Posts Tagged ‘wedding’

One of my first observations upon coming to Korea was that no one was married.  Or at least, no one wore wedding rings.  Combine this with the fact that in class, my middle aged men rarely mentioned their wives or kids, AND the fact that they were clamoring to take late night elective English classes at academies far from where they lived, and you can see why I might have been confused at first from a Western perspective.  It took me several months to find out one of my students was married, and another couple of months to learn that he had kids, despite the fact that he was in a conversation class where we often talked about families – at least the general concept of the family.  It was really disquieting to learn this information about the student because he presented himself as a ‘good Christian man,’ but his lack of wedding ring and desire to talk about his family seemed, from my just-left-Canada viewpoint, to be a way to deny, obscure, or lie about his marriage.

Times have changed – even in the last 5 years – and now there are middle aged men who wear their wedding rings – and some of them do love to talk about their wives and kids (although some still consider anything more than the fact that they exist to be ‘too private’) – but it still remains true that wearing one’s wedding ring is much less common here than in my home country, and the emotional response to rings is much different. 

Yes, a great many younger dating couples wear matching ‘couple rings’ to show that they have at least reached the 100 day milestone in their relationship, and some women have requested to ‘see my ring’ – but they’re not asking to see my engagement ring because Korean women rarely get an engagement ring in the same way as Western women. Women might get a set of jewelry (or 2, or 3, or…) before their wedding which may include a diamond ring.  And certainly women and men know about the ‘grand proposal’ that is supposed to begin an engagement – but the idea of a man getting down on one knee, pulling a ring box out of his pocket, and sliding a huge diamond onto his fiancée’s left ring finger is more Hollywood fantasy than modern day reality for the majority of women.  In fact, my wedding ring is a Tiffany knock off engagement ring, which almost everyone in Korea acknowledges as a wedding ring (everyone in Canada considers it my engagement ring).  So, if a Korean woman asks me about my jewelry, she usually says, ‘is this your ring?’ while a Canadian woman would say ‘show me your rings!’  The implication in the Canadian question is not only that to be ‘properly married’ you should have an engagement ring and a wedding ring, but also that you should be wearing both of them, wearing both of them on the left hand, and wearing both of them for the purpose of showing others that you are married.  The Korean implication is that there may or may not be a ring because people may or may not wear the ring.

None of these differences about ring vs. rings really matter to me.  It’s just an interesting observation.  What matters is the fact that my husband is one of the group of slightly older men who does not like wearing his wedding ring.  Before we got married, I knew all this above information about men in Korea and rings in the Korean consciousness, and still…it never occurred to me that he would be one of the don’t-want-to-wear-my-ring group.  So I mentioned that we needed a ring for both the church and Canadian weddings, and he went along and ordered a nice gold ring for himself after about an hour of trying on rings.  And then we picked up our rings, took them home, and he put his in his jewelry box and refused to wear it again.


It was actually a very upsetting moment for me.  Yes, I knew that this was okay in Korea, and I must have known deep in my heart that this was a possibility from experiences with all my other students, and yes, I know that it’s just a symbol of marriage…but, But, BUT…I had a very strong response to his refusal to wear his ring because deep down there was a strong emotional and cultural attachment to the symbol.  And honestly, it was difficult being in Canada together with people looking strangely at his hand and asking why he wasn’t wearing his ring…and there’s still a great unease when other expats in Korea ask me where his wedding ring is.

 It’s actually been very interesting to see my own irrational reaction and to try to critically analyze my feelings to see what is cultural, what is emotional, and what is me just being childish and wanting my own way.  Pretty quickly I did realize that there are battles you pick, and fighting for my husband to ‘show’ me that he was married by wearing a ring was not something I should pursue.  We did finally come to an agreement though that he would wear it for certain occasions.  I wanted him to wear it for all of our anniversaries, but we later agreed that April 23rd (the day of our legal wedding) and August 15 (the day of our Canadian wedding, and the day we will be celebrating our anniversary every year) should be the days.  And…I also lobbied for my birthday.

So, today I turned 30, and Mr. Lee kissed me goodbye at 6:15 am to go off to work, and put his hand in mine so in my groggy state I could feel that he was wearing his ring.  It is not a perfect arrangement – it doesn’t satisfy my childish impulses to get my own way – but it is a reasonable accommodation of my cultural expectations in a culture where it is not expected.  And that is the kind of reasonable compromise that we need to keep working on as we do this cross cultural marriage thing.

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These are a few pictures taken by my coworker RF which have a bit of a different perspective from my sister’s photos.

