Monday, April 25, 2011


Just your average Easter weekend. Firstly, Happy (belated) Easter readers! I hope everyone had a scrumptious feast, devoured fistfuls of candy and enjoyed time spent with family.

I had an admittedly different Easter weekend, but it's Korea-- so, what the heck. On Friday, a few friends made the maiden voyage to Songtan to have a looksy at the old gal. Besides my Mom, no one else has made it down yet, and I don't blame them. I don't usually give the old lady glowing reviews. But they came, they saw, they loved it! Well, my friends Mo and Zoe couldn't have been more thrilled with Songtan, it does have a charming Tijuana quality to it. Anyway, I showed them around, we went out for a few drinks and fried chicken and called it night. Saturday we woke up and went for a stroll near the base, treated ourselves to Mexican (fittingly) and headed to Seoul Racecourse Park for a terrific afternoon of gambling and betting with friends.

Seoul Racecourse Park
Liv and Zoe

The place was hysterical. Predominantly male. And packed. The boys and some of the girls jumped in right away betting a few thousand won. I sat out the first couple races, wanted to get the hang of things and a cup of coffee before I started gambling. After my friend Eric gave me the gist of how to place bets and what to look for on the spreadsheet etc. I started veryyy low placing 500 won (less than 50 cents) bets on ponies. Mo and I sort of combo gambled (very female of us) sharing our bets and winnings, and picking our horses more on name creativity than split times. Our favorite horse was Sing Sing Cat who I think ended up winning one of the races. I definitely see why horse race betting and for that matter all forms of gambling is addictive, it's a long slippery slope once you start which is why we went immediately to a casino next.

To be fair, we went more for the free food. Since the boys gambling endorphins were up we thought we might as well mooch off their roulette winnings and losings and pick up the free food and drinks offered by the casino. After that rousing turn at the casino I had to head back to Songtan because I had a wedding (my first Korean wedding!) to attend early Sunday morning.

Over the past eight months I've been showered with endless examples of Korean generosity. There have been countless times when I've asked a Korean for directions because I'm lost and they will go out of their way to walk me to the front door of the museum or flea market that I was trying to find. So, just being an extended an invitation to Crystal's wedding was generous enough for me. But the bride also organized a bus for all the teachers who live near school so they could save gas money on the 1 hour 3o minute drive up to Bucheon where the wedding was held. On the bus we got a snack bag with gum and other Korean snacks, as well as tteok (delicious, chewy Korea rice cake) coffee and water. A few of the teachers brought their adorable daughters along so I had a great time smiling and playing with them.

So, let's get to the wedding already. Most trendy Koreans have their weddings at "Wedding Halls" which based on the one that I went to, are comprised of multiple "halls" each with a different theme where a "western-ized" wedding ceremony takes place. It easy to think of the wedding hall as a Hollywood backlot of sorts, several warehouse sized rooms with parts that can be added or ixnay-ed. Obviously none of the stuff was made out of cardboard but everything had a set-like feel to it. Our wedding happened to be in the Grecian inspired hall complete with plaster Doric columns and cloud frescoed ceiling. The other wedding hall I peeked into had some sort of Parisian street theme going on, lots of street lamps lining the runway-- I'll get to that in a minute-- ivy and faux store fronts, I don't know it was quaint, but that's not exactly the type of backdrop I'd want for my wedding.

So, then there is this runway business. I guess an aisle and runway are means to a similar end, it just seemed so much more dramatic than usual with the bride and bridegroom strutting down a runway to the altar. The runway was flanked with tables and chairs where guests could observe the ceremony. The mother and father of the couple were seated at tables on opposite sides of the stage, presiding over the marriage like feudal lords in high-backed chairs. There are also no bridesmaids or groomsmen. Strange men in masks held up sabres that the bride and groom both passed through. No "Here Comes the Bride" wedding march either. The bridegroom made his way to the alter while some faintly sounding Jock Jam played over the speakers complete with flashing neon lights. As Crystal descended a flight of stairs onto the runway they cued up Enya's "Only Time" and the neon lights again. I wish someone had been there I could have made some snarky quip to about Enya, but it would have been lost on my coteachers and also rude, so I had giggle and an eye-roll to myself.

I hate to sound snarky or critical, the ceremony was very beautiful and there were plenty of touching moments when some of Crystal's students came on stage to sing her a cheeky love song. But overall it felt so generic, and the wedding hall atmosphere is so impersonal. That wedding hall in particular was putting on 12 weddings that day. Immediately after the ceremony, you are ushered out to the dining hall while the staff cleans and sets up for the next bride to arrive. You don't really have a chance to linger or chat or have people marvel over you which is exactly what I'd want to happen if I was a bride. But, it wasn't "my day" so that's really neither here nor there.

