the groom will give his vow-affirming bark, I even know when they will they will activate the bubble machine to give the ceremony that certain atmospheric touch.
All in all, I can tell that a couple must pour months and months of preparation into a ceremony that lasts less than 30 minutes.
And yet, men as an institution are devoting more time to weddings than any other group on earth, except women.
I guess I can make it five more months, and I don’t think there’s a baseball bat waiting for me at the end.
Unless, of course, my fiancée really wants one.
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