(Photos courtesy of Michael Hurt, Paul Matthews, Brant Inners, Stafford Lumsden and Mimi Snider. More will be added as I find them.)
I didn’t sleep well. I can’t when I know I have to be up early. I got up around four, got some coffee and tried to pack some more. EJ woke up around five. We ate and got dressed. Her sister and sister’s boyfriend showed up and took us to Gangnam to get our hair and make up done. On the way there, I showed EJ my surprise gift for her–a night in an executive room at the Millennium Hilton.
This only added to her stress.
I didn’t pack any make up or anything that she really needed to stay in a luxury hotel. I said that I could run back down to Anyang, get the stuff and go back up. First screw up of the day.
Later, she said she really appreciated it but asked if I could move it to another day. I called the hotel and, after a few transfers and explanation, they obliged to move the reservation to next week. She was relived, as was I. I had made the reservation earlier that week, and the closer we got to the wedding, I started thinking that it would be too much hassle for one day.
The sun rose, and we got to the hair place in Gangnam, Le Fleur. The owner wasn’t there yet, and the place was locked. EJ called her, and she showed up. They started work on EJ’s make up and hair. There was a cot in the back, and they said I could take a rest in there. I closed my eyes for a bit, organizing the day in my head. I got up and watched them work on EJ. Her make up was done, and she was gorgeous.
They took me to cut my hair and do my make up. Reminded me of those early weekend mornings doing TV for EBS. They finished me and then EJ. We went into Seoul to the wedding venue at the Namsan Folk Village. By then, the family had been picked up by the taxi and were on their way. I met one of EJ’s many aunts, and we had a quick meal at a little shikdang. In my mind, we were going to be there an hour early and do the rehearsal while my family sat around doing nothing, so I suggested we get them some kimbap.
Another screw up.
It delayed us a bit. The taxi driver took them to Korea House next door instead of the folk village. EJ caught the taxi and righted him. When the family got out, Brant, his wife and son met us. The first of many tourists came by to observe the westerners in traditional Korean clothes. EJ told us to go straight to the wedding pavilion. She went inside a building to chew some guy out. She told me later that it was an issue with the taxi driver, arranged through the folk village, who was changing the agreed-to price on the spot.
Signs pointed to where the wedding was going to be held.
Ben, Brian and I were led to a little room in a hanok (traditional Korean house) to change clothes. It was already crowded with tourists, and all anyone had to do was slide open the little window/door to catch me in all my glory. I put on my pants and shirt from the rental place. The director put on my robe and this stiff metal belt in the shape of a pentagon. He then showed Ben his clothes.
“Oh, please, anything but pink. Ask him if there’s another color.”
When he got Ben all dressed and gave us our hats, Ben looked pretty good–like an aristocratic yangban gentleman scholar. He was still livid about the pinkness until later when all these Japanese girls wanted their pictures taken with him.
In the meantime, EJ was furious at me for delaying everything by insisting on the kimbap for the family, who didn’t need it. Poor girl was super stressed–really about the taxi. I’ve learned that when she’s angry at me for something trivial, it’s because of something else, and it’s a Korean woman’s way of venting. She still looked gorgeous, and she wore the earrings my grandmother gave her.
The director got dressed and took me aside to show the three types of bows I had to do. I practiced and practiced until it became second nature.
He then took Ben, EJ’s brother and me outside behind the building to start the rehearsal. Ben held a wooden duck. He told me to walk slowly and for Ben to walk one meter behind me. We then stopped short of the first line of chairs. Ben walked around me, turned the duck around, bowed, gave me the duck, bowed again and stepped aside. EJ’s brother came up, and we bowed. We walked up to the hou–
“JOE!! WHERE’S MICHAEL HURT!!!!”
Eun Jeong had finished her costume and adornments and was looking as beautiful and furious as ever.
“Um, sweetie, we’re in the middle of rehearsal right now.”
She gave me a look that made me quicken the slow walking of the procession. The director told me to place the duck beside another duck and do bows and–okay, that’s all for now. Let me get my phone to call Mike. I went to the dressing room while the Korean women berated me for not taking off my boots. I called Mike but no answer. As the phone rang, I saw him bound in, black clothes and all, into the courtyard.