I really loved our venue space. I think it was the best part of the wedding. If you’ve been to a wedding here, you know that they are usually in somewhat cramped rooms in multi-leveled wedding halls meaning that there are multiple weddings happening in the same building simultaneously.  While there was one other wedding on the same day, it was an hour after ours, and the space was large, shaded by 500 year old ginko trees, and had a natural beauty which cannot be matched by most wedding halls.  We had over 330 people attend, including children, so there was ample room for everyone, and the children would roam freely without disturbing the ceremony.

Mr. Lee’s initial idea was to have a Korean girl and a Western boy carry the lanterns, but when we realized most of our friends had children too small to participate, and that my sister really wanted to play an active roll in the ceremony, we gave the lantern bearing job to her alone.

We made offerings of alcohol and jeon during the ceremony, and then drank some alcohol (not jeon).

I was trying desperately to see what was happening in the rest of the ceremony (can you see me trying to catch a glimpse?), but I was being a bad Confucian bride, and my handlers kept reprimanding me and putting my arms up higher.  If you want to be standing beside your spouse-to-be during the ceremony, this is not the tradition for you.  However, even though I didn’t see everything that went on, there was a certain relief in not being responsible for anything else than getting myself up and down during prostrations.  Also, as I had attended several ceremonies for other people or in preparation for our own, I knew what was happening without seeing it.

 I can’t even explain how difficult it is to prostrate oneself while wearing bloomers/traditional underclothes, a crinoline pinafore, a traditional top, a large coat piece, two headpieces, and a wig…in a graceful way (in 29 degree weather).  But that was sort of the fun of being in the traditional ceremony. I do advise you to practice ahead of time – not just in your comfy pjs, but in your whole outfit so you can figure out how to maneuver with all the layers on. 


Before my own wedding, I thought the women were actually helping to hold your arms up.  They’re not…they are simply holding me in place and pushing my arms up to cover my face.  Do a lot of free weights in preparation as well!

Overall, this was the absolute best option for us, and many of our Korean guests – 95% who had never seen a traditional wedding before – felt very moved at seeing this form of wedding.  Mr. Lee’s one coworker is even going to encourage his son to have this kind of ceremony when it is his time to marry.  I LOVED the performative aspect of the ceremony, and although it was physically demanding, it was also such a joyful spectacle of music and colour that it was exciting to be apart of.

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A little while ago, there was a bit of K-blog discussion about the modern Korean wedding, sometimes known as the ‘Western-style’ (more like ‘North American style’) or ‘wedding hall wedding’ (here and here and here).  Of course I was in the last stages of planning my own Korean wedding, so I didn’t have time to make a more timely response to those discussions.  Now, I’ve already blogged about how there are distinct and definite differences between this type of wedding in Canada and Korea, but I’d like to address the issue of ‘authenticity’ with the modern Korean wedding.

Long ago, even before we were engaged, Mr. Lee and I decided that we would not be having a wedding hall wedding in Korea.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  A) They are mostly cookie-cutter weddings, and we are not cookie-cutter type of people B) Mr. Lee works for a large company where workers are ‘required’ to attend even remotely connected coworker’s cookie-cutter weddings, which means that these days few of his coworkers actually attend weddings.  They go – hand in their money…eat the meal during the ceremony…and then rush upstairs to get into the photo to ‘prove’ they were there. By having a contemporary traditional wedding, people were actually excited to attend the ceremony C) Even his parents had a wedding hall-esq wedding…meaning that nobody since his grandparents’ generation had participated in a ‘traditional’ wedding – making it a unique experience for all but strangely many of my friends as a larger-than-you-would-expect number of expats marrying Koreans actually opt for this ceremony.

But the overarching feeling that we both had was that we didn’t want a wedding hall wedding because we didn’t like it.  We didn’t want the bubble machines, motorized carriages, smoke machines, blaring music, people talking on their cell phones loudly through the ceremony, the magic shows, the feats of strength…the sword used to cut the fake cake…and I’m not kidding about this.  These things regularly occur in wedding hall weddings.  In other words, to us it did not seem like an authentic wedding. 

Now, notice that I said, ‘to us.’ 

