On Saturday, April 9th, 2016, Junkyu and I got married in the traditional Korean style, just as the sun set. It was a beautiful spring day, and although I had no idea what to do during the ceremony, the staff were very kind and helpful, and everything went smoothly.
A few days before, we picked up my mom and grandma at the airport. My dad and stepmom got to the airport a few hours before, but they found their way to Daejeon and crashed at their hotel. We let my mom and grandma stay in the upstairs room at our house, which is pretty spacious and has a spare bathroom. We ordered honey-glazed fried chicken, which they loved, and then hit the hay.
The next day, Junkyu had to work, but I had to take my mom and grandma to the hanbok rental shop. I had to remind the lady who I was, but when she remembered, she picked out each of their hanbok and measured them. She told us to come pick them up the next day, and then we met my dad and stepmom for lunch at a place Junkyu suggested. It was a full course Korean meal, and everyone enjoyed it (though they all complained that they hated sitting on the floor).
On Friday, the day before the wedding, I was off from work, so I wanted to enjoy the nice weather and the cherry blossoms by taking my family for a walk on the river path. We saw lots of amazing cherry blossom trees, took lots of selfies, and got a lot of exercising to the Yuseong foot bath. I got lost a couple times along the way, but it did me good to explore my city on foot (without the help of a Korean person). We soaked our feet in the hot water and then we all went home to rest and get ready for dinner.
I made an appointment to get my nails done at the shop near my house, because my friend did them for me a few days before, but her polish was kind of old, so it all fell off really quickly. She had given me a white and silver manicure that I loved, but by the time Friday came around, I decided that I wanted something to match my traditional Korean wedding attire, which would be red and blue and gold. I went into the nail salon for my appointment, and she found a gorgeous design to imitate, but for one of my thumb nails, she drew me wearing a hanbok (although her hair was gold, so technically it didn’t look THAT much like me).
In love with my nails, I was starving and ready for dinner at Outback. In Korean culture, my parents were technically supposed to meet Junkyu’s mom to officially agree on our engagement. But since my family lives in America, we had to settle for the night before the wedding to do the meeting of the parents. Junkyu was late to dinner because of work, so we got to the restaurant and sat awkwardly for a while before he showed up to break the ice. My mom kept saying how awkward she felt whenever everyone was speaking in Korean, and I thought, Welcome to my life.
Although I’ve improved a lot since I first moved to Korea, I still sometimes feel awkward and stuck, and I usually turn to Junkyu when that happens. When he’s not around, it forces me to have a little confidence and try to express what I want to say. I am finding that it helps boost me up each time, and I am slowly but surely learning to find more independence. In Japan, I had tons of independence, and he relied on me when he visited. Now I’m reinventing myself inside a new culture, and becoming a wife is actually making me more self-reliant.
Dinner went well, despite the language barrier between the families. His mom had never been to a Western-style restaurant before, and it was funny seeing her reaction to the food because it’s how I reacted to her food at first. We went back home excited and nervous for the upcoming day.
In the morning, we made a big breakfast of Korean and American foods, and then we went over what we had to bring with us a thousand times. Junkyu had to go get a haircut only a few hours before we needed to leave. When he came back home, we got everything into the car and headed for the venue.
Ssangcheong is a beautiful venue up on a hill, looking down at old, traditional Korean houses. We went up the stone steps to the side entrance where I started getting into hair and makeup. My mom and grandmother got dressed, with a little help from the staff, and then it was my turn. At first, they told me to put on a purple and pink hanbok and I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to wear the big, elegant red one I’d seen in pictures. I kept asking them, “What about the red one? Don’t I get to be a princess?” and then Junkyu told me from the makeup chair that I just had to put something on underneath the bigger top layer.
Relieved, I put on the hanbok and then I was escorted to another room, where a few ladies put on my finishing touches. They had me sit down so they could put on the head adornments, and then some of his family members started walking up and remarking at me from the open door. I hadn’t even seen myself yet, but they started taking pictures of (and with) me. I asked my mom to show me a picture so I could see what I looked like, and then I peeked in the mirror next to me. I was probably grinning from ear to ear, but they put red stickers on my cheeks, which made it hard to smile. A few joked that perhaps I should just not smile for the rest of the day, but then someone would protest, “No, she should smile! It’s a special day.”
Finally, one of the women told me to put some shoes on and head outside to a seat where our friends and family could come by and pose for pictures with me. I got excited when I saw my book club members, my friends from Japan, and my former host brother from Japan. I couldn’t move or do much, but I was so happy seeing everyone that it calmed me down a little.
The lady told me to stand up and said, “가마에 갈까?” or, “Let’s go to the wooden carriage!” and I started to freak out again. I went over to an area behind all the chairs and she helped me sit down and scoot backwards into the box. Once I was in, she made sure I could sit comfortably, and then she left. I was suddenly terrified of being picked up and taken to the aisle, because the guys who were going to carry me, Junkyus friends, were all laughing and goofing off while I had no idea what was going to happen.
