Monday, November 23, 2015

a fantastic Saturday (1 of 2)

This past Saturday, November 21, was divided into two parts: a wedding, followed by a few hours spent with Ligament. The day started off with everything going wrong, but it ended up being a day in which everything went right.

I had planned to wake up around 7:30AM to get my to-do list done. I knew I'd have to stop everything around 11:30AM so I'd have time to shower, then dress in my hanbok, then shoot (well, lumber) out the door a bit after noon so as to be on time for my cousin Gi-yeol's 1PM wedding at Shinil Church near Yaksu Station. Instead, I woke up around 10AM, which gave me almost no time to finish the prep work I had begun the night before.

A bit of background: after Ligament and I had had a horrible experience with a "French dip" at the Quizno's in Jamshil Station, I had told her that I would take it upon myself to make her a real French dip—or at least something that was a closer approximation to the real thing than the bullshit that Quizno's had served (pastrami as the meat? a ketchup-like soup as the dip? seriously?). To that end, I'd had to buy all the components, and they weren't cheap. For the bread, I wavered between baguettes and croissants, neither of which is the proper hoagie roll that is used for a classic French dip à la Philippe's.

I eventually decided on croissants, given that I had to make a Costco run, and I knew the local Costco wouldn't have proper baguettes. For the beef... as a matter of research, I had bought 500 grams (a bit over a pound) of roast beef at Itaewon's High Street Market, but that beef proved to be bone-dry. It had decent flavor, but the texture was a combination of sawdust and sandpaper. What a waste of money. Don't ever buy roast beef at High Street. I was hoping that Costco would have packages of roast beef where the meat would be stored with a lot of liquid, thus keeping the meat moist. No such luck. I eventually settled on the meat that I felt would cook up in the most roast-beef-like way: shabu-shabu beef, which, in Korea, is normally made from paper-thin slices of amazingly marbled ribeye. A huge, 1.5 kg package was selling for around W33,000, so I grabbed it, expense be damned.

After Costco, I bought the ingredients I needed for the au jus at the E-Mart Everyday store in my building's basement, banking on being able to slow-cook some fatty chunks of beef to create what Koreans call yuk-su, i.e., "meat water," which in this context I'd translate as something like "beef stock."* With everything assembled, I fired up the slow cooker on Friday night and made the sandwich spread that I'd be applying to the French dips the following day. And that was it: I had the rest of my prep to do, along with cleaning my floor, taking out the garbage, and other household chores.

So when I woke up late on Saturday, I realized I didn't have time to do everything I'd wanted to do, like cook the shabu beef two ways to see which way I liked better for the French dip. I barely had time to do my chores and make my corn salad (I insist on some sort of vedge** at every meal except breakfast). 11:30AM came and went, and I was running behind. I showered and threw on my hanbok... but I'd forgotten how to tie the front knot correctly. A desperate, time-wasting search through YouTube brought me to some videos that proved utterly unhelpful, especially in my increasingly desperate state. It was nearing 12:30PM when I decided Fuck it, and just dressed myself in Western clothing. Right before I made that decision, there was a two-minute stretch during which I seriously considered not going to the wedding at all. I had told Ligament that I'd be meeting up with her after the wedding, around 4:30PM, in the Jongno area, so during those two minutes, I was tempted just to forgo the wedding and give myself a few hours' breathing room. In the end, though, I decided I'd try to make the wedding, even though I knew I was already late for the 1PM start.

Finally dressed, I went outside my building and hailed a cab. The friendly old taxi driver tried to be helpful when I told him I was looking for Shinil Church near Yaksu Station. He was one of the only cabbies I've ever seen who consented to use his GPS to find the church. Alas, the information he entered was of no help, and the GPS showed no results. I told him the church was about 150 meters from the station, so he could just drop me at the station and I'd walk from there.