Authenticity is a tricky issue, and certainly there is a whole lot of nationalism and perhaps at times even fanaticism attached to culture in many places in the world, and especially in Korea.  To say that culture is and has always been shared is a touchy subject with many people because everyone wants their culture to be ‘unique’..the first…the innovators…the alpha of any cultural form, symbol, or ritual.  But academically, the more you do objective research, and the more you expand your search, the more you realize that finding ‘authentic’ culture or even the origins or a cultural practice is no easy or possibly even possible matter.  Therefore, any kind of academic discussion saying the way Koreans celebrate Christmas is ‘inauthentic’ is a ridiculous discussion to have…because it’s true that Christmas barely resembles ‘Western Christmas’ with the exception of the public displays of lights and perhaps some nativity plays safe inside closed churches, but saying it is ‘inauthentic’ misses the fact that many Christmas symbols are pre-Christian, pre-modern West symbols.  Not to mention the fact that many American, Canadian, Kiwi, Aussie, South African etc. customs are from Europe….which have evolved over centuries in a different contexts from their ‘European’ roots…just as European customs in Europe have evolved and changed.  (Have you ever read David Sedaris’ Six to Eight Black Men? Do it….it is Santa as you’ve never seen him presented before).  And then we have to talk about the point in culture when something is indeed ‘authentic.’  Is it what is practiced now? What our grandparents practiced? What people did 200, 500, 1000, 5000 years ago which have now changed beyond recognition?  Certainly if I met my great great great great grandparents, they would consider the modern Canadian wedding as just as ‘inauthentic’ as I would consider their weddings.  All this means that from a rational point of view, ‘authentic’ should never be used with great seriousness when we talk about culture.  We can certainly note something that came earlier or later, or something that is closer or further away from an earlier manifestation, but we cannot say in an objective and rational way that culture is authentic or inauthentic.  It’s too loaded of a term.

However, let me return to that phrase ‘to us.’  I do think that from an emotional, a personal, an individual point of view, that cultural can feel inauthentic.  I will never, no matter how much Mr. Lee begs, go to a rock concert and eat pasta on Christmas Eve.  For me that’s not an authentic way to spend Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve means candlelight service, Christmas hymns, family rural Canada style dinner, and preparing privately for a great religious and cultural holiday.  It is not for going on a date with your significant other and braving the crowds for a K-pop concert.  That doesn’t mean that the Korean customs are wrong and I am right…it just means that I would feel like I was compromising my religious and cultural beliefs to do something other than I was raised with.  Even this past Christmas, when I went to Hong Kong to visit my sister, we went to her uber low Anglican church where they had glow sticks…seriously…glow sticks…for candles.  Merry Christmas to you Hong Kong! But we went to church and sang our hymns and heard the Gospel readings and then went back to our tiny hotel room to reminisce about Christmases past and track Santa’s travels on the NORAD website…because despite the radically different cultural context we were in, for us, Christmas is for Jesus and Christmas is meant to be spent with family…so that’s what we did.

So when it comes to wedding hall weddings in Korea, I want to say that for me, it doesn’t seem like an ‘authentic wedding.’  The symbols are there – the rituals are there, but to me they are but shadows of what I consider ‘the real thing.’  And for Mr. Lee, although he does not have the Canadian mainstream wedding experience, the wedding hall wedding does not seem dignified.  That’s not saying that it isn’t dignified for some people, and that for many brides it isn’t the ritual they have always dreamed of…it’s just not the ritual we have dreamed of.  And considering the fact that we are having a Canadian wedding at home which is sort of traditional (in a goth-rock sort of way), we didn’t want to have what we feel is the less ‘authentic’ version of the North American wedding.

Now, some people may say that as a ‘foreigner’ that I do not have the right to comment on Korean rituals.  I’ve already dealt a bit about the issues of what constitutes ‘foreigner’ and what kinds of rights and responsibilities we might/should have.  But on this particular issue, I want to simply say that when culture affects my life…when it is about celebrating my life stages … or affects my work or family life…or infringes upon my body…I do get a voice and I do have an opinion.  Of course, much of this hinges on the way in which we speak about culture, and if we can phrase differences of opinion in respectful ways, but I do think that expats, especially expats getting married or thinking about married here, have just as much right as our spouses to like or hate or feel ambivalence about wedding hall weddings. 

I fully realize that there are many pros about getting married in the wedding hall (see Roboseyo’s post), and most definitely our wedding venue had some of the things we perceive of as problems with the wedding hall wedding system (rushed feeling, lack of choice, buffet where everyone eats together)…but there ceremony itself was to our liking, and seeing as it was our wedding, we felt that it was within our rights to make our own judgements about what we were and were not comfortable with.