A few of my friends came over to me when I was in the palanquin, and I told one of them to go check on my parents, since they might have no idea they need to sit up front, and she assured me they were already there. I was slightly relieved but also jittery as I pondered what would happen. I reminded myself I could watch all of it once we had the video footage, but that gave me another though. I looked to my right and saw the window was covered by a white sheet, allowing me to barely see Junkyu, who was now sitting in his own chair-like palanquin.
“Is the video guy filming everything?” I asked. He said he was, and then a few seconds later, I heard the traditional Korean music performers start banging on their drums and crashing their cymbals. A staff lady instructed Junkyu’s friends to lift him, and his nervous laughter made me jump. He was carried off and I was left alone for a while. His friends came back over with an empty palanquin, and now it was my turn.
They counted down and lifted me up with more ease than I had imagined, and then I was being marched in, Korean music performers leading the way. I saw Junkyu’s face and was touched by his expression. He looked proud and excited and that look made it all worth it. I was set down and helped out and onto the aisle. The women helped me walk down the aisle to him, and then we went up the steps to stand side-by-side, facing the master of ceremonies.
First, he introduced Junkyu’s uncle, who is a pastor, who spoke and gave the opening prayer. He talked about how the two of us would face challenges by being from different countries, cultures, and by having different personalities. I thought back to all the things we’ve overcome and how much we have grown together, and how despite all of our differences, our love has continued to grow.
The master of ceremonies took over again, and Junkyu went to one side and I, the other. We bowed to each other and then sat down. We both drank out of the cups that were in front of each of us, and then the women exchanged them for us to drink out of each other’s cup. The soft music playing in the background was the OST from the drama The Moon Embracing The Sun (해를 품운 달), which is a drama I loved watching as I envisioned my own Korean wedding. I felt giddy thinking Junkyu and I had just shared an indirect kiss by drinking from the same cups.
Then, the two women took the ropes that were on the table, one blue and one red, and started to wrap them around each other. The red symbolized my life, and the blue symbolized his, and the two of them together symbolized our lives intertwining, not to be broken. One of his friends brought in the wooden Mandarin ducks, a pair that symbolizes everlasting partnership, as Koreans believe that they mate for life. The ducks were given to both of our moms, and then they were placed bill to bill, as though they were kissing, on top of the table.
Junkyu came around to my side, and then we sat in chairs to watch a drum performance. After it was done, he got up and told me he had a surprise. He had made a picture slideshow of the two of us, from our first date to our pre-wedding photos, and he played two songs on saxophone. The first was “Fly Me to the Moon” which reminded me of one of the first Korean dramas I ever watched (You’re Beautiful). The other, 청혼 (Proposal) by Noel, is one of our favorite Korean songs, a sweet song where the man promises to only give the one he loves happiness. Then, he sang a song by a Korean group we saw in concert together, SG Wannabe, called 해바라기 (which means Sunflower).
I was really impressed that he practiced three songs and managed to make a photo slide show, all without me knowing about it. He did such a great job singing and performing, even though the wind blew his sheet music away once and probably made him even more nervous. Afterwards, two chickens were thrown out into the audience for someone to catch. They ran away pretty fast, though, and the master of ceremonies said the prize for catching them (a bag of rice) should go to a non-Korean, so my grandma and stepmom both got a bag of rice.
Once that was over, we stood together again and it was time to bow to our parents. It was a strange experience but somehow it wasn’t weird, even though my parents aren’t Korean and we never bow to one another. I swear his mom got teary-eyed when it was her turn to get bowed to, but she denies it, and he doesn’t believe me.
We walked back down the aisle ceremoniously, but then once it was ‘over’, they led us back to the steps to get pictures taken. We took pictures with his family, mine, and then everyone, including our friends. When everyone went off to enjoy the buffet, we went back to change out of our Korean attire into a suit and dress. Then, we had to greet everyone at each table, and by the time that was over, we didn’t have much time to eat. Thankfully, we planned an after party at a restaurant to enjoy the company of our close friends.
We got everyone a ride, my parents went home and back to the hotel, and then we got in the car, finally alone. We had a huge bag of envelopes and money from our guests, and I was surprised by how heavy it was. (I was even more shocked to find out the amount.) At the restaurant, we walked in and everyone cheered for us. We ate, talked, took lots of pictures, and my friends brought me gifts from Japan and Jeju. We also got a huge chocolate cake, which we devoured, and then a smaller group of us headed over to a bar for the third round.
I’m so glad everything turned out the way it did. We had great weather, the sun went down during our ceremony, and we got to celebrate with a lot of family and friends. Now that it’s over, I’m a little relieved. No more stress and planning (until we get our American wedding in the works) and now it’s official. It’s so much fun hearing Junkyu refer to me as his wife, and now I finally get to say he’s my husband.