While everyone was eating one of my coteachers filled me in that there would be a traditional Korean ceremony taking place during the meal. By the way, the bride or groom don't eat or dance at their wedding. Immediately after the western ceremony, Crystal and her husband made their way around all the dining tables to say hello and receive congratulations while everyone ate, then changed into different clothes for the Korean ceremony and then went straight to Incheon Airport to leave for their honeymoon, phewww.

OK back to the Korean ceremony. The bride and groom change into very elaborate traditional Korean clothing, the nicest hanbok's I've ever seen and bow before a table of offerings and symbols of good luck and fecundity and the bridegroom's relatives. I was a little apprehensive about trying to observe this ceremony because its typically reserved for the bridegroom's relatives only. Sue (one of my coteachers) assured me that it would be OK if I wanted to peak in and watch, I think I looked so genuinely happy and interested that nobody mined.

Crystal and her husband took turns bowing to his parents first, followed by his grandmother, then all of his father's brothers. Crystal and her husband had to pour tea for everyone as well. After they bowed to the bridegroom's parents, Crystal and her husband held up a tapestry of sorts while the grooms parents threw chestnuts and some other red nut or fruit at the tapestry. The nuts that landed in the tapestry symbolized all the children the was couple was to have. Chestnuts represent sons and the red things represented yes, you guessed it, daughters. I think they ended up with more red things so, daughters it is!

While this was all going on, Sue explained to me how Korea is still very much a paternal society (like I hadn't noticed) which is why only the bridegroom's family is included in this ceremony. Sue recounted how upset she was on her wedding day because her husband's family was very traditional and wouldn't allow Sue's parents to watch or have Sue and her new husband bow before them and receive their blessing. Even though its 2011 and Korea is a thoroughly democratic, wonderful place a lot of families continue to observe this more exclusively paternal wedding tradition.

So, while I was oooh-ing and uttering "What a shame," the bridegroom's father ushered in Crystal's parents. I don't think Crystal expected that because she looked just as shocked as Sue. I teared up at this point, I mean after hearing how upsetting it was that your parents couldn't take part in probably the most special and sacred part of the whole day just as Crystal's parents were invited in was really sweet. Sue kept saying how "generous and kind" the bridegroom's father was to do that. Right after that I had to rush out to catch our bus back to Songtan.

On the way back, Mrs. Han, this super cute pregnant teacher that I love even though we speak in like sounds and the 5 odd English words she knows and I just respond with "cute" in Korean to everything she says, asked me which ceremony I liked better the "western-ized" or the Korean. I thought for a moment and said the Korean one. Paternal exclusivity aside, it felt more like what a wedding should be at least in my opinion. A little more revered (so, no flashing neon lights), more about family and traditionalism. I'm old fashioned when comes to things like weddings. In the end, both ceremonies were special for what they were and I was just happy I got invited at all. So, congratulations to Crystal and her new husband!

I can't end a wedding post without a plug about the Royal wedding. I'M LOSING MY MIND I'M SO EXCITED. It's going to be on during dinner time here, so sadly, I won't be able to stare bug eyed at my computer watching the whole thing go down live, but I plan on viewing and dissecting every photo and clip imaginable after bar time. I also plan on raising multiple obnoxious toasts to Wills and Kate on Friday night andddd who am I kidding all weekend long. Happy Wedding of the 21st century to you all! HERE HERE!



Thursday, April 14, 2011


Almost forgot about this thing. My 4 month hiatus is really rather pathetic of me. I even have Babs on my case, which means I really need to quit tap dancing around this little catalogue of my Asian comings and goings get to it already.

My mom recently graced Korea with her presence and left me a brand, spankin' new functioning, operating, I have a connection to the outside world (FINALLY) computer. The irony of this whole shebang is that my internet doesn't work. I am in one of the most high-tech, digitalized countries in the world and I have been computer less and internet less for 6 months now. UGH. Anyway, hopefully I'll get my internet situation resolved soon, GOD please make it soon, and then I can overload you all with what I've been doing since January.

But before I get to all that, I want to share some videos that have made the waygook (foreigner in Korean) blog circuit. The first one is a beautifully shot film by David Dutton and it gives you some idea of where I live, work and play.

The second one makes me laugh every single time because when I talk to my kids this is exactly what their life sounds and looks like. Just a day in the life...

Anywho, I'm a little late for promises and sorrys, but I am going to make more of an effort to get back on the horse and update you all more frequently.

-- Justine