A Very (Belated) Merry Christmas!
February 9, 2014 § 2 Comments
I know, I know. It’s been awhile. I wish I could tell you that I’ve been too busy to write because I’ve been going on super incredible adventures and exploring new exotic lands but the truth is, I’ve just been too tired and lazy. Most of my free time is spent food shopping/cooking and trying to just chill out and forget about work for a minute. And good blog entries takes time and care, hence my avoidance of the task.
I went to my first Korean wedding (finally!) the 3rd week of December. It was certainly a cultural experience. Our coworker, whose English name is Connie, customarily invited everyone from work to attend. It was a beautiful ceremony that included synchronized dance numbers and a sword to cut the wedding cake. The whole thing took place in a long dark room that had a black/white/purple floral theme with a transparent, glass-like walking aisle down the center. Guests were seated on either side of the aisle. And from here, I’d like to offer a summary of the event from my friend/coworker Adele‘s blog, as it describes the ceremony more accurately than my brain currently can (photos and videos are mine):
“I have been told (and now seen for myself) that the success of a wedding is determined by how many people show up. I have also been told that there are like four degrees of separation between the actual people getting married and some of the people who show up. Like families of business friends friends sort of thing. Because of this, there was constant talking throughout the entire ceremony. A guy sitting three rows ahead of us was on facebook on his phone for about half the vows.
The ceremony began with the mothers of the bride and groom coming to the front and lighting candles. They were wearing hanboks, which are traditional Korean dresses. They are super beautiful and it was cool to see them as part of the ceremony.
The fathers came in and sat down, and then the groom, followed by Connie in her glorious huge dress. There was some sort of pre-ambley speech thing, and then vows.
This is when things started to become interesting and incredibly foreign. A man (I assume a friend of the bride or grooms) sang them a song. He had a gorgeous voice. The catch? He was reading the lyrics of the song off his cell phone as he was singing.
Next, a big tray with a wedding cake on it was rolled out. And the couple cut the cake. WITH A FREAKING SWORD. Then four women (friends of the brides) did a choreographed dance to K-pop. Like, Brittney Spears type choreography. Everyone loved it! Our co-worker Sue was in it, and she told me today it took them six weeks to learn.
They started a dance to another song, this time with pom-poms, and the groom jumped out and danced with them. He had clearly learned it without Connie knowing, she was surprised and cracking up, that was pretty adorable.
This is all happening while people are talking.
After the ceremony was over we were told we had to be in a picture, so we waited while family members were in pictures, and got arranged and re-arranged for 10 minutes before the photographer snapped some shots.
I think I have mentioned before that the documentation of events is as, or more important than the event itself. Even during the ceremony a friend of Connie’s would jump up to the alter where they were standing to fix her hair, or bring her crying tissue, or arrange her dress perfectly. “
Though weddings in western culture are often all day events, Korean weddings are not more than a couple of hours, from start to finish. But it was a lovely and interesting time followed by a large buffet, which my coworkers and I took great advantage of. (Hover over the photos for captions, or click through to see and read them in full.)
December rolled on, and we had a lovely Christmas here in Gwangju, with Jack and I hosting a pot luck dinner at our apartment for all of our friends left in the city. We spent a pretty penny on some delicious ham which I covered in pineapple and baked (read: reheated) to perfection for everybody. Jack whipped up some potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, and we were in business. With all of the delicious dishes our friends brought, it’s safe to say my Christmas dinner of 2013 was by far the most eclectic I’ve ever had. The spread included a Bulgarian salad, veggie terrine, homemade apple sauce, a cheese board, caramelized onion/tomato mushroom bruschetta, Chinese meatballs, Korean steamed chicken, as well as mine and Jack’s contributions. For dessert we had skor bars, mince pies, a trifle, berry pastries, creme cake, and apple crisp, in lieu of apple pie.
The day was spent eating and chatting with friends while listening to every Christmas song Jack and I had at our disposal. I got to experience my first British Christmas cracker (thanks to the crafty hands of our friend Alex) and I felt quite cozy in my paper crown.
