Here Comes the 신부: Attending my First Korean Wedding

As the years after college creep on, I’m seeing less photos involving red Solo cups and empty beer cans on a Wednesday evening. They have been replaced with staged engagement poses, overly priced rocks on fingers, and babies eating/sleeping/being cute/totally unaware of what is going on (okay, I do like to look at cute squishy faces) splashed over all forms of social media. It’s weird that people my age are settling and reproducing. They’re playing chess with each other on a Friday night (okay, maybe we do that already…) instead of going to ‘da club’ (well, never my thing). They’re cleaning up vomit from little munchkins, not their friends’ on a Sunday morning.

Some of my friends have gotten hitched while I was in Korea and I am regretful I was unable to attend. However, I was finally able to experience a Korean wedding.

I’ve received a few invitations from other teachers in school (one of them was addressed to Lianne, the “Angel of (school name)”. Didn’t know I had that nickname). These invitations came a week to two weeks before the event, so I was not able to go because of previous plans. For the most recent invitation, I cleared my calendar for it; I especially love this energetic and loud-laughing science teacher.

Disclaimer: this post is based on my observations from the only Korean wedding I attended; it is not to be generalized to them all. To keep privacy, I will not post photos.

I arrived at the wedding hall at 2:00pm on the dot, as stated in the invitation. Dozens of fancily dressed people were mingling outside of the wedding hall, but they were from other weddings of the day. After riding the elevator up 30 floors (in the tallest building in Gwangju), the doors opened to the reception desk. Attendees are expected to give money in an envelope, nobody seems to give a physical gift. In exchange, I received a ticket for the buffet.

The small, dark wedding hall was lit with with glittery reflecting rays in all directions. All of the seats were occupied, so I stood in the back with fellow teachers. While chatting in my limited Korean, the bride suddenly appeared. She wore a white western-style wedding dress with a long train and veil. There was no grand announcement about her appearance at all. After a few minutes of the wedding hall employees fixing her dress, she suddenly began walking down the aisle. I don’t recall there being music; all I heard was people chatting to each other, not really paying attention to the gorgeous bride.

The bride and groom faced each other with big smiles and love in their eyes. Their parents sat behind them wearing traditional Korean clothes, hanbok.

While the officiant was speaking, so was the audience: conversations, loud laughs, people shuffling in late from the buffet, and of course, texters and mirror-lookers. Employees kept shifting her dress train while the photography snapped from all angles. I later found out that some other teachers came to the wedding, but just ate at the buffet and left before the ceremony. Apparently, that’s acceptable behavior here. It was quite bizarre. A woman came around with roses and I was a recipient. I just held onto it, not sure what it was for.

After a few minutes, the couple bowed to the bride’s parents and then the groom’s. A video was then shown of the couple singing a love song together; it was pretty heartwarming. Shortly thereafter, the groom’s friend made a speech and then started belting “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in impressively good English.

As the song heated up, the woman with the roses took my arm and ushered me to the beginning of the glittery aisle. She nudged me to walk down to give a rose to the bride. Taken completely by surprise and with no time to refuse, I just awkwardly walked down the plastic aisle. Underneath, there were fluorescent lights to accentuate the burn marks I accumulated from cooking potatoes and mysterious leg bruises from random falls/bumps/mountain climbing. The 10-second petrifying walk ended with the bride gratefully receiving the rose. She yelled out “Thank you so much!” with her adorably bright smile.

I sort of zoned out for the remainder of the ceremony because it was all in cryptic Korean (okay, I do understand some Korean), but people seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves. I woke up when the groom was ordered to do pushups with his wife sitting on top of him. Entertaining.

The only natural thing to do after doing pushups is to eat cake. Actually, let’s just cut this gigantic cake, look at it, take photos, and roll it out of the wedding hall. Let’s not eat any of it. That was an interesting part. So many traditions were adopted from western style weddings, but some get lost in translation.

As the ceremony ended, the newlyweds walked back down the aisle to the Wedding March song. Confetti popped and the couple kissed for the first time as husband and wife. The hall quickly cleared out. The whole ceremony lasted about twenty minutes.

We stayed behind watching family photos being taken. It was then our turn to be pictured, friends and coworkers of the couple. The teachers then left to go home; apparently, they arrived earlier to eat at the buffet. I didn’t know that was a thing. They escorted me to the basement floor where I turned in my ticket to enter the gigantic buffet. Scores of people from different weddings were devouring food. A lot of it was meaty or covered in unknown sauces and I had to save my appetite for a barbecue later, so I munched on some sushi and fruit. Before departing, I ran into the bride and groom wearing their traditional hanboks. I congratulated them and wished them safe travels to Cancun.

To preserve the anonymity of my coworker, I will not post photos of them. Here are some photos found on Google to give an idea what the wedding looked like (this was a modern wedding; the traditional part took place in a separate room privately).

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