As we approached the Han River, I flipped on my phone's GPS, looked up the church via my Google Maps program, turned on my own GPS, and then tracked our progress toward the church by following the moving blue dot on the map that represented my location. As we got within a few hundred meters of Yaksu Station, I showed the cabbie the info on my map, telling him he'd need to take the third right after turning right at the Yaksu Station intersection. The cabbie followed these instructions perfectly, and I got out right next to the church.

I lumbered up the church's front steps and was immediately greeted by a slew of cousins and uncles and aunts—the Korean half of my heritage was out in force. I signed the wedding ledger and gave over my (improvised) white envelope of cash for the bride and groom. One of my cousins, bizarrely, said the relatives wanted to eat first in the church's basement dining hall, but he also said the ceremony was just starting. Why eat during the ceremony? I wondered. Is this normal behavior for relatives? I shook my head and found a seat inside the church, whipping my phone out to take pictures. Unfortunately, I'd chosen a poor seat, so many of my pics required me to use my camera's digital zoom, a function I'd normally rather avoid because of its quality-destroying nature.

All of which leads me up to the photos you'll be looking at below.

I had wondered why my cousin, whose name is Gi-yeol, would have chosen to use a different church from his home church, given how active he is in church life. I think I understand the reason now: the number of guests at the wedding was large enough that Gi-yeol's home church, Geumho Presbyterian, probably would not have been able to accommodate the crowd. Shinil, meanwhile, had a much larger interior. But it's not as though Geumho Presbyterian had been totally put aside: Geumho's pastor was on hand to say a few words mid-ceremony.

Speaking of the ceremony: it occurs to me that I don't recall seeing any exchange of vows, such as what happened at my ex-coworker's wedding this past January. There was a ton of music, probably because Gi-yeol is a professional singer; the pastor said a few words; there was bowing and hugging... but the bride said not a word the entire time. (In fact, at one point, Gi-yeol humorously dragged a chair up to the front for his bride to sit in, cheerfully explaining that he thought she might faint.)

So—first photo. As I know thanks to Sean and his professional musical career, musicians have tons of friends in the music community. This is true the world over, and Gi-yeol was no exception. Below, you see a chorus of Gi-yeol's friends singing, both in real life and projected on the huge monitor (another thing that could never have been set up at the much smaller Geumho Presbyterian Church). Some of the singers did solo serenades as well.

Below: Gi-yeol himself serenaded his wife to great applause (as you see, she had accepted the offer of the chair). I felt a bit sorry for the chorus members: they were sitting directly under the huge speakers that blared out Gi-yeol's voice, and my cousin wasn't holding back. I vaguely remember some of the words in the song Gi-yeol sang: romantic words along the lines of "this moment... right here..." You get the gist.

But Gi-yeol wasn't done. He then switched hats and conducted his chorus. I have video of this, but I haven't uploaded it yet. This number, too, resulted in plenty of applause. If you train your eyes to the right side of the photo below, you'll see my cousin conducting avec vigueur.

The next photo, below, gives me a chuckle. That's Gi-yeol's father, Geun-seong, otherwise known as my #3 Ajeossi because he's the third of four brothers: my mother's cousins. I find the picture funny because Ajeossi had obviously elected to dye his hair for the occasion: when I saw him a few months ago, his hair was mostly Arctic white.

Below: Ajeossi has sat down again with his wife (my #3 Ajumma), and Gi-yeol's bride, Jeong-min, is bowing before her in-laws. Based on the wedding invitation, which listed only one parental name for Jeong-min, and based on the empty chair next to her mother, I surmise that Jeong-min either lost her dad some time ago, or her dad is no longer part of the family. Most likely the former. I have years to ask my cousin that delicate question.

And now, the hugging (which I think of as more American than Korean):

The wedding was now over at this point. I got video of the recessional. All that was left to do was to get some pro shots of the couple alone, the couple with family, and the couple with friends. Jeong-min saw me standing near the front row, and I could tell she was wondering who the hell I was. I was tempted to shout, "Oy'm a rellie!" in a Cockney accent.