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It was such a tiny little wedding in a cavernous cathedral…but it was so touching and beautiful.  It was in English, Korean, and Greek, and the ceremony was full of ancient melodies and ancient Christian rites.  But above all, I think the best part was the little girls sitting on the ground gazing in awe of our little ceremony.  When I was 5 I was the bridesmaid in my mother’s cousin’s wedding, and I was enamoured by the bride..the ceremony….the dignity of it all, and it feels like I’ve reached some sort of new life stage by being on the other side…by being that woman that little girls look up to.  And especially being that I know these little girls, and because these girls are from my church family, I feel a certain responsibility to strive to be a good example in having a happy and healthy marriage. 

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Orthodox Wedding Crowns (Stefana)

from Etsy

Russian Crowns

I’ve been refreshing my memory on the key points of an Orthodox wedding ceremony for tomorrow, and in my search, I came across this page.  It’s a good abridged version of the major symbols and rituals and the meaning behind them, and this one point about the crowning portion of the ceremony that really stood out for me. 

 “The service of the Crowning, which follows, is the climax of the Wedding service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the Mystery. The groom and the bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home – domestic church, which they will rule with fear of God, wisdom, justice and integrity. When the crowning takes place the priest, taking the crowns and holding them above the couple, says:”The servants of God, (names), are crowned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding service refer to the crowns of martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.”

We’ve been legally married and living together for nearly two months now, and I have to say that one of the most unpleasant things I have learned about myself is how self-serving I really am.  Women have heard this ‘sacrifice’ line for so many generations, and it has often been used to subjugate women…or perhaps more commonly for women to make themselves feel guilty because they are not subjugating themselves.  Women have often been the ones more likely to give up their talents, their desires, their wants for their husbands, sometimes for the good, but often to the detriment of themselves and their families, and this is why feminists are so loathe to use the word ‘sacrifice’ and ’women’ in the same sentence.  I’ve always feared giving in too much, or losing too much of myself to a relationship to an unhealthy and dangerous degree which explains some of my prior fear of commitment.

But the flip side, the one that I am guilty of, is not sacrificing in that beautiful way in which people – men, women, children, citizens, strangers – let go of their egos and put someone else first for the benefit of all.  I think the ego bit is key. We should not sacrifice ourselves so that we crush our spirits in great misery, we should suppress our egos to build harmony and create happiness for everyone.  Sacrifice isn’t ‘women’s work’ or ‘women’s duty,’ it must be found on “…both sides.”  Sacrificing can be dangerous if one person is always doing the lion’s share, but it is beautiful when practiced by all.

I’ve been so guilty in these past 7 weeks of looking out for myself, for evaluating the minute details of each action to make sure we are both giving equally at equal times to our home, marriage, and partnership.  I can’t give you any specific examples, but it is a common theme running through my head at all times…looking out for my wellbeing instead of wondering how I can best serve my husband (even though he is always looking for ways to serve me).  I need to work a lot more on slaying my ego, on being joyful in service, and on committing myself to partnership over self gain.  I have heard of or seen so many cases where women’s needs and wants have not been met and they have been crushed in the process, but I am not in this situation.  Mr. Lee is by far a much nicer and more giving person than me (I tend to be snarky, over cynical, and bitchy), and I can learn so much from how he is always looking for ways to please me. So tomorrow when we are crowned in Holy Matrimony, when we are made ‘king’ and ‘queen’ of our residence, I hope that I can embark on a less egotistic journey of ways to better serve my husband instead of serving myself because the best leaders always remember that they are really servants.

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Tomorrow we are having our Orthodox church wedding.  It’s going to be a tiny little ceremony in the chapel instead of the cathedral, attended by probably around 10-15 people.  I’m not really excited at the thought of having another wedding ceremony, especially one so close to the huge Korean wedding we had last week, but it we didn’t participate in this ceremony, I wouldn’t be considered an ‘Orthodox in good standing’ meaning that I could not receive communion, be a Godparent, or be considered a person living in the fullness of the faith.  (The post explaining why we could not get married in one ceremony can be found here).

Perhaps to someone outside of this tradition, or outside of a religious tradition itself, it seems strange that I should care so much.  Indeed, at the beginning of my planning journey I considered not having an Orthodox wedding because of the complicated process and cost of planning so many ceremonies, and the fact that nobody else in either my family or my husband’s family are Orthodox and care about such matters.  However, I then read an online post from a girl who had just found out that her Catholic church was not going to marry them because for practical purposes, they were living in the same home even though they were not having any form of sexual relationship.  The priest was uber conservative and told her that he didn’t believe that they were not doing anything sinful.  In the process of trying to find a solution in which the just 3 month away wedding could proceed as usual, the girl started asking about the general Catholic policy on this issue and found out that the church she had been attending for three years, and that her fiancé’s family had been in for twenty years, was not technically part of the Roman Catholic communion, but a pre-Vatican II breakaway church that is not actually under the auspices of Rome.  In other words, had she married there, her marriage would have been considered invalid in the eyes of Roman Catholics which is the group she actually wanted to (and thought) she belonged to. 

