Saturday, November 06, 2010

Wedding Day - October 30, 2010

The day finally arrived. Wedding day!!! Dawon and Matt had to go do makeup and hair, so James and I were on our own until around noon. We got up and did the sequence of events that had now become our routine: Down to the restaurant for buffet breakfast (omelets are pretty amazing, but then it all is), then back behind the hotel to the Caffe Bene for cup of coffee and a little online time. While we were online, Matt messaged us that Uncle would pick us up at noon, so we didn't have to worry bout taxi or subway carrying my hanbok.

After returning to our room to shower and groom, we went downstairs to wait for Uncle. We weren't sure what we were looking for - would he drive right up or park and come in? What car was he driving? Questions were answered when a black sedan pulled up on the sidewalk and Aunt got out wearing her beautiful blue and yellow hanbok. Kind of hard to miss, actually. James and I got in and we whipped down the road.

I have to say something about Seoul traffic here. It's crazy. People are switching lanes and running up behind each other - gas, brake, gas, brake with nothing in between. If the light is with you, pedestrians supposedly have the right of way, but more than once I've seen drivers just blow right through. Motorcycles are especially bad about this. But the reason I wanted to say something about traffic here is that Uncle used the U-Turn lane. I've never seen such a thing. If you are in this lane and the light turns, you're able to do a u-turn from wherever you are in the lane. To see the light change and all these cars just suddenly turn around like they'd forgotten something was a truly strange sight, but because of the way the traffic flows, if you need to go the other way, this is how it is done. And it makes a strange kind of sense.

Anyway, Uncle took us right up to the gate of Hanok, dropped us off and left to park the car. James, Aunt and I climbed the hill into the village and went to the house Dawon had taken us to the day before. Shoes are not worn on wood floors, so off they came and into the house we went. James went one way to join the groom; I joined the bride and the aunts to get dressed. It was a small room, but somehow it worked. Eventually, we all emerged dressed in our Korean finery.

This was quite the event! Almost like a movie star wedding. We even had our own paparazzi! The photographers and videographers ran around taking pictures of everything - which continued into the wedding and beyond. I even gave a short interview, a wish for Matt and Dawon that I'm sure will be edited into a montage at some future time.

I was taken to a chair in the front row, while James was spirited off to tend to Matt. It seems that James was to carry the ducks. Mallards mate for life and one of the symbols of marriage here is a pair of ducks. Usually the female's bill is tied shut, but Matt opted to keep both bills untied (saying that Dawon was an equal partner and could speak whenever she wanted to). Carrying the ducks is quite an honor, though after James had handed them off, he was at a loss as to what he was supposed to do, so he grabbed his camera and started taking lots of pictures and some video. Imagine, if you will, a man of 6'4" in a pink dress and a tall black hat trying to "skulk" around an audience of tiny, darkly dressed people... It was quite comical - and I ALWAYS knew where he was!

As it turned out, I had a role to play in the actual wedding. I was stand-in for Matt's mother. This was news to me, and the interpreter tried to explain what it was I was supposed to do. She was not a great interpreter and very hard to understand, so I asked her to say again many times. She probably thought I was slow, but eventually, I figured out that at the beginning of the wedding, Hangsoon (Dawon's mother) and I were to stand before the altar and bow to each other. Then we were to light the family candles at either end of the altar. That was more difficult than anticipated and both our candles went out several times before we achieved a steady flame. Back to the front of the altar, where we bowed to the assemblage and then to each other again a couple of times before taking our seats.

There was an empty seat next to mine, which I suspect was supposed to be James', but no one ever told him how to get there. Hangsoon sat next to Uncle, who had assumed the Father role in this family long time ago.

I'm not sure exactly what I can tell you about the wedding other than it was beautiful. It was all in Korean and the explanations of the preacher were way above my head. But I can tell you what I saw. The altar, in addition to the candles, held four plates of food on each side. Three that appeared to be fruit and one of rice cakes. Below the table were two bound chickens (not real, stuffed).

Dawon and Matt had attendants on either side of the altar who stayed with them as they went through an elaborate bowing ritual and food eating.

There was some kind of homily, during which the preacher commented to Matt being a BIG megook (white man) and Dawon being a very small person, but that they could overcome their differences for love. Or something like that. I remember "megoook" brought a wave of laughter from the audience (including the tourists who were walking through and around the ceremony the whole time).