“Mike’s here, sweetie.”
I greeted Mike and asked him to go to town taking pics of EJ before she blew up. I was so happy that he was a photographer because I trusted his style. He’s a fashion photographer, not a wedding one. So I knew his photos would have more of an edge to them, even though this is his trademark style.
I started to recognize faces in the crowd. The musicians set up and started playing ethereal traditional music. Ben and I got into position behind the house. Japanese girls approached and started getting their pictures taken with us.
The director indicated that it was time to start. I had a hard time remembering what I was supposed to do with her brother and whether we bowed before or after the duck was passed. Luckily, the director had subtle hand signals to show us when to do what. The whole time I was worried about how pissed off EJ was.
We made the procession. People applauded while the MC took the stage, a dignified older gentleman who spoke almost in a singing chanting voice. I started to regret not getting someone to also videotape the wedding. But really, weddings are boring to watch on video. But the music was mesmerizing. Ben did so well. EJ told me that people later said that he moved and bowed like he had lived in Korea a long time.
EJ’s brother and I did our thing, and then I moved up the steps into the house, placed the duck on the table and did a series of bows. The door opened, and EJ’s mother came out. She took the table with the ducks on it out to the back. The duck symbolized my gift proposal to her family. Her taking the gift showed that her family accepted my payment–um, gift. I backed up and went back down to the edge of the stage.
EJ came out with attendants, the whole time she held her arms up, carrying a thick cloth veil to cover her face. She walked with her eyes lowered. She was so beautiful that I had to force the tears back. She stood opposite from me with tables of fruit and rice wine and the MC between us. I also had two attendants. The director and the attendants controlled the whole thing. All I had to do was stand, bow and sit on cue.
Poor EJ had to hold her arms up the whole time. My nose itched like crazy, but I figured that if she’s suffering, I may as well suffer too. I was still worried that she was angry with me. At one point, her arms got a little tired, and she lowered her veil. Our eyes met, and she smiled.
The attendants fed us fruit and gave us wine to drink. That actually relaxed me a bit for the rest of the ceremony. I couldn’t believe all the people watching us. Family, friends and strangers.
All the bowing and eating ended. We stood up and faced the crowd, who applauded. We all bowed. I spotted people I knew in the crowd. Roboseyo, true to form, was making faces to get me to laugh. It was just like being in the 4th grade school play again with the class clown trying to get me to snicker.
We went to the steps of the house for all the pictures. Mike took over, as well as an attendant who worked there. She knew EJ from her tour guide days, and she took good care of things, adjusting and positioning. Mike said she kicked ass in knowing exactly how to set up the mise en scene in the shots. We did family shots. Then friend shots (Ben: “Hey Joe, how about making those Japanese girls over there friends so they can be in the shot”). Lots of various pictures, and it was so fun.
Notable line: “Hey Mike, where’s our upskirt shot?”
Then Mike put EJ sitting on the ledge of the hanok. The attendant arranged her dress. He made some classic Chosun dynasty pics with her. He then sat me next to her. I got some previews of the shots, and they looked sharp. Blow it up and frame it quality.
I told everyone that taxis would take them to the reception at the front. Ben changed out of his hanbok. I changed out of my wedding robe and into my robe for the reception. Gathered everything and went to the taxi area. A new problem had arisen. Instead of being all there as EJ and Eun Hak had arranged (Eun Hak was in charge of the taxis), the taxis drivers staggered them out. They also thought they had to be there at 2:30 and not 12:30. EJ was livid and railed into the guy in charge of the taxis. In the end, he apologized three times and waited extra for my family at the end of the reception.
EJ and I got into her sister’s boyfriend’s SUV and entered the gridlock to the reception. When we got there, everyone was well into their plates at the seafood buffet. The restaurant had split the wedding party into two separate sections, greatly distancing everyone. My boss Chris and the crew from school were in the section with EJ’s family, as well as Brant and Injoo. I caught up with them. Then EJ introduced me to all her relatives. She struggled with the English descriptions of where each fit on the family tree. In Korea, there are specific names for every single relative.
