Saturday, May 20, 2006

the marriage

Well... it is accomplished. My lovely coworker, WS, now embarks on her new life as an adjumma. By Korean reckoning, she is only now an adult, despite being a bit over 30.

It was something of a strange wedding. The ceremony took place at a wedding hall inside a large Marriott hotel in Kangnam. As with many Korean weddings, the marriage itself was quite brief; more time was spent taking photographs afteward, I think. The strange thing was that we, the overflow crowd who arrived too late to get a decent seat, were shunted to a separate room and seated at large round tables, there to... watch the wedding live on a huge video projection screen.

The next strange thing occurred right away: the wedding reception began even before the wedding had ended. As WS was marching up the aisle, we in the overflow area were served appetizers of smoked salmon. It felt strange to eat and watch a wedding in progress while people around us were talking, talking, talking. The meal was quite good, actually: the salmon was garnished with capers, two kinds of caviar, sliced black olives, and a dab of cream cheese. Nicely done. The main course was steak in brown sauce, steamed rice (the rice was stuffed inside a cute, hollowed-out cylinder of bamboo), oi-kimchi (cucumber kimchi), and steamed carrots. The side salad and soup (a bland, creamy chowder of some sort) were also tastefully done. We ate; WS got married on screen. Some time later, an announcement was made for "friends and coworkers" to pose with the bride and groom for pictures; we did so. I stood directly behind WS, but a few steps up from her. Stalker position.

After pictures, we went back to our dinners in the overflow area; two Western coworkers also appeared briefly, said hello to us, paid their respects to WS and her new hubby, and disappeared without a goodbye. Ah, collegiality! Considering that our side of campus plays host to a lot of introverts (three out of four Westerners in my office), such behavior isn't surprising: I too am an introvert, and therefore prone to acting bizarre in social situations.

The final bit of strangeness was an example of the kind of embarrassing behavior I've seen on occasion among Koreans in the States: two nameless ladies at our table saw that the plate of steak next to my own plate was uneaten; I heard them complain that it was a shame for the steak to go to waste. I pushed the plate toward them and said, "Please have it." When I looked back a few seconds later, I saw that the ladies weren't eating: they had emptied a plastic tissue container and were filling it with cut-up pieces of steak. After spiriting the steak into the tissue container, they wrapped the whole mess up in one of the linen table napkins, then one lady stuffed the bundle-- yes, napkin and all-- inside her purse.

As I said, I've seen such uncultured behavior from some Koreans in the States. They're usually first-generation Koreans; second-generationers have more sense of decorum. I'm not going to make an argument that all Koreans are uncultured: that would be absurd. I've occasionally found myself embarrassed in front of some especially dignified individuals, and it should be noted that many Koreans think Americans bring a lot of rudeness and bumpkinish behavior with them to the peninsula-- a sentiment shared by people of other nations.

But still, you can't get more gauche than coming to a posh hotel-- to attend a fucking wedding feast, no less-- and then proceed to steal the food, along with hotel property, in plain sight of fellow diners and hotel staff (who I suspect are used to seeing such things happen).

Banter with my Korean coworkers was polite, if a bit distant; the ladies were content mainly to speak in Korean with each other while I did my usual staring-into-space routine.

And then it was over. Another happy couple is now loosed upon the world, and I'm left once again to ponder whether marriage is really a path I want to follow. Judging by my friends in America, it seems worthwhile; they strike me as generally happy with their lot. My American friends in Korea, however, think marriage sucks. "Don't do it, Kevin," they warn me. "You'll regret it."




Anonymous said...

You forgot your loyal Canadian sidekick! I'd say that marriage has its ups and downs, but so far, it's the best thing that's happened to me.

Anonymous said...

Guess I'm not among your American friends here, huh? :p

(Yeah, I just posted an emoticon in your comments. Take that!)

As for food, etc. being pilfered at weddings, I don't think I've been to a wedding yet where I haven't seen it happen. The mindset, apparently, is that it is there for people to eat/drink anyway, so what does it matter if we eat it now or later? Can't say I agree with that, but what can you do?

Kevin Kim said...

Nathan & Charles,

The two American friends I'm thinking of-- the ones who live in Korea and have nothing good to say about marriage-- are guys I've known since the mid-90s. Their marriages have been marked by extreme unpleasantness. One guy, T, is in the process of divorcing, and thank God he doesn't have kids. The other guy, J, has kids and is trying to reconcile himself to the fact that he married a true &@?%$!*. Because he's thinking of the kids, he considers divorce impossible.

I may have unintentionally given people the impression that marrying a Korean woman is the central problem, but that's not true. Another old friend of mine, also a J, married a lovely Korean woman and moved back to New Zealand. They got two daughters and a third child on the way, and from our emails I gather they're quite happily married. My own parents also come to mind in this regard.

Charles, I'll have you know that I'm wearing my special anti-emoticon jock strap right now, so those touchy-feely, ball-shrinking emoticon beams are just bouncing off harmlessly.