“How’s the wedding planning going?” I freeze, afraid of disappointing my friends and acquaintances at yet another stage of the pre-wedding. (Ask me about our proposal story and hear the matter-of-fact calculation that we had no good reason to torture our respective sets of parents any longer, and anyway, his mom totally tricked us into moving up the wedding date.)
“You must be busy with all the preparations?”
“Er, not really…?”
We are getting married in a Korean wedding hall. In Korea. In two weeks. Korean wedding halls are characterized by the speediest weddings outside of actual shotgun weddings and Las Vegas elopements; the average is one hour total for ceremony and reception/meal but I’ve gotten out of weddings in under forty minutes. In Korean wedding halls, the most gaudy parts of a “Western-style, fairy-tale” white wedding (dry ice fog included) are overlaid atop a fundamentally Korean structure—your parents and your resume are the star of the show. Seriously, the wedding speech is usually given by your professor or boss and the most fun you’ll have is dodging the chestnuts and dates your parents throw at you in an attempt to encourage you to procreate.
The best insight I can share into the Westernized East Asian wedding is a description of the cake cutting ceremony as interpreted in 1970s Japan. The towering wedding cake is turned into a fake plastic simulacrum, with a slot in which the bride and groom place their knife and pose smiling. The platform they are standing on rotates 180 degrees so attendees can take photos of them from convenient angles. It is a photo op, no bones about it. As such, the Western white wedding in East Asia is at least another puzzling level removed from whatever these symbols (cake, veil, etc.) have traditionally meant in the UK or the US. It is a performance of a wedding.
For a while I mourned the fact that holding our wedding in a Korean wedding hall in Korea leaves little room for individuality and personality. This means the predominant meaning attached to our wedding will be “we’re getting married.” There will be no quirky centerpieces that illustrate some inside joke from our courtship. There are no letterpressed invitations or cleverly upcycled RSVP cards, just a bilingual invitation ordered from the nearest print shop in my parents’ Seoul neighborhood. No one will walk into the reception and think, “Oh, that’s so them!” when they see the decorations. Oh sure, it’s on the campus of the university we met at eight years ago, and the venue is not one of those ten-story wedding hall behemoths that have thirty ceremonies conducted simultaneously in fifteen-minute increments. But our wedding will definitely come with cookie-cutter edges.
A Korean wedding is a buffet wedding (don’t get me started on the increasing popularity of the sit-down hotel wedding in Seoul). There are no tastings to decide exactly what combination of meat-and-veg we want to feed to our friends and family. At the venue we’ve picked, there are eighty-eight items in the most expensive version of the wedding buffet (including salad dressings and several varieties of kimchi) and there are no substitutions. There is no agonizing over guest lists and seating charts because there are no RSVPs necessary for a wedding hall wedding. It’s free-for-all seating and some guests never bother to come to the ceremony and just head straight for the buffet and chitchat.
There will be a rented wedding dress and a rented tux and a photographer who will make sure that all of our relatives are smashed into one giant group shot, but that photographer will not take any atmospheric shots of me gazing through gauzy windows, nor will he take any close-ups of my stiletto sandals. There will be no stiletto sandals, in fact. Also there will be no veil and no tiara, but that might be the only “I want this to represent me” hill I am willing to die on. I am not a princess, no matter what my loving father calls his only child.
We don’t get to embody our values in the sustainably sourced guest favors, exercise our design aesthetic in floral and fried chicken arrangements, or even indulge in the opportunity to bring beautiful objects into our lives because, “Hey, it’s a wedding.” I don’t get to binge on Pinterest or spend a weekend looking at every single item tagged “bridal” on Etsy—well maybe I did spend a Saturday, or two looking. Our wedding won’t be memorable for its visuals or victuals. Our theme is “we’re lazy.” But I got to spend the months leading up to my wedding not worrying about anything more substantive than making sure we emailed all our friends who aren’t on Facebook the link to our wedding site.
Now that it’s two weeks out and we have yet to resize the rings (“With this high-five, I thee wed?”) or plan an after-party (we’ll probably order some Korean fried chicken for delivery) I worry a bit that we took too much of a lackadaisical approach. And then I think nah, this is my dream wedding. Because it’s fourteen days out and my biggest worry is if I’ll finish my grad school homework before we get on the plane to Seoul.
Photo: Gabriel Harber