New Year’s Eve was, unfortunately, rather uneventful for Jack and I, as I came down with the stomach flu and was couch-ridden for the better of 3 days. Luckily, Jack was willing to take care of my fragile, nauseated, whiney self and I began 2014 a few pounds lighter.
The second week of January, the ECC foreign crew took a trip to the Northern half of the country to celebrate all that is winter with an ice-fishing festival. Pedro Kim, who I believe I’ve mentioned before, organized a trip for over 30 people to travel to the cities of Chuncheon, Gapyeong, and Hwacheon, which lie at the top of the country, quite close to the border of North Korea. It was an awesome weekend that included romantic islands, ice fishing, a “French village”, sledding, and incredible ice sculptures modeled after world landmarks and backlit with colored lights.
The first place we visited was Nami Island, famous in Korea for the filming of various soap operas (like “Winter Sonata”) and the overall ‘romantic’ feel it exudes. It had a lot of winter themed things like snow sculptures and “snowman pancakes” (which were delicious), as well as a lot of unexpected things, like a field full of ostriches and a tiny train that chugged tourists along the island. It also had a “sky ride” that allowed people to sit on a chair that moved via bicycle peddle well above the ground for an aerial view of the island.
We stayed in a French themed village that had pastel colored buildings and other things dubbed “French” by Korea, such as a man playing the accordion while singing in a cafe, rooms full of marionettes, and poorly painted French film posters on the outside walls. It was certainly a strange if pleasant place to stay, if only because it was struggling to feel “quaint” when in reality it was in the middle of nowhere on the side of a hill surrounded by dead trees and full of Korean food. I’d imagine it’s more lovely in the spring and summer, when the trees are lush and the flowers are in bloom.
The actual festival was quite a lot of fun, and we began the day by ice fishing on a frozen river. I was the first of the group to catch a fish (!!!), which was really exciting. After each person caught three, we handed them over to some army volunteers who prepped and cooked the fish for us to eat later on. We spent the rest of the day exploring what the festival had to offer, which included sliding around the ice on a giant raft tied to an ATV, “bobsledding” down an ice shoot, and watching a couple of our coworkers catch fish with their bare hands. It was a really memorable trip that I am glad to be able to cross of my Korean bucket list. Watch my coworkers attempt to catch fish with their bare hands and Nate actually acheive the goal at the 2:30 mark.
The end of January brought Lunar New Year, or Seollal (설날) as it’s known in Korea. At school the kindergarten kids were made to wear traditional Korean formal wear, known as hanboks. I’m not gonna lie — they all looked ridiculously adorable, especially the 4 year olds in Stanford class. We played some traditional Korean games like yut, which basically involved using 4 sticks as die, as well as Korean versions of some more familiar games, like hop scotch and hackysack. It was nice to have a day to play with the kids instead of teach them, especially to spice up the long winter stretch we’d been lugging through.
For the few precious days we had off from work, Jack and I, along with Ben and Adele, took a trip to Seoul to hang out, eat quality food, and explore new areas. Crappy weather and various short-lived illnesses forced us to hang out watching America’s Funniest Home Videos more than we’d like to admit, but it was still a very relaxing weekend that helped us rest up mentally and physically.
I’ve recently decided that unless I have a particularly unique or new experience to share here, most of my entries from here on out will take a dip into the more realistic side of what it’s like living in Korea for 1.5 years. There are a lot of things about Korean culture that I have come to learn, recognize, and attempt to deal with now that I’m in my second year, and I’d like to share my individual experience to make this blog more well-rounded and more truthful. I plan to talk about what it’s like living day to day in my specific skin, and all of the good and bad that comes with that. I hope everyone will still find my writing informative and interesting, even if it is less event-filled and more contemplative.
On a less serious note, I’d like to end by sharing one of the most adorable videos I’ve got to date. For the kindergarten birthdays in January, I played “MC” and Jack was kind enough to record one of our student’s English speeches, with me beaming next to her like a proud mother. Her name is Jenny, and she just turned 4 years old. I guarantee it’s the cutest thing you’ll see today.