The following picture deserves comment because I fucking hate that lady you see on the right side. She ended up in so many of my pictures that I finally wanted to just harpoon her. She kept running up, always in my goddamn line of sight, to adjust this or that aspect of Jeong-min's dress. And she wasn't the only obnoxious participant in this event: some of the pro cameramen weren't that professional about being unobtrusive, either. I kept raising my camera to get a shot, then lowering it every time one of these assholes would pop into view.

Next: a nervous Gi-yeol's is grilled by his minister. Gi-yeol flubbed whatever it was he was supposed to say, but everything is forgiven on your wedding day.

Below: Jeong-min and the goddamn woman. This was one of the few shots that I managed to get of Jeong-min smiling. I get the feeling that she was under tremendous stress the entire time, and that she just wanted this ceremonial nonsense to be over. At least she kept her composure, though; she was the picture of grace under fire.

Next: Jeong-min's default expression, and Gi-yeol standing in a rigid, military manner, owning his new ajeossi status, now that he's married.

I stood with other relatives for one of the shots, so I couldn't take the all-important couple-with-relatives pic. Instead, I took the pic you see below, which shows the couple with their friends. The photographer, a bellowing guy, seemed kind of harried and desperate, trying to nudge people here and there into the perfect pose.

Below: my #3 Ajumma, who had helped me (along with hair-dyed #3 Ajeossi) earlier this year to obtain my family register so I could get my F-4 visa. My favorite aunt.

Here's a shot of another of my cousins: Gang-yeol. Gang-yeol looks significantly older, but because he greeted me by saying, "You haven't changed a bit," I couldn't tell him what I really thought. All of my cousins have the "-yeol" dollimja as part of their names: Gi-yeol, Jae-yeol, Byeong-yeol, Gang-yeol, Seong-yeol, Seung-yeol, etc., etc. Speaking of Jae-yeol: he lives and works in Germany, but he flew all the way from Europe, with his German-speaking Korean girlfriend, to be here for the wedding. He's really grown up, and I'm kicking myself for not having taken any pictures with him before I left the church. I tried speaking German with him, but his German skills far outmatch mine: my own German amounts to two mostly forgotten semesters; Jae-yeol, by contrast, speaks well enough to be attending grad school in Germany. Fantastisch, ja?

Finally, a shot of The Car of Love.

I left the church soon after the ceremony: I needed to get home to finish up my prep before meeting Ligament at 4:30PM. While I was on the subway home, one of my several aunts texted me her disappointment that she hadn't been able to see me. I told her we'd meet sometime, schedule permitting.

Thus concluded the first part of my amazing Saturday. In a subsequent blog post, I'll talk a bit about my day out with Ligament (not too much about her, though, as she prefers to have her privacy respected), but will focus on those lovely French-dip sandwiches. Stay tuned.

*One take on the differences between stocks and broths here. I've heard other takes and, very likely, so have you.

**Sorry, but I can't spell it "veg" the way others do in this fucked-up age of stupid, Internet-warped English. To me, "veg" rhymes with "leg;" "mic" rhymes with "stick"; "frig" rhymes with "pig." So: vedge, mike, and fridge. You know—rational spellings.



John (I'm not a robot) said...

Yes, I was stressed just reading about your getting ready for the ceremony. But it appears to have turned out well in the end.

Looking forward to seeing how the French Dip turned out. My favorite sandwich but it had been a long while since I enjoyed a good one. Dragon Hill used to serve a different one, but it's off the menu now. Ah well.

Charles said...

Weddings are incredibly stressful for those involved. I remember little of my own wedding--just that they must have been using freaking klieg lights, because it was incredibly hot. I do remember the vows (which we did have, but did in song--music & accompaniment by my brother, lyrics by myself and HJ), but everything else is kind of a sweaty blur.

Oh, I also remember that HJ's fingers had swollen up so much that the ring wouldn't fit on her finger, and she started panicking a bit. I found it kind of amusing, though, with the ring sitting there at the top of her finger. We managed to get through it all OK.