That might be too much in the way of church politics for the more secular among my readers to handle, and is definitely ‘irrational’ but the idea is that we all have our own views on what makes a marriage ‘valid.’  Yes, in most places the State ‘validates’ your marriage in a legal way, and for a small minority that is enough to ‘be married.’  However, for the rest of us, we usually want the marriage to be witnessed by certain people, or we want specific vows or actions to accompany our marriage.  Yes it is irrational – the presence of my mother does not mean that I am married and has absolutely no bearing on how the State treats me or what benefits I receive as a married person, but for some reason I feel that it is necessary that she and other important people in my life be there to witness my marriage.  And yes, people elope, and yes people go down to the courthouse, but even those people usually have certain symbols and actions which they want to incorporate into their ceremony, and as a person who had her civil ceremony first, I can attest to the fact that at the very least for me…for us as a couple, the legal paperwork was not enough for us. 

 So with these above ‘irrational’ feelings, I want to throw in one more which is that I also believe that being married in a way which is understood to be ‘marriage’ by my church is another vitally important component to me ‘being married.’  I did not realize that I had such strong personal opinions on this matter until I read the other girl’s story. My heart broke for her as she struggled over several weeks to deal with the sudden fact that her church was not ‘The’ church, and then as she searched valiantly for a way to get married in ‘The’ church on such a short time frame.  And at that point I realized that not having my marriage validated in my church was a big problem for me.

 I have this personal mantra about many things in religion in a whole, which is ‘God doesn’t care.’  Meaning, if you cover or don’t cover during service, if you kneel or don’t kneel, if you say this prayer or that prayer, God does not really care. God doesn’t worry about the specifics, although the specifics have often been developed by people through the ages as a guide for our overall wellbeing and spiritual journey.  Instead, I think He worries about our heart.  And as a result I have a high level of tolerance and respect for a variety of traditions and Traditions far different from my own.  So, on one hand I could rationalize my Korean wedding, or vaguely Protestant-esq Canadian wedding, or legal wedding as what it means to fully be married because ‘God doesn’t care’ if I’m actually married in my church.  I’m married, people witnessed it, and it’s legal according to the State.  But while I don’t think God cares, I care, and I think that if I have committed myself to this Christian tradition (I’m a convert), and if I see my active and full participation in this tradition as a key factor in my life, then I need to participate in this additional ritual because it is important to me and my understanding of what it means to live an Orthodox life.

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A few more pictures for you to enjoy, specifically pictures related to the paebek ceremony food.  I’ve discussed paebek here before, but basically it is when the bride and groom show their respect to older generations by bowing on the ground to them (and in the past specifically it was the way for the bride to pledge obedience to her new family with whom she would live).  In return, the couple receives cash in envelopes from each group, and then relatives get to throw chestnuts and jujubes onto the bride’s linen cloth which represents the amount of sons and daughters they will have.  After all of this, the family members eat from the paebek table, and the couple receives the rest of the food. 

Our paebek table included dried fruit, nuts, dried squid, and a whole lot of yugwa or fried Korean snack sweetened with honey.  When it came time to choose our paebek food, we were planning on getting the cheapest possible set, but then I realized that one of the pieces was in fact a dead chicken with cloth over it’s beak and decorative pins sticking in its eyes….it looked nice if you didn’t think too deeply about what it was, but as a vegetarian, I was not about to bow toward a table with that on it…so we went for a different, less freakishly decorated and less meat based version.

While not part of the paebek, the wild geese were an important part of the wedding ceremony.  I actually send a pair of ducks to all of my friends around the world when they get married because I think it is an interesting and unique custom.  At the very beginning of the ceremony, my husband presented a wooden wild goose to my mother at the building which represented our ‘house.’  He then pledged to support and care for me and bowed to the ground in front of my mother.  The wild goose represents many things including fidelity and long-partnership.  The geese pair then sat on the altar table throughout the ceremony and were then given to us to keep.  When you display them in your house, their beaks are supposed to touch…symbolizing of course that the couple has a good relationship (if they are tail to tail, it means the couple is fighting).  Of course, I’m sure you will note the goose with the tied beak…that one is mine….and yes, it does represent what you are thinking. Of course, in our lives I am absolutely not the silent or obedient one, but it is a consideration in terms of our discussions as to if we are going to display the ducks in that way in our home or not.

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