“Um, Joe, um, this is, um, my father’s side second brother’s wife.”
“Oh, your aunt.”
These guys were already into a healthy stage of inebriation and were jovial. A kid came up to practice his English with me. There was a table of EJ’s former housemates in Toronto. Last month, we went to the wedding of one of them.
We moved out of this section and into the one with my family and the rest of EJ’s family. Everyone applauded loudly. Overwhelmed. We made our way through greeting everyone. I was heartfelt by each person I talked to and only regretted that I couldn’t spend more time with each one. I was also happy to see EJ’s sisters, brother and brothers-in-law. None of them speak English except for their daughters.
“Annyeong haseyo. Annyeong haseyo. Hyeong, oraenmanieyo! Hi girls!”
On my side may have been the most powerful grouping of K-bloggers ever. There were Rob (Roboseyo), “Evil” Jennifer Flinn (Fatman Seoul), “Good” Jennifer Young and Stafford Lumsden (The Chosun Bimbo, SeoulPodcast), Paul Matthews (Paul Ajosshi) wasn’t there but he was at the wedding, Michael Hurt (Feetman Seoul, Scribblings of the Metropolitician), and Daniel Gray (Seoul Eats). There were also restaurant consultant Veronica Kang and our good friends Young-chol and Chef Kim. Sitting with my family was Ansan’s very own Robert Wicks with his five-month-pregnant rapturous Filipino wife Maria. It slipped my mind before that a lot of these people would want to meet and hang out with Chef Ben, and I think Ben was a little shy about introducing himself. Mom and Brian were having drinks and were waiting for the crowd to thin out before eating. I told them that we didn’t have the venue for that long and should start getting some food.
EJ went to go get some food. I was still a little full from the meal before the wedding, but I was thirsty. I grabbed a little food plus a beer and a bowl of naengmyeong. I slurped down the naengmyeong broth, ignoring the noodles. Really, I wished they’d just bottle that broth and sell it in the drink case at the GS-25. I got Ben to try some raw marinated crabs. He had already tried the jellyfish sushi. Brian went nuts over the sweet and garlicky fried shrimp. They didn’t know what to do with the shabu-shabu pot, which was placed on each table. But Brian was thrilled to see a real life glass bottle of Coca Cola and took a picture of it.
Veronica Kang talked to Ben about arranging his cooking classes for the rest of his trip. Then “Evil” Jennifer snagged him to take him to Hongdae for some partying. I was relieved. Ben needed to have more than one food guide here, and Jennifer was the person.
I had barely started eating when EJ grabbed me.
“We need to talk.”
Her family, which had bused five hours from Gyeongju, was getting ready to leave, and they hadn’t even met yet. So we assembled our families into a VIP room, across from each other at a long table. It looked like a meeting of mafia bosses, where the Joker would come in and interrupt. The only interruptions we got were from a cute kid in a hanbok fascinated with the sliding door.
It was awkward but good. Poor EJ had to interpret. Ben expressed his desire to go to Gyeongju and learn cooking techniques from her mother, something even I have had trouble getting done.
The Gyeongju family went up and piled into the bus. EJ and I said thank you and goodbye to them, and they were off.
Dad and Anita had surfaced and were soaking in the scenery. Other guests were crossing over to Gwanghwamun to check out the new plaza and statue.
We went down to retrieve the rest of the family, who were in lively conversation with the stragglers. They climbed into the taxi for Anyang.
EJ’s sister’s boyfriend had gone back to the folk village to get something. We waited a good while. Mike, Rob, Evil Jennifer and Dan were still there. I posed for action shots in my hanbok to pass the time. They then left, including Ben and Jen. All that were left were EJ’s sister, Eun Hak and Hannah Teacher, and they discussed all the crazy events of the day, including my botched hotel surprise. Mr. Boyfriend arrived, and we got into the car.
EJ finally melted in my arms.
It was a long trip back, and the exhaustion was catching up. We got to the apartment, and I made them some coffee while I drank half a liter bottle of water. Hanboks make you thirsty. They left, and EJ and I decided to just turn in early. Ordered a pizza in bed, watched TV and went to sleep around 8:30.