Finally, Matt and Dawon walked towards each other and stood together looking out at the audience with their atttendants. And it ended. I'm not sure exactly how it did, but it was just suddenly over, and people were swarming them and the family with congratulations. It was hard to take a picture of Hangsoon because she is very tiny and was surrounded by people much of the time.

And then, just like in America - it was picture time. This seemed to go on forever and you could see Dawon getting tired. Her outfit was cumbersome, heavy and hot. I don't think Matt's had as many layers and neither did mine nor James'. But Dawon's had many layers! The photographers and videographers directed people in and out and couldn't seem to make up their minds what to do with James, who was obviously part of the wedding party but his role was not clear to them (or us, actually). I'm sure he made it into some of the pictures, but which ones, we dont' know.

There was some confusion in my mind as to what to do next. Dawon had said I was to wear my hanbok to the lunch, but the Aunts said no, I was to wear my regular clothes. The Aunts won out but by the time they did, the next wedding party was preparing for their ceremony and had strangers in their dressing room disrobing. It was a little surreal.

Back in our civilian clothes, we joined Matt and Dawon and some other family members and walked to the restaurant across the street where there was a huge room laid out in low tables with cushions on the floor. Now I'm very glad I was in my regular clothes because I could not bend in hanbok and this definitely required bending! The meal was amazing and Uncle introduced James to Soju - deceptively benign-tasting but very potent alcoholic drink. I did not partake because I really don't care for alcohol and because I wasn't sure what would happen to my glucose levels if I did. James, being a very big and tall guy, handled it very well, while the smaller people got very happy very quickly. The meal was delicious and huge. And after while, people just started drifting away.

James and I rode to the wedding-night hotel with Dawon's cousin and his family (I think they're cousins, but am not sure). Matt and Dawon rode in front, James and I squished into the middle seat, and the wife and two little children rode in the third seat.

After Matt and Dawon checked in, we all rode up to the room - beautiful one with a gorgeous view! We hung out there for a while, waiting for Dawon's shoes to arrive, then set out to find dinner. It was just me and James and the happy couple. After a little debate, we caught taxi and went to N Seoul Tower, a very popular place on a Saturday night!

When Matt and Dawon decided they were committed to each other, they went up to the tower and affixed two locks to the fence. This is a ritual among the lovebirds in Korea and the long, somewhat windy fence was absolutely covered in them. Apparently when it gets too full, someone comes along and cuts off the locks and it starts all over again. Because of the periodic removal, they weren't sure they'd be able to find their locks again, but after a brief search, they did find them! What we didn't find was dinner. However, after the rather arduous climb (45 degree angle for the last 1/4 mile to the tower - no taxi), we decided to go up into the tower and see Seoul from above at night. Tickets were bought and a rather long wait ensued. We had numbers, so we could wander around looking at various things while we waited, checking back periodically to see where we were in the line. Finally, it was our turn to join yet another line to ride the elevator. I'm not good at lines, but this one was worth the wait.

The view was spectacular!!! My vertigo kicked in a little everytime I got near the glass and icy and hot streaks would race up and down my legs (the typical symptom for me), but I did it anyway. We walked all the way around, finding our hotel and speculating on where the palace might be. After looking our fill, we got back in line for the elevator down.

And still the question: Where to have dinner? We wound up at a place across from their hotel called "The Grill", which served grilled steaks. I'm not a steak eater, but I did get lamb chops, which were nearly divine they were so good. Everyone else got some version of steak and potato and we shared sides of creamed spinach and salad.

Too full to move (again), we emerged from the restaurant, hailed a taxi and said goodbye to the newlyweds. They wandered off towards their hotel, and after a wild ride on Saturday night, James and I finally arrived back at our hotel, where we collapsed into bed and were rendered unconscious for the next 6-8 hours.


joangee said...

Thanks for sharing! What an amazing experience and truly a day to remember. Hope the happy couple have many years together.

Janis said...

wow how cool to witness another cultures traditions. This is something that will always stand out in your mind!

gayle said...

Oh wow that does sound like a very exciting wedding! Love the pictures!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sayre,

Looks like everyone had a fabulous time! Great pictures.