(Laos updates still a-comin')
On Saturday Lisa and I attended a co-teacher's wedding at Pohang's swankiest hotel. That should give you some idea what a big deal this wedding was - most Korean these days get married at wedding chapels, where wedding parties churn through ceremonies on a conveyor belt.
It was the biggest wedding I've ever attended. There were a good 400 people there, including the mayor of Pohang himself, who greeted us outside of the hotel on our way in. It was a sign, in part, of the bride's father's success in business. In Korea, yellow garbage bins sit outside of every residential complex and restaurant, for the sole purpose of discarding food scraps. Everyone stores their food waste in their home, along with their trash and recycling, before taking it to the curb to be recycled into animal feed products. (You can actually be fined for throwing your food into the regular trash.) The recycling company comes along a couple of times a week to collect it. The bride's father started, and still runs, that business which serves all of Pohang and Gyeongju.
Inside the upstairs lobby, between a cascade of flower boquets, guests were met by a large donation table, with the bride and grooms' parents on either side, mothers in traditional hanbok, greeting the attendees. The groom stood with his parents on a small red carpet, and when we approached him he stepped off the carpet and shook my hand warmly. He thanked us for coming and suggested that we say hi to Sung Mi, the bride and my co-teacher. I hadn't seen her yet, though, so I asked him where to find her. He pointed us to an adjacent room. We entered to find Sung Mi, alone and glowing in the center of the room, her gigantic wedding dress laying like a small snow drift on a crimson chaise lounge on a small platform. We filtered into a small line of people waiting to greet her and have their picture taken with her. If any bride has ever felt more like a princess than she did at that moment, I don't know who she would be.
We took our seats in the expansive auditorium set with tables for the ceremony and reception rolled into one. Drinks - soda and beer - were already on the tables along with some rolls and rice cakes. We took our seats, the only ones still available, at the table farthest from the runway and stage (yeah, there was a runway) under the giant projection screen (there were actually TWO projection screens for the service).
The ceremony began quickly, without much ado - the groom entered, followed by the bride, who were met at the podium by some old man (apparently a professional public speaker) who proceeded to drone on for 30 minutes on some drivel about successful marriages. It wasn't just boring because it was in Korean and we didn't understand anything - my co-teacher also remarked that he wasn't a very good speaker. Probably expensive, though.
When he finally finished, no one really noticed because everyone was eating or drinking or having their own conversations, having stopped listening 29 minutes ago. Sung Mi and her new husband turned to face the guests, and a couple of groups of high school students came up to perform some poorly rehearsed, but quite entertaining, song and dance numbers.
Food was served - soup, salad, and a main course - and the bride and groom cut the cake. After that I heard my name called amidst a stream of Korean, and everyone at my table turned to look at me. Speech time. (Back in November, Sung Mi had asked if I would give a short address in English at the wedding, and I agreed.) I wandered through the mess of tables, crossing the approximately 3.5 miles from the back of the room, and was finally handed a microphone and pushed onstage next to the new bride and groom. I gave the crowd a little "nice to meet you" in Korean, which received some applause and which lubricated the next 5 minutes nicely, since my speech was all in English and only a handful of people in the crowd would have understood it.
I talked about how everyone's definition of love is different, but how it usually contains the idea that love is something that happens to you, rather than something you have power and control over, and we need to rewrite the definition to reflect that love is simply how you treat other people. Using that ceremonially ubiquitous bible verse from corinthians, i re-wrote it (yeah, i re-wrote the bible) to say "i am patient, i am kind..." blah blah. i felt silly and sappy but this was the kind of wedding that afforded me the luxury.
I made my way back to our table, we ate the 3 courses brought out to us, and left, leaving a wedding donation at the money table on our way out. We also grabbed some fresh flowers from the lobby, since everyone else was doing it.
I took some basic video, which I compiled into a